Bahrain’s Reckoning

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Moreover, public furor has also been directed at the excessive wealth of the ruling family. In particular, opposition groups claim that dozens of projects developed by the ruling family and private developers have exploited what should have been public land, but was instead used to transfer billions of dollars to royal family coffers.

As a result, the al-Khalifa regime has been trying of late to make amends to quell the uprising and avoid meeting the same fate as some of their Arab compatriots over the past several months. So, with what some may say is arriving at the game a little late, the monarchy has announced a series of economic and political initiatives designed to appease public anger.

On February 22, King Hamad ordered the release of 23 Shiite activists held on terrorism charges and pardoned two others in exile, including opposition Haq leader Hassan Mushaima. On February 26, taking a page from the handbook of other besieged Arab rulers, King Hamad sacked five of his Cabinet ministers.

On March 5, following directives from King Hamad to boost employment in all ministry departments, Bahrain’s Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, announced a government plan to recruit 20,000 employees. Two days later, Bahrain’s Housing Minister, Majid al-Alawi, announced government plans to build 50,000 homes at a cost of $5.32 billion.

Unfortunately, the various moves have failed to achieve the effect the royal family had intended. In fact, for the protesters, the call for change has only increased. As summed up by one man: “We won’t go until they all leave.”

So, with no abatement in the calls for its ouster, the al-Khalifa regime, along now with other Sunni-ruled Gulf states, has seemingly opted to take a more hard line approach to the uprising.

In fact, Saudi Arabia’s royal family had been moving very aggressively in the past several weeks to exert pressure on the al-Khalifa regime to crackdown hard on the protest movement. If not, as one Mideast analyst prophetically predicted before the entrance of the GCC force, “Then the King of Saudi Arabia is going to intervene, himself, with his security forces.”

Still, while the Saudis have alternately threatened and bolstered the Bahraini royal family, it hasn’t been taking any chances with its own Shiite population. On March 4, the Saudis arrested 20 people who had called for a constitutional monarchy and a war against corruption.

Following that episode, the Saudis then banned all public protests by saying that “regulations in the kingdom forbid categorically all sorts of demonstrations, marches and sit-ins, as they contradict Islamic Sharia law and the values and traditions of Saudi society.”

Yet, despite that dictate, Saudi’s Shiite population apparently didn’t get the message. On March 10, in the mostly Shiite city of Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia, several hundred protesters took to the street before being dispersed by Saudi police using rubber bullets and stun grenades.

Of course, in addition to the Saudis, both the United States and Iran have a keen interest in how events unfold in Bahrain. As home to its Fifth Fleet, Bahrain remains to the United States a crucial counterweight to growing Iranian hegemony. A fall by Bahrain to a Shiite majority may place that American role in jeopardy.

While such a scenario would still leave the United States with substantial air and naval assets in the region, its military presence would continue to dwindle as it prepares to withdraw the remaining 50,000 of its troops from Iraq by December 2011. That means Iran will have the largest and most powerful military force in the region, regardless of whether they acquire nuclear weapons.

For Saudi and Gulf state rulers, the specter of an unassailable Iran is a genuinely frightening prospect. However, the sudden end to their centuries-old dynastic rule may be more terrifying. While that question may be a source for debate, the entrance of the GCC force into Bahrain certainly makes a compelling case for the latter point.

Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.

 

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  • Mr. X

    Its doubtful that the USA is any counterweight to any movement threatening her interests anymore. We are in a state of rapid self liquidation with a view towars a global state. Its the endof the United States being in the right side of history. That being said, there is a litmus test, what is the body politic of the Shiites saying about "the Jews," and "Israel." What are their plans for the existing freedom and protection of their remaining Jewish minoirty? If the rebels are discussing the killing of jews as they are in the uprisings in Egypt, Libia and Algeria, the world community's predictable abandonment of Jews aside, revolutions predicated on Jews hatred have not been successful and costly to the appeasing world. We were better off with Ghaddafy, Mubarek and Bharian's al-Khalifa dynasty. Whether the revolution is by Shia against Sunni or Sunni against Sunni, they are going to mobilize and jump start the stagnant Jihad which is what these uprisings are really about. The world will plunge into darkness again.

  • akbar khan

    Hopefully the democratic movement in the middle east would not blead to the endangerment of the Jewish people. If Muslims have a right over the Middle East the Jewish people have a right over their ancient homeland now called the State of Israel…Grasdually this has dawned in to the Middle Easterners. Moreover Israel is powerful enough to defend itself so nobody is going to mess with it.
    With democracy i the Middle East, it perhaps would be easier for Israel to sign agreements with the Middle Easstern neighbors as they would carry an acceptance by the people too and not just govts.

  • John Little

    Israel's right to exist lies in its ability to defend that which is theirs.

  • John Rutley

    I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Oman for 30 years. The news that Saudi troops had crossed into Bahrain to 'maintain order' came as no suprise. I was in Saudi Arabia when the 'King Fahad' causeway linking Saudi to Bahrain was built in the mid 1980's. We expats said at the time that its main purpose was military. The Saudi response to recent disturbances in Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia was also no suprise either. In the early 1980's Qatif (being the one of the main Shia areas) was continually attacked by the military and police. At the time the fear was the spread of Khomeini's revolution. Nothing has changed. Quotes by the grand mufti's of Saudia Arabia both past and present continually harp on about the Shia being heretics and should be killed!
    Dont expect any change in that policy and dont let us hear any more rubbish being spouted by western leaders about democracy in the Arab world! It doesnt exist in Islam and thats what matters.

  • Mr. X

    Hi Akbar,

    Sounds like you are giving me "hope & change." no thanx