Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Regional and International Implications of Saudi Arabia Sending Troops to Back the Bahraini Government

Saudi Arabian troops cross the causeway leading to Bahrain on March 14. About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain to protect government facilities, a Saudi official source said, a day after mainly Shi'ite protesters overran police and blocked roads. (Reuters TV)

I initially flinched at the title of the article below, thinking anything involving the expression "inner beast" would be likely partisan and boardering on irrational itself. I read the article on the credentials of the author, Rami Khouri, who is both editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the well-regarded American University of Beirut. I imagined the title was a reflection of his inner journalist, and that perhaps his inner academic might have something well-documented to say-- an id-superego rebalancing in my mind. Also, the subtitle on the print version, "The decision to send troops is sparking regional tensions and demonstrating Washington's marginalization", conferred added interest to the prospective reading.

By the time I read to the end of the article, I thought Khouri's combined inner selves had done an excellent job of knowledgeably reflecting on the regional and international implications of Saudi sending troops  worth sharing. Besides, his inner journalist writes a bang up final paragraph that his inner academic would agree is bang on.


Rami Khouri
Saudi Arabia’s inner beast awakens
RAMI KHOURI
BEIRUT— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2011 2:00AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2011 5:19AM EDT

The decision by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send troops into Bahrain is a cause for concern at three levels: It suggests that conservative Arab leaders in key energy-producing states are worried that unrest in Yemen and Bahrain may spill over into their countries; it accelerates the simmering ideological war between some Arab leaders and Iran, with a strong undertone of Shia-Sunni tensions; and it’s likely to spark fresh tensions in some Persian Gulf states where Shia minorities will raise the level of their demands and protests.

But it’s potentially good news on two other fronts: Saudi Arabia is asserting itself, and the United States is showing itself to be a marginal spectator in this process.

The UAE’s Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, said on Monday that the Saudi-UAE move was designed to defuse tensions in Bahrain and “to support the Bahraini government and to get calm and order in Bahrain and to help both the Bahraini government and people to reach to a solution which is for the best for the Bahraini people.”

This is a legitimate and reasonable goal, but sending in troops from other Arab countries is about the worst possible way to achieve it, given the internal, regional and global contexts in which this occurs.

Internally, a serious homegrown challenge to the ruling elite in Bahrain reflects the wider revolt of Arabs fed up with being denied their full citizenship rights. Regionally, this is likely to be seen as the latest proxy political battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a battle that, in some places (Iran, Palestine, Lebanon), occasionally spills over into armed clashes. And globally (with the added symbolism of Bahrain’s being the home base of the U.S. Fifth Fleet), this is the latest phase of the ideological battle that has defined the Middle East for the past two decades, and especially since the demise of the Iraqi state in 2003 as a result of the Anglo-American attack: the Iranian/Syrian-led regional defiance of American/Israeli/Arab conservatism.

In most of these spheres and proxy fights, pro-American conservative Arabs have generally lost ground to Iranian/Syrian-led groups in the political and military realms. If Bahrain is now the latest battlefield of ideological and ethnic conflict, the military gesture by the Saudis and Emiratis on behalf of the Gulf Co-operation Council is likely to have the opposite effect than its intended calming goal. It will stoke resentment and opposition by many in Bahrain and around the region who will see this move as an “occupation,” as some Bahrainis have already said. On Tuesday, Bahrain’s King declared a state of emergency.

The lesson that many will draw is that two different standards apply to Arab rights – in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the world will accept or actively support constitutional changes that citizens of those countries demand, while in other countries such as Bahrain, the rights of citizens are secondary to wider energy and security needs.

Sending in Saudi and Emirati troops is probably a counterproductive over-reaction, because tensions in Bahrain are purely political and local. They can be resolved through national negotiations that reconfigure the constitutional governance system in a manner that affirms the equal rights of all citizens and subjects the incumbent power elite to credible mechanisms of accountability and participation – which is what Arabs are demanding across the region. Issues of a political character that were resolvable in Bahrain will now be less resolvable because they’ve been shifted into an arena defined by foreign troops and a proxy battle for regional/global powers.

An inner beast has awoken in Saudi Arabia, as sending Saudi troops to other lands is a sign of real concern and growing panic, but also of self-confidence and assertion in foreign policy. The regional implications of this Saudi move are enormous – and unpredictable.

The Saudis, Washington’s closest Arab ally in the heart of the most strategic real estate in the world, apparently gave the Americans only one day’s notice of their intentions. A Saudi official told The New York Times that the U.S. was informed on Sunday that Saudi troops would enter Bahrain on Monday.

There’s no better sign of the reality that Washington has become a marginal player in much of the Middle East, largely as a consequence of its own incompetence, inconsistency, bias and weakness in allowing its Middle East policy to be shaped by neo-conservative fanatics, pro-Israeli zealots, anti-Islamic demagogues, Christian fundamentalist extremists and assorted other folks who trample American principles and generate foreign policies that marginalize the U.S. abroad.

Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

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Female anti-government protesters gather outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Manama on Tuesday, March 15. (James Lawler Duggan / AFP - Getty Images)

Protesters holding signs that read: "Down With Al-Khalifa" (left and right) stand in front of the U.S. embassy during a demonstration where they accused the U.S. government of supporting dictatorships, in Manama on March 7. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters)

On my way to pictifying this post, I discovered the comprehensive article below, a result of the combined efforts of the Associated Press, Reuters, and CNBC, which explains the leadup to Bahrain imposing a "state of emergency" no doubt emboldened by the presence of Saudi, UAE, and other GCC troops and backing, but focuses on the immediate consequences. This is what a "state of emergency" aka "martial law" looks like.

Beware the Ides of March indeed.

*March 15 is  the day a 3-month state of emergency was declared in Bahrain, immediately following the arrival of  Saudi and GCC troops. March 15 was also known as the Ides of March, a day on which the Roman Empire annually celebrated the god of war, Mars, after whom the month is named. The Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated March 15, 44 CE. Plutarch records that he was forewarned by a seer that he would be killed before the Ides of March, but whom he disbelieved when the Ides of March arrived. He did not live out the day. In Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, the forewarning is made famous in the soothsayer's line, "Beware the Ides of March" (Julius Caesar I, ii).

Black smoke billows in Pearl Square in Bahraini capital Manama Wednesday after police killed at least two protesters and wounded dozens more as they assaulted a peaceful protest camp in the capital's Pearl Square, an opposition party official said. (James Lawler Duggan / AFP - Getty Images)

Bahrain forces storm protesters' camp
Move comes a day after the king declares state of emergency
CNBC staff and wire reports updated less than 1 minute ago

MANAMA, Bahrain — Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain's capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom. Demonstrators said at least two people were killed.

The full-scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the center of an uprising against Bahrain's rulers since it began more than a month ago.

Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square, possibly from the protesters' tents set ablaze.

Witnesses said at least two protesters were killed, but there was no official word on casualties from authorities. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from officials.

Reuters reported that two policemen were knocked down and killed by protesters driving cars at high speeds in Pearl Square, a health official said.

Ambulances moved toward Pearl Square Wednesday morning, CNBC said, though there were reports that ambulances weren't allowed to access the roundabout and that the injured weren't able to receive adequate medical care because the military had sealed off hospitals.

It was unclear whether the offensive included soldiers from other Gulf nations who were dispatched to help Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, which has been under relentless pressure from the country's majority Shiite Muslims to give up its monopoly on power.

Clashes continue
Helicopters crisscrossed over the square, which was cleared by security forces late last month but then retaken by protesters after a deadly confrontation with army units.

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police who advanced in thick lines from the Bahrain Financial Harbor, the main financial district of the capital, firing dozens of rounds of teargas.

Protesters fled for cover into side streets and security forces blocked main roads into Manama. Mobile phones were apparently jammed in central Manama during the height of the attack and Internet service was at a crawl.

CNBC reported later that telecommunications were back up after several hours.

In Shiite villages, people went to mosques to pray in a sign of protest against the Pearl Square crackdown.

Others lit fires in anger. Clashes were reported in other mostly Shiite areas of the country, and CNBC confirmed that the fighting was taking place in some villages.

Bahraini defense forces were poised to stamp out any unrest in the town of Hidd, sources told the network, with troops stacking sandbags mounted with 50-caliber guns on top at the entrance to the town.

In the Busaiteen area, masked youths set up checkpoints, halting traffic, CNBC said. Locals set up medical centers in come villages because they had not been allowed to take the wounded to hospitals, CNBC reported.

For Bahrain's authorities, clearing Pearl Square would be more of a symbolic blow against protesters than a strategic victory as opposition groups are still be able to mobilize marches and other actions against the leadership.

State of emergency
Bahrain's king on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency and instructed the military to battle unrest in the strategic nation, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Shortly after the announcement, clashes erupted across the island nation, killing at least two civilians. Saudi officials also said one of their country's soldiers was killed.

Bahrain's sectarian clash is increasingly viewed as an extension of the region's rivalries between the Gulf Arab leaders and Shiite powerhouse Iran.

Washington, too, is pulled deeply into the Bahrain's conflict because of its key naval base — the Pentagon's main Gulf counterweight to Iran's growing military ambitions.

Militias reportedly opened fire at random in mainly Shiite areas of Bahrain, where guns are banned, leading to speculation that the militias were actually security forces, CNBC reported. Royal sources said the fighting was only between civilians, who were armed.

Gulf rulers, particularly Saudi Arabia, fear that a collapse of Bahrain's Sunni monarchy could embolden further revolts across the region and embolden the Saudi Shiite minority whose home region is connected to Bahrain by a causeway.

The state of emergency in the U.S.-backed regime gives Bahrain's military chief wide authority to battle protesters demanding political reforms and equal rights for the majority Shiites.

The U.S. dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman to Bahrain to push for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Clinton urges peaceful solution
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed alarm over "provocative acts and sectarian violence," and said she telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud to stress the need for the foreign forces to promote dialogue.

"We call for calm and restraint on all sides in Bahrain," Clinton told reporters in Cairo, where she called for democratic reforms to continue after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last month.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon authorized military family members and civilians with non-emergency jobs to leave Bahrain as violence spread.

The intervention of more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops from several Gulf nations was the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world. The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.

The foreign troops are from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield Force.

The bloc is made up of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — all largely Sunni countries who have nervously watched the Arab world's protests.

The Saudi government on Tuesday withdrew accreditation to the chief Reuters correspondent there, complaining about a recent report on a protest in the kingdom. Reuters stood by its coverage.

On Tuesday, Iran and its allied force in Lebanon, Hezbollah, denounced the presence of foreign soldiers in Bahrain.

Iran has no direct political links with Bahrain's main Shiite groups, but Iranian hard-liners in the past have called the tiny island nation that "14th Province" of the Islamic Republic.

A senior Bahraini foreign affairs official, Hamad al-Amer, called the remarks "blatant intervention in internal Bahraini affairs" and said Iran's ambassador to Bahrain was summoned to the Foreign Ministry.

A security official in Saudi Arabia said a Saudi sergeant was shot and killed by a protester in Bahrain's capital, Manama, Tuesday.

No other details were immediately given on the death of the soldier, identified as Sgt. Ahmed al-Raddadi.

The Saudi official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The Associated Press, Reuters and CNBC contributed to this report.


[Please note that this article has been updated and retitled on the MSNBC site in light of ongoing events: "Riot police clamp down on Bahrain protesters: Five reportedly killed as forces clear key square, skirmishes spill into villages".]

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Also on the way to pictifying this post, I discovered MSNBC's excellent photo file/slide show on the "Bahrain Uprising". All the photos here, except the one opening each article, and the MSNBC map of Bahrain, which are from the online version of the articles, are from the MSNBC files. Together with their captions the MSNBC collected photos provide a pictorial essay (in reverse chronological order) of the uprising in Bahrain. Some recent images follow.

Protesters confront riot police on a flyover near the Pearl Square in Manama on March 13. Bahraini riot police fired thick clouds of tear gas and pushed back protesters who blocked a main thoroughfare leading to the Bahrain Financial Harbour, a key business district in the Gulf Arab region's banking center. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters)

A protester gestures in front of riot police on an overpass near Pearl roundabout in Manama on March 13. (Hasan Jamali / AP )

Opposition protesters take cover after being fired upon by police during an opposition march on Riffa, south of the capital Manama, on March 11. Police clashed with protesters on the outskirts of Riffa after pro-government supporters were able to pass through police lines and attack the opposition march, leaving hundreds injured according to the health ministry, mainly due to tear-gas inhalation.

A protester kisses a police officer after being told to clear the way for a female driver in Manama on March 3. The protester was blocking the road during an anti-government rally. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters)

Anti-government protesters gesture in front of the main gate of the Interior Ministry during demonstrations in Manama on March 2. Protests in Bahrain are starting to make forays away from the central square in Manama and into different parts of the city. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters)

Anti-government protesters march toward the Pearl roundabout, March 1, in the capital of Manama. Tens of thousands of Bahrainis, largely Shiites, participated in the march urging unity among Sunnis and Shiites in demanding political reform. (Hasan Jamali / AP)

Bahraini protesters sit and rest in their tent at Pearl Square in Manama, Feb. 28. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters)

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

2 comments:

Jay Kactuz said...

Chiara, I have been watching this closely, but I’ll be darned if anybody can figure out what is going to happen. That the Shia minority are abused is certain, that Iran wants to make trouble is also certain. Even so, two wrongs don't make a right.

The fact that the USA has become a marginal player is due to the fact that this issue is for Muslims, Saudis and Bahrainis to resolve, not the US, not the world.

That our government, and particularly Mr. Obama, is incompetent I will not argue. That the US government's policy is shaped by "neo-conservative fanatics, pro-Israeli zealots, anti-Islamic demagogues, Christian fundamentalist extremists and assorted other folks who trample American principles and generate foreign policies that marginalize the U.S. abroad" is very doubtful. Didn't the democrats will the 2008 election?

There is no question that our government does stupid things, but most of the policy, even in this administration, is based upon the simple fact that some Muslim governments are less bad than others. That is the reality that drives US policy, such as it is.

I believe that this administration is shifting to a clear anti-Israel position. Within 2 years Mr. Obama will be speaking out against Israel. We see this already in the UN. He will support Muslims and Palestinians against Israel. So much for the Christian - Zionist lobby.

Will this make a difference? NO Muslims will not love us any more. Obama will sell Israel down the river because he thinks that will give him 30 brownie points - and because he is a Muslim sympathizer at heart. Fortunately for us he is too lazy and incompetent to do more damage. Where the heck has be been this last month? Playing golf? Basketball? Giving parties at the White House? Well, it is not like there is anything important going on in the world.
.
Anyway, the Saudis had no choice. They did it for themselves, not for the Kalipha rulers in Bahrain.

Wendy said...

I think you are soooooo off base regarding your president."Muslim sympathizer my patootie and Israel needs to be slapped down!!! Obama may not have accomplished all that he set out to do but he's dealt with health care and I personally think that the USA should keep their nose out of Bahrain.He's one heck of a lot more competent than any Republican I can think of. That's the view from your northern neighbour.

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