by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1432)
In characteristic arrogance, the Saudi regime sent in its army backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers to the tiny island of Bahrain on March 13 to crush the people’s movement for freedom and dignity. Some 2,000 troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) including 1,000 Saudis were rushed to Bahrain to attack protesters that had peacefully rallied in Manama’s Pearl Square for a month.
In characteristic arrogance, the Saudi regime sent in its army backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers to the tiny island of Bahrain on March 13 to crush the people’s movement for freedom and dignity. Some 2,000 troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) including 1,000 Saudis were rushed to Bahrain to attack protesters that had peacefully rallied in Manama’s Pearl Square for a month. Almost immediately and without provocation, the Saudis and other GCC troops as well as Bahraini forces attacked unarmed civilians killing six and wounding 300 others. Bahraini troops backed by foreign occupation forces then moved to the various hospitals to block the wounded from being brought in for treatment. Injured patients were dragged out of hospitals and thrown into the street as troops went on a rampage.
Salmaniya, the capital city’s main hospital, was invaded by Bahraini troops. Doctors and nurses were beaten up as they pleaded with troops not to drag the wounded, some with serious injuries, from their beds and dumped outside. The situation was so chaotic that even women in labor were thrown out of the hospital. Bahraini troops then occupied all hospitals in the country to prevent any of the wounded from being brought in for treatment.
In the early hours of March 16, hundreds of riot police and military troops moved into Pearl Square, the stronghold of the antigovernment protest movement, using tanks, helicopters and jeeps with machine guns mounted on their roofs to expel demonstrators. Manama’s Pearl Square had become the Bahraini equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Unlike the Egyptian military, the Bahraini army and riot police, made up largely of mercenaries from Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen, however were in no mood to tolerate even peaceful protests. A day earlier the minority ruling Khalifa family had declared martial law and forbidden gatherings of more than five people. By the time the troops forcibly evicted all the protesters, many of them women and children, the city centre was a smoldering wreck as troops repeatedly fired US-supplied tear gas shells, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
“The GCC troops are for fighting against foreign forces,” a protester, Syed al-Alawi, was quoted by al-Jazeera. “Instead they are targeting the people of Bahrain.” What was the reaction of the US and the rest of the western world that has been so exercised by Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s use of force against his own people? Most western regimes ignored Bahrain’s brutality against its own people backed by foreign troops. US officials issued mild statements of condemnation but there were no calls for imposing a no-fly zone or demands that the regime stop killing its people. Nor were there calls that foreign occupation forces, mainly from Saudi Arabia, leave the island state where people are demanding nothing more than people elsewhere in the Islamic East.
Once again, Western, especially American hypocrisy, stands exposed. The Bahraini regime ruled by the Khalifa family is dependent on the US and Saudi Arabia for survival. The US naval Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, which is a staging area for spying on Islamic Iran as well as projecting US military power in the Persian Gulf. To understand the level of subservience of the Bahraini regime to the US, consider this: there are standing orders to cab drivers to pick up any American sailor too drunk to walk back to his base. The Bahraini regime will pay the cost. There are other vices also widespread in Bahrain, all intended to serve the Americans’ needs.
The rights of the Bahraini people take a back seat to US interests. The comparison with Libya is important. US Senator John Kerry said about the Libyan crisis: “The US and world community must show they will not stand by while this thug Qaddafi uses air power to murder fellow Libyans.” But Kerry and others are deafeningly silent about the brutality unleashed by the Khalifa family with the backing of the Saudis against Bahraini civilians. Is Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa any less of a thug or the people of Bahrain any less human than the Libyans? The ruling Khalifa family is Sunni who are a minority in the overwhelmingly Shi‘i Bahrain. But the demands of the Bahrainis are not sectarian in nature. In fact, there are a number of prominent Sunnis in the protest movement demanding reform and true representation in government.
American fears revolve around losing its naval base in Bahrain should there be free elections and a genuinely representative government there. Making up more than 70% of Bahrain’s population, the Shi‘is have been denied fundamental rights while the Khalifa ruling family has usurped all rights for more than 200 years. Establishment of a truly representative government in Bahrain would tip the regional balance in favor of Iran, something the US is loathed to allow.
The Bahraini ruler has alleged that the uprising had been in the making for 20 years and has foreign backing. This is a veiled reference to Iran. Quite aside from the fact that the Bahraini ruling family is a US-Saudi puppet, there is absolutely no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Bahrain uprising. Even US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was forced to admit that the US and its allies lack sufficient proof to substantiate claims of Iranian subversion. Gates told reporters: “I expressed the view that we had no evidence that suggested that Iran started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region.”
Leaving nothing to chance, the Bahraini regime after forcibly evicting peaceful protesters from Pearl Square, sent in crews to demolish the six arches that make up the centre-piece of the square in Manama. The ostensible reason was that it would ease traffic congestion. There was no traffic congestion for 20 years and clearly the authorities did not realize this problem earlier. All of a sudden, this became a major issue. The real reason is that the authorities wanted to demolish the very symbol of protests. It would be like the Egyptian military moving in to demolish Tahrir Square in Cairo.
The situation in Bahrain is critical from another perspective. The island state has been invaded and occupied by foreign, primarily Saudi and Emirati, troops. This is a dangerous escalation. The Saudis are not known for their military professionalism or prowess. At the end of 2009, when Saudi troops were sent to Yemen to crush the Houthis’ uprising, they were soundly defeated. So why are the Saudis flexing their non-existent muscles in Bahrain? The Saudi rulers worry that should the Khalifa family be overthrown in Bahrain, they will be next. This will encourage the Shi‘is in eastern Arabia to make similar demands and stage uprisings. This is what happened on March 10 in the eastern province, especially in al-Qatif. There was also a general call for a Day of Rage on March 11 with small rallies in Riyadh and Jeddah, but not much came of it.
Nonetheless, the Saudis are petrified of people’s uprisings sweeping the Islamic East. They were upset that the US allowed Hosni Mubarak, a major lynchpin of the current oppressive order in the Islamic East, to be overthrown. Not the bravest of people, the Saudi ruling family decided to take a calculated gamble. They also hoped that their invasion of Bahrain would draw Iran into the conflict thereby turning the people’s genuine struggle for rights and dignity into sectarian strife. The Saudis are masters at stoking sectarianism in the Ummah. This is what they have done all their lives. The leadership in Iran is far too intelligent and sophisticated to fall for such tactics. Instead, the illegal invasion of Bahrain may actually hasten the day when the Saudi ruling family is driven from power. There are many people in the kingdom that know the nature of this corrupt family far too well.
People worldwide have noted that it was the House of Saud that provided sanctuary to Tunisia’s tyrant General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to escape the people’s wrath. There are reports that the Yemeni despot, Ali Abdullah Saleh, may also end up in Jeddah, a destination of choice for all rejected tyrants. But the big question is: where will the House of Saud flee to once they are driven from power?