by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 4, Rajab, 1433)
They came from all walks of life and represented all ages: men, women and children stretching more than five kilometers outside Bahrain’s capital city, Manama, on 5-18-2012 to categorically reject any union between their country and Saudi Arabia, which was discussed, though not approved, in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
The Saudi-Bahraini union proposal was raised on May 14 as part of a broader plan to intensify political, military and security cooperation between the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the wake of protests that have engulfed Bahrain and the broader Muslim East for 16 months now.
The tribal monarchies that comprise the GCC — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Oman — are terrified of the Islamic Awakening that has swept much of the Muslim East (aka Middle East) since January 2011. Since four dictators have been ousted from power by a tidal wave of peoples’ uprising, the tribal, mainly family-based dynasties are struggling hard to prevent their own demise. They have devised different strategies, from bribing core constituencies to diverting attention to problems elsewhere (Libya and Syria for instance) to keep people in check. These, however, are not deemed sufficient, hence the desperate efforts to cling to each other. Closer union in such matters as foreign, defence and security policies has been floated, without any significant progress so far. While the rulers fear their people greatly, there is also no love lost between them because of different tribal customs. Ancient tribal rivalries and blood feuds are not far below the surface, hence the lack of progress in merger talks.
The Saudis, fearing they will lose everything if people were to rise up, have been the most active, followed closely by Qatar, the tiny island state that has assumed a role far beyond its capacity. It may cost its rulers dearly for such comeuppance. Leaving nothing to chance, the Saudis rushed troops to Bahrain in March 2011 to crush the people’s peaceful protests for reform and greater say in determining their future. Fearing that such protests would spread to the desert kingdom if left unchecked, Saudi troops acted ruthlessly against Bahrain’s masses, emboldening the Bahraini rulers to resort to even more oppressive tactics. Mass arrests, killings, kidnappings, torture and rape have occurred on a wide scale. Even doctors and nurses treating those wounded in protests have not been spared.
Bahrain’s leading opposition party Wefaq said Saudi intervention was aimed at stopping democratic change. “The issues facing Bahrain are local, not regional. There is little the Saudis can do: they sent troops but failed because the crisis is still going on, and that’s because it requires a political solution,” said senior Wefaq official Jasim Husain. “Any agreement must get the people’s approval, not least in Saudi Arabia. I suspect this supposed union is just rhetoric,” referring to the GCC proposal discussed in Riyadh last month.
The Saudis and their Bahraini tribal cousins deliberately frame political problems and lack of representation for their people in terms of sectarianism. This is aimed at creating confusion by stoking people’s worst prejudices. The court ‘ulama, especially in Saudi Arabia, also play their divisive role by projecting archaic views. While the court ‘ulama see nothing wrong with the monarchical system or the massive corruption among the hordes of Saudi “princes,” (both the monarchy and corruption are completely against Islam’s teachings) they issue dire warnings about “external threats” to the monarchy as if it is legitimate. For “external threats” read committed Muslims, especially in Iran and members of the Islamic movement elsewhere, not the US or the Zionist occupiers of Palestine. There is no doubt that people’s uprisings in one area inspire people in another. Success of the people in Bahrain will and does affect people in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where the majority, like that in Bahrain, is Shi‘i.
The minority Bahraini ruling family would not have lasted so long but for external support. Created and installed in power by the British, it has now become an obedient client of the US whose naval Fifth Fleet uses it as its base in the Persian Gulf.
Thus when Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, showed up in Washington last month, he was showered with praise by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and given audience with Barak Obama. The US also announced millions of dollars in weapon sales to the oppressive regime, to use against civilian protesters. Instead of taking the Bahraini visitor to task for killing peaceful protesters, Clinton called this an “internal issue.” The killing of innocent protesters including women and children in Bahrain, is merely an “internal issue.” Why then does Clinton huff and puff so much about events in Syria?
Like discarded plastic bottles in lakes and rivers, Bahrain’s illegitimate rulers keep popping up in strange places. King Hamad bin Khalifa and his wife appeared for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations at Windsor Castle on May 18. Her Majesty must have been amused at seeing her faithful servants line up so dutifully to pay homage. There is little doubt King Hamad came bearing expensive gifts while the majority in Bahrain languish in poverty and misery. After all, to be granted the privilege to kiss the Queen’s hand carries a price.
It is not surprising that such invitations embolden the Khalifa family to continue with their repression against innocent civilians that are demanding nothing more than the right to determine their own future. A Bahraini court spokesman bluntly stated: “We are looking into the perpetrators and people who use print, broadcast and social media to encourage illegal protest and violence around the country. If applying the law means tougher action, then so be it.” One can imagine the uproar if a government spokesman in Damascus had uttered these words. Clinton, Obama, and other Western rulers would be screaming from every soapbox against the brutal Syrian dictator and there would be calls for his immediate ouster. When the perpetrator is their client regime, then it can do no wrong.
Human rights activists in Bahrain face imprisonment and torture. Bahrain’s top human-rights activist Nabeel Rajab, declared by Amnesty International as a “prisoner of conscience”, languishes in prison. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, another activist, has been on a hunger strike for more than three months, protesting his life imprisonment by the Khalifa regime. He is believed to be in critical condition. Neither Obama nor Clinton had any words of condemnation for such mistreatment of human rights activists by their Bahraini clients; there are only words of praise and, yes, weapons.