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Qatar is not Bahrain or Kuwait 8, November 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar.
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The following article appeared on Dohanews.co last week

While media outlets find it convenient and practical to generalize when it comes to reporting on “The Gulf” or the now 24-month-long “Arab Spring,” these terms can be problematic as they simplify complex issues.

For example, take the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. On the surface, these countries have many similarities in terms of tribal structure, intermingling of families, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and economic and political systems.

But the differences between the nations, and even in cities within one country, are stark. Riyadh and Jeddah – let alone in comparison to somewhere like Muscat – are poles apart and – to engage in a different sort of generalization – Kuwaitis are far more politically garrulous than their Qatari cousins.

So, will the similarities mean that the Arab Spring will sweep across all Gulf States, or will some difference impede its passage? Let’s take a case-by-case approach.

Kuwait

Kuwait has relatively a long, mercantile history. One author even dubbed Kuwait “the Marseilles of the Gulf” – such was the port-city-melting-pot nature of the place. This helped give rise to a rich and relatively independent merchant elite that exists alongside the ruling Al Sabah family.

This dynamic in which the ruling family must contend with other powerful players has set the feisty tone of politics in Kuwait. In contrast, Doha was never as cosmopolitan or as prosperous a city and consequently no merchant class could develop independent of Al Thani power. This meant that politics was, as it remains today, dominated by the Al Thani family.

Today the merchant families in Kuwait have mostly “joined sides” with the Al Sabah against those dubbed “the opposition.” Much of the opposition are referred to as tribal and Islamist in nature and were enfranchised later on in the 20th century when the Al Sabah needed more support. Initially they were grateful to the Al Sabah for giving them a passport and supported them in Parliament.

More recently, however, they have realised that they are in the majority in Kuwait and now feel that they deserve more power. In the ( annulled) previous election, they won 34 of the 50 seats, demanded nine Cabinet posts (of sixteen), were offered three and took none.

The battle lines are thus set broadly between the older, established, richer elites and the “younger” interlopers looking to get their share and upset the status quo.

Bahrain

While there has historically been tension of varying degrees between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Bahrain, the key dividing line was largely a socio-economic one. Though there was certainly a correlation between Sunni and Shia in terms of greater opportunities for Sunni Bahrainis, the tension was typically not manifest in an overtly sectarian way.

The Arab Spring changed that entirely. To some degree this was a state-sanctioned ploy to specifically and overtly use the sectarian angle as an effective way of corralling support against the uprisings in Bahrain. Though they may have been successful in halting any significant changes, this came at a terrible cost not only in terms of deaths and arrests but in terms of profoundly polarizing Bahraini society.

Qatar

Qatar possesses none of these key dynamics. It has neither a highly active public, political debating culture; latent sectarian concerns; nor deep and widespread socio-economic disparities among citizens. Moreover, it has a tiny indigenous population and prodigious riches to shower upon them.

Yet Qatar’s stability is not obtained through this alone, for its leadership has been putting Qatar on the international map in largely positive ways for over a decade now. This has changed the international perception of Qatar from having no reputation whatsoever – or being “known for being unknown” – to now being known for its mediation, Al Jazeera, sporting initiatives and supporting various factions in the Arab Spring. Overall, I believe that most Qataris are – if anything – pleased with this burgeoning reputation.

Just like every other state on Earth, Qatar does have its problems and its population has its grumbles. The pace of change and apparent “Westernisation”concerns some, while others want more transparency and a say in how the country is run.

By virtue of its proximity and its fraternal ties, Qatar will remain deeply concerned and interested in what transpires as its fellow GCC States wrestle with the Arab Spring. But barring a black swan event or a sea-change in attitudes, Qatar will remain as insulated as ever from the Spring.

Read more: http://dohanews.co/post/34966683468/guest-post-why-qatar-is-not-bahrain-or-kuwait#ixzz2BdVgYPGD
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On Bahrain & RUSI 14, June 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Qatar.
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My views on the current problems in Bahrain are clear. They appeared in the Guardian at the end of last year and they are not flattering. Allow me to quote the opening paragraph:

To paraphrase the quote most often attributed to John Maynard Keynes, I reserve the right to change my mind should new evidence present itself, but so far there is no proof whatsoever of Iranian interference to any significant degree in Bahrain’s internal affairs. Certainly Iran is not “responsible” for the recent uprisings in Bahrain.

Again, in a less than flattering manner, I discuss Bahrain in terms of the Gulf Union for RUSI here and for Foreign policy here; I’ve blogged about the Bahraini security crackdown here; I lay bare Bahrain’s core security concerns here; I criticise a puff piece on Bahrain here; I discuss the tragedy of the KSA intervention in an article titled The Endgame in Bahrain for RUSI; I wrote about the dynamics of Sunni/Shia issues in the Gulf for someone here; I’ve noted the typical lack of evidence when accusing Iran of perfidy in the Gulf here; I disemboweled a shocking Wall Street Journal article on Bahrain here; and I refer to the Bahraini authorities’ molehill of evidence of Iranian interference here.

Does this mean that RUSI as an organisation, my employers for some time now, is thus to be dumped in the anti-Bahraini pot? Not so much. And does RUSI’s organising of a roundtable in Bahrain mean that RUSI is automatically dumped in the pro-Bahraini pot? Not so much.

While there are clearly deep differences between writing some articles on a topic and entering some kind of relationship to put on a series of events, neither one necessarily represents the totality of opinion in a given organisation.

The event

I’ve not been involved in the preparation or execution of the roundtable event in Bahrain and I’ve not attended the sessions, so what I say is coming from secondary sources.

Obviously, it appears that the Bahrainis have stacked the deck and have not issued visas to people that they agreed could attend the events. This is a monumentally silly thing to do. It looks absurd, it attracts all the wrong kind of attention, and is deeply counterproductive as Kristian Ulrichesen, one of the spurned attendees and a genuine Gulf expert eloquently notes in Open Democracy. The only note of caution that I would insert here is to say that a touch of judgement should perhaps be reserved until one sees the results (RUSI’s commentary, analysis, reportage) of this roundtable.

Why?

There is a logic to castigating RUSI noting that it should not lend the fevered rantings of a segment of opinion in Bahrain the forum to rant further. This makes sense to some degree, but to my mind is profoundly undercut by the deeper need to engage.

The first article that I ever wrote for publication in February 2008 discussed this exact point in relation to KSA (Asia Times Online here, and the same idea for Infinity Journal here). In these articles I cite the (depressingly reoccurring) example of a maid in early 2008 in KSA who was to be whipped because she was raped after getting into a car with men to whom she was not married. Yet this absurdly barbaric sentence was quashed by King Abdullah thanks in large (if not quantifiable) part to the storm of Western-led pressure. If my memory serves me well, even Hilary Clinton got in on the act.

I suggest, therefore, that Western engagement in KSA, which is – obviously enough – done mostly on a Government/commercial basis, was profoundly important in this case. Moreover, it does not seem to be a huge leap to me to suggest that had the West disengaged from KSA as there is significant pressure to do, then America’s or Britain’s key role in KSA would be replaced by Russia or China, and I think we can be certain that neither Beijing nor Moscow would have batted the proverbial eyelid about this poor victim who was to be whipped.

[Lest any trolls descend on this last paragraph: no, I’m not trying to suggest that profit-seeking western companies are performing altruistic duties in KSA, but that there are clear, positive ramifications of engaging in KSA nonetheless.]

In a similar vein, I just don’t see the utility of disengaging with Bahrain. I don’t see what would be gained or how it would improve the situation. Does anyone really think that what Bahrain needs is further isolation, condemnation, and finger-wagging? Or, to put this another way; would such an approach lead to some kind of an equitable solution faster? I don’t presume to understand how one can effectively and quickly facilitate the sides in Bahrain in coming to a compromise of some description, but I think that engagement by RUSI or HMG or whomever is likely to be a (small) part of the answer.

__

Like all RUSI researchers, I write this post in a personal capacity, for the Institute does not hold a corporate view, precisely in order to encourage a free flow of ideas.

The Gulf Union that Never Was 20, May 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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The following article appeared on RUSI.org on 17 May 2012.

___

The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council met on 14 May in Riyadh to discuss the formation of a new Gulf Union. This Union was to entail even closer relations between the states. In particular there were high expectations that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain would form some kind of a deep Union, potentially as a pilot before the other states joined. Or so it was thought.

Instead, essentially nothing has emerged from this key meeting. This highlights that while the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) States have common histories and common problems today, there remains key, perennial, and divergent opinions as to the best way to assuage these concerns.
Saudi Arabia leading the way

Saudi Arabia is a conservative country in many ways. It is not flashy with its policies and while it does occasionally engage in fanfare it generally operates with reservation and careful reflection. Yet in the run up to the recent consultative meeting, Saudi authorities and a stream of editorials had been hyping the importance of this meeting and the expected outcomes. The loyal Sunni press in particular relentlessly banged the GCC unity drum, championing the ‘inevitable’ coming together of fraternal states against the spectre of Iran and its numerous perfidious policies.

Their logic flows that Bahrain, a fellow Sunni Kingdom, is – depending on who you read – either under attack from Iran or at least suffering from Iranian-inspired activities that have energised the majority Shia community in Bahrain. This led to a response from the Bahraini Government, which has, among other things, adversely affected the Bahraini economy. Saudi Arabia has stepped in to physically and economically secure Bahrain in recent months and a Union between the two states is the inevitable and sensible conclusion to protect Sunni interests in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia from a further descent into Shia-inspired violence.

The level of expectation of some kind of outcome from this summit was high, given the hype surrounding the meeting and the breathless commentary. Yet any dispassionate analysis of a putative GCC Union reveals that such an outcome is highly unlikely.
Distrust of Saudi Leadership

For the ruling Al Khalifah family in Bahrain, the situation does not look good. The economy is suffering badly and highly reliant on continued Saudi support. This is compounded by the social fabric of the country being ripped asunder and polarised; law and order is a mess with riots, protestors being killed, and reprisals being taken against the police. All of these issues highlighted Bahrain’s murky international image, coming again to the fore after the recent Formula 1 race.

Yet, despite these difficulties, to submit Bahrain to some kind of Union with Saudi Arabia would be a huge gamble by the Bahraini monarchy. Despite Saudi Arabia’s unwavering support, for which most Sunni Bahrainis are deeply grateful, joining a country thirty-nine times bigger and with a population twenty-two times bigger is a different proposition. Depending upon the depth of the Union, such a measure could be considered to be surrendering Bahrain’s sovereignty to Saudi Arabia. And such an outcome – realised or not – would please neither the majority of Sunnis nor Shia.

For most Government supporters there is just no need to join with Saudi Arabia: Bahrain already receives considerable support from Saudi Arabia. While those in Riyadh, according to some sources, have become impatient with the ongoing struggles in Bahrain, the chances of them removing military or financial support are remote. As for the Shia, there would likely be an immediate and vociferous reaction against such a notion with fears that it would mean the deep entrenchment of a staunchly anti-Shia position.

As for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), neither have hugely positive relations with Saudi Arabia. For Qatar, after many difficult years, the rapport with Saudi has improved, but still the states disagree fundamentally on key topics, such as how to deal with Iran. While Abu Dhabi in particular supports Riyadh’s line on key topics such as Iran there are outstanding issues. There are sporadic border disputes and the UAE pulled out of the GCC Common Currency when they learned that Riyadh would host the central bank. The fact that the UAE only sent their Deputy President, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to the recent summit shows a calculated snub and a reluctance to take such a Union seriously at present.

Oman, despite being somewhat reliant upon Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States for economic support, was the first country to pull out of the GCC Monetary Union in 2007 and is wary of any eroding of its sovereignty that a Union might entail. Kuwait is beset with its own political problems at present and, depending on the level of the Union, would likely be concerned that its political progressiveness be hampered by such a move dominated as it would naturally be by Saudi Arabia and its less than progressive political system.
Is the Idea Finished?

The GCC states are not against improving their joint relations or boosting economic cooperation. But the fact that this move was so strongly led by Saudi Arabia, the state that dwarfs all other GCC states combined, is concerning for the smaller states.

Fears that a Union might be a slippery slope to greater cohesion in which the individual states and their nascent identities and social practices would be subsumed in a Saudi-dominated context dominate. An egalitarian Commonwealth of Gulf States, as suggested by a Saudi expert on a recent research trip to Riyadh, might be a suitable way to square this difficult circle, but otherwise Saudi Arabia’s apparent good intentions will be lost through a base fear of absorption and homogeneity.

British Embassy in Bahrain attacked? 5, December 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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A small bomb went off near the British Embassy in Bahrain’s capital Manama. The relatively small device went off underneath a bus parked 50 meters away from the Embassy.

Some points to note:

  • This incident comes at a time of tension between the UK and Iran (re: embassy bootings out) and during the Shia festival of Ashura.
  • Nevertheless, without wishing to be fatuous, no one can say with 100% accuracy that the British Embassy was the target. 50m is no small distance. Of course, it is likely, but if you’re that close to the Embassy why not lob it over the wall or leave it next to the wall/gate – anything other that sticking it under a bus?
  • I shudder to think of the hay that the Bahraini authorities will make with this; adding to their already notable molehill of ‘evidence’ of Iranian nefariousness in Bahrain.
  • If the Iranians wanted to attack the British Embassy in Bahrain (or elsewhere) I would suggest that they could – so to speak – do a damn sight better job than a home-made explosive device left under a bus vaguely near a British Embassy.
  • If the Bahraini authorities really want to push this line about this being proof of Iranian influence in Bahrain, then I suggest that this augers for just how little influence they have.
  • If this incident was done by someone with links to or sympathies with Iran (which is, of course, perfectly possible) then this person either: 1) Is incredibly dim (see point 3) in that now the Bahraini authorities will have yet more excuse in their eyes to crack-down further should they so choose. 2) Is rather Machiavellian (see point 3) in that they are trying to draw on more of a repressive response from the Bahraini authorities. Either which way, the Bahraini police ought to pursue a measured response.

On Iran and the GCC 22, August 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Iran.
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The Guardian have published an article of mine on the GCC fixation with Iran. Despite a bit of butchery with the editing robbing my opening sentence of its mojo, it is still, I feel, worth a read!

Problems on the horizon for the Gulf States 10, April 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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Born in an era when the German Mark was trading at over four trillion to the Dollar and the League of Nations still sought to regulate international alliances, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who has lived through the inauguration of fifteen US Presidents, is truly a man of a different age.

Given what one might – rightly or wrongly – expect from a Saudi King who is nearly a nonagenarian, steeped in the austere, conservative Wahhabi culture of Saudi Arabia, some of his policies have been relatively enlightened. For example, he founded the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), which is a resolutely co-educational campus where Saudi’s feared mutaween (religious police) are not allowed to go, where women can drive and are not mandated to cover their hair.

A Shia Lens

Yet one sphere in which Abdullah certainly is hawkish and conservative is that of Saudi foreign policy towards Iran. Here Abdullah appears to subscribe to the notion that Iran is perennially seeking to undermine Arab societies in some way, shape or form. Unprecedented in modern times, the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Bahrain exemplifies this logic, with Bahrain seen as the front line of a cold but warming war which must be defended against Iran at all costs.

Three primary currents of fear – noted in their order of their priority to the Saudi government – drove this extreme policy.

Firstly, Riyadh fears that the establishment of any kind of meaningful Shia participation in Bahrain’s government – let alone a representative Shia Parliament – may allow, if not actively encourage, some kind of a militant Shia beach-head on Saudi Arabia’s doorstep. The notion that a Bahraini Hezbollah could emerge, or that some units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could be covertly based in Bahrain, but a few kilometres from Saudi Arabia’s key oil fields, is immiscible to Saudi Arabia’s core security purview.

Secondly, Abdullah does not want to see the installation of a Shia-led government in Bahrain at the expense of the Sunni Al Khalifah family’s power. Such an upheaval could be interpreted as the first step towards the emasculation of royal power in Bahrain, and Riyadh is loath to allow such a precedent to be set.

Finally, Saudi Arabia wants to avoid the establishment of any kind of strong Shia-led government so close to its own Shia population, lest contagion spreads and they too begin to demand more rights.

These events take place in the context of what many in the region see to be growing Shia power, as encapsulated by the notion of a Shia crescent ‘enveloping’ the region, as suggested by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2004. The recent expulsion of three Iranian diplomats from Kuwait convicted of spying for the IRGC [1] exacerbated tensions and further fostered notions of Shia encroachment.

This Shia lens through which many people in the Gulf (certainly not just Saudi Arabia) view regional politics means that, for example, the protests in Bahrain are not seen as a disenfranchised sector of society complaining and demanding equal opportunities and fair representation, but necessarily instigated by Iran. ‘You see the same people on the streets of Bahrain as on the streets of Iraq … these people … [are] sent by Iran to cause trouble’ as one Kuwaiti put it, linking the narrative of Iran fostering sectarian strife in Iraq with Bahrain. [2]

Is It Merited?

In many ways, this kind of vilification of Iran is exactly what Tehran wants. It strives to foster a reputation for itself as a mighty state with elite and highly capable armed forces, whose sole goal is to propagate the Revolution and the velayat-e faqih rule of law.

In reality, Iran is – to a large degree – a paper tiger. Considering that it is arguably the richest state on earth in terms of oil and gas deposits, economically it is surprisingly weak with a GDP per capita of around $11,000, high unemployment and inflation. Socially, it has the world’s highest rate of human capital flight (often referred to as ‘brain-drain’) and the world’s highest proportion of opiate drug-users. [3] Politically, the country is riven with conflict, as evidenced by the million-strong protests after the stolen election in 2010. Militarily it is outspent five to one by the UK, and even by the comparatively tiny United Arab Emirates (UAE). Moreover, as General Petraeus recently bluntly stated ‘The Emirati Air Force itself could take out the entire Iranian Air Force.’ [4]

Asymmetrically, Iran needs to be taken seriously: the Islamic movements that it spawned and still supports in the Levant are arguably as strong as they have ever been and contribute to Iran’s deterrence. Also, its IRGC irregular forces have been relatively well-funded when compared with its traditional armed forces, and it would be foolish to underestimate them.

Nevertheless, this Iran – the Iran reliant on endless rhetorical bluster and a desperate showmanship striving to live up to several thousand years of a proud and strong civilisation whose key strengths today are, in fact, ambiguity and other asymmetries of power – bears little resemblance to the perfidious and powerful Iran as envisaged by some Gulf Arabs.

A Rock And A Hard Place

Whatever the true extent of Iranian power and their actions on the Arab side of the Gulf, the simple fact is that Saudi Arabia acts as if their threat were compelling and imminent. This may have unforeseen implications for regional security.

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) met recently, and issued a joint statement in which Iran was accused of ‘blatantly … interfering in Kuwait’s affairs’ and of ‘continuous … interference in the domestic affairs of the GCC countries … and [instigating] sectarian sedition between … [GCC countries’] citizens.'[5] This is unusually aggressive and inflammatory language from the GCC States and reflects the point of view of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE more than Qatar or Oman.

Though Doha and Muscat may well be as uneasy about Iran’s motives or actions in the Gulf as other GCC members, they deal with Tehran in a different way, taking, where possible, more conciliatory approaches. For Qatar, the fact that they share and jointly exploit the world’s biggest gas field with Iran plays a key role in this decision and Qatari authorities are understandably wary of antagonising Iran.

Qatar and Oman will be under pressure to tow the GCC line, as they have in this instance. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait will want a united GCC front against Iran. While these two states will follow this to some degree, it would require a full reappraisal of their foreign policy towards Iran if this trend of difficult relations between the GCC and Iran were to continue. They are thus left with some difficult decisions, which might give them no choice but to antagonise either their fellow Arab States or Iran.

Notes

[1] Habin Toumi ‘Kuwait to expel three Iranian diplomats involved in spy ring’ Gulf News 31 March 2011 http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/kuwait/kuwait-to-expel-three-iranian-diplomats-involved-in-spy-ring-1.785663

[2] Personal interview (March 2011)

[3] For more statistics like this see ‘Iran is a Paper Tiger’, Intelligence Squared Debate, 24 February 2011

[4] Josh Rogin, ‘Petraeus: The U.A.E’s Air Force could take out Iran’s’, Foreign Policy, 17 December 2009 <http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/12/17/petraeus_the_uaes_air_force_could_take_out_irans>

[5] GCC states condemn Iran’s blatant interference in Kuwait’s affairs, Kuwait Times, 5 April 2011  <http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTI3NDY1Njg5MQ>

The endgame in Bahrain: Saudi and UAE troops enter Manama 15, March 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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With escalating tensions and increasingly violent rioting on the streets of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, Saudi Arabia sent in troops to ‘stabilise’ the Bahraini Government. The UAE too has responded to the request from the Bahraini government to “contribute to the establishment of internal security and stability” and has sent at least 500 police.

Thus far there is no evidence that Qatar or Kuwait has taken part in this mission, though they have offered strong rhetorical and financial support for Bahrain.

The Saudi contingent is nominally part of the ‘Peninsula (Jazeera) Shield Force’, a multi-national task force of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Established in the mid-1980s to counter any potential Iranian threat, this force was soon beset with command and control issues and it is questionable if it was ever an active or effective fighting unit. By the mid-2000s it was defunct. In 2009, prompted by Yemeni incursions into Saudi Arabia, it was re-branded and re-tooled as a ‘Peninsula Shield Rapid Reaction Force’ though questions as to whether it could ever function as a genuine multi-national task-force remain.

The force’s raison d’etre has always been to preserve GCC security and unity. This explains the particular utility in using the ‘Peninsula Shield Force’ for the majority of the intervention into Bahrain; so it appears more like fraternal support based on mutually agreed common goals and identities than a heavily armed incursion to prop-up an unpopular, minority-based Royal government.

The entry of at least 1000 Saudi troops with armoured troop carriers and other assorted lightly armed vehicles plus the UAE contingent signifies a qualitative shift in the dynamics of the troubles in Bahrain. Until now there has only been stiff rhetorical and financial support from neighbouring governments.

GCC Royal families are, perhaps understandably, severely concerned about allowing any kind of republican precedent. While conditions are different in Bahrain as compared to their neighbouring states, the GCC leadership, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, appear to follow an ‘Article 5’ mandate: a threat to one Royal family is seen as tantamount to a threat to them all.

The Shia twist in Bahrain too will have contributed to their calculus. Typically, the Sunni-Shia dimension has been lazily applied as a lens to understand Bahrain’s issues. Certainly, it has been prominent, but – until recently – economic cleavages have been equally important as a delineating line in Bahraini politics. Yet the recent troubles have significantly exacerbated sectarian tensions and current Sunni-Shia relations are as bad as they have been in decades.

The key backdrop to this is the insidious notion of Iranian, Shia fifth columnists pervading Gulf States and Bahrain in particular. Certainly Iran has sporadically alluded to such threats in the past and has overtly described Bahrain as the ‘14th province of Iran’, which drew immediate and vociferous Arab denunciations. These Iranian concerns are particularly acute for Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent present in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern province is where the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Shia live. There are genuine and deep-rooted concerns in the Saudi government of further uprisings in these areas. On Thursday 10th March police fired into a group of Shiite protestors demanding the release of prisoners and the next day, on Saud Arabia’s ‘day of rage’, there were larger though peaceful protests in  Hofuf and Qatif in the east of the Kingdom. Riyadh is highly motivated not to give these protestors any encouragement from their religious brethren nearby in Bahrain.

After Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai from its spectacular financial collapse, it set about emasculating Dubai’s power in the federation. One result is that Dubai’s ‘perennial’ role as an Iranian-friendly port city is coming under increasing pressure from Abu Dhabi and America. The recent uncovering of an Emirati ‘spy ring’ in Oman, allegedly there to investigate Oman’s Iranian links, further propagates the notion of the Emirates as highly concerned with Iran’s activities.

For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, therefore, this intervention is a calculated risk. Immediately, opposition groups in Bahrain castigated the entry of foreign troops as “a blatant occupation” or even as “an act for war” despite official protestations that the troops are there to protect official installations. Indeed, the soldiers and police from Saudi Arabia and the UAE arrived soon after Bahrain’s financial district, the core of its economy, was closed down by protestors.

There are real concerns that this move in and of itself may escalate the violence. For while the foreign soldiers and police are nominally in Bahrain to protect critical infrastructure, any footage of them arresting, subduing or otherwise harming a Bahraini protestor would be hugely incendiary in Bahrain and similarly provocative in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Moreover, the spectre of a proxy war in Bahrain between Saudi Arabia and Iran is apparent now that Riyadh has broken the taboo of direct intervention.

These actions further complicate an already Gordian problem for America. Thus far the reaction has been to simply note that “this is not an invasion” and Washington will surely head off any mooted Bahraini overtures at the United Nations for support. It is also worth noting that Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, was in Manama on Saturday for discussions with the Bahraini leadership, a critical US ally as the home of the US fifth fleet. The US Administration has denied that Gates was informed about this plan.

The events set in motion carry dark overtones. There is a real sense of fear that in their haste to avoid allowing a precedent to be set and to prevent any potential Iranian interference, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s actions may well precipitate these very outcomes. Ominous statements emanating from Tehran and an outraged reaction from the largely un-cooperative opposition in Bahrain, suggest that these actions have further polarised and inflamed an already highly troubled situation. The announcement of three months of martial law by the Bahraini King confirms the deeply worrying trends in Bahrain.

Aside from an ignominious withdrawal by the foreign troops and police, which would play incredibly badly in their own countries, or the dissolution of the opposition, which appears wholly unlikely, the only likely outcome is a delicate stalemate, which is liable to explode at any moment.

David B Roberts, Deputy Director RUSI Qatar

Bahrain…what else? 21, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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Just about everybody expected protests in Bahrain. Most expected serious problems for the Government. Some expected some stiff repression. Few thought that the governmental pay off (over $2500 per family) would sate protesters.  No-one expected governmental forces to open fire on sleeping protesters in the middle of the night.

The Bahrain situation is far trickier, it seems to me, than Egypt and Tunisia. While, of course, in the latter two countries there are many people who are enfranchised by the government i.e. on their side, they were, I’d have thought, in the minority. Yet this is not as much the case in Bahrain.

Yes, I know that a few years ago the statistics were that Bahrain was made up of 70% Shia and 30% Sunni. Yet this has changed. Wholesale importing of Sunni from, well…anywhere, has taken place and this divergence has been, so some degree, redressed. Though specific numbers are difficult to come by, a 55-60% Shia majority sounds about right to me. Moreover, one must not just boil this down to an ethnic issue. Economics is perhaps the key divider, though this does, of course, tend to split somewhat down ethnic lines.

Either which way, this leaves a very sizable proportion of Bahrain’s population – at the very least a third – largely supporting the government. While it is possible to see this as a recipe for a nightmareish civil war, I expect, thanks largely to the shootings, the Government to give in quite some way.

It is hardly as if the Shia or, to put it a better way, those disaffected with the government, have hugely outlandish desires. Sure, some want to get rid of the Monarchy but most just want some kind of equality and – here’s that watchword of the revolutions so far – respect.

 

The Daily Hate’s shocking Bahraini puff-piece 26, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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I’m not a fan of the British tabloid The Daily Mail, or the Daily Hate as it should patently be known. Quite literally founded on the principal that it should give its readers something to ‘hate’ everyday, the paper continues to peddle sensationalist drivel usually involving demonizing Muslims or foreigners as a whole.

The latest joke of an article that I’ve come across is the puffiest of puff pieces on Bahrain. Presumably in the backlash of the negative press reporting in the West about Bahrain’s current crisis and their severe crack-down on pro-democracy protesters, an intrepid Daily Mail reporter was dispatched to Bahrain to do an in depth report on the delights of Manama as a tourist destination. Truly I can’t remember reading such a vapid piece of pseudo-journalism.

While I perfectly understand that this article is in the Travel section of the paper, is it really too much to expect a word – just one word – about the massive human rights abuses currently going on in Bahrain? Moreover, ignoring the fact that this article really ought to have been shelved given the current issues in Bahrain, even for a Travel section, this piece could not have been written more favourably were it dictated by Bahrain Tourism Inc. No critical comments at all? Nothing? Everything was just that perfect?

Truly, this is a nauseating article in massively bad taste.

Hat tip: CMD

PS. If you type ‘Daily Hate’ into Google, the first result is the Daily Mail’s homepage…even google agrees with me.

Bahrain v Togo…sort of 14, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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1 comment so far

Bahrain played Togo at football (soccer) on the 7th September and won 3-0. The only problem is that Togo never actually sent a football team to Bahrain. Curious. Investigations are underway.