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Bahrain: ‘US can’t attack Iran from Manama’ 21, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Bahrain.
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The Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifah, has stated that Bahrain will not allow America to use its military bases in Bahrain to attack Iran. He further stated that Bahrain’s military agreements with America were purely for defense.

The U.S have an enormous and expanding Naval Base south of Manama’s downtown. U.S. Naval Central Command and the 5th fleet is based there. There is also an airfield ran by the Navy at Bahrain’s International Airport.

Bahrain has a complicated history with Iran. Many Iranians believe that Bahrain is technically a province of Iran. Only in 1971 did Iran officially recognise the Al Khalifah as independent rulers of Bahrain in a quid pro quo for ‘understandings’ regarding the Abu Musa and Tunb islands that Iran subsequently took from the Emirates. Yet, sporadic statements emanate from Tehran reiterating their claims to the islands. Such instances terrify Bahrain and other smaller Gulf States. Iran dwarfs the smaller Gulf States in strategic terms. Only with their U.S. umbrella can they retain their independence.

This situation is worse for Bahrain with its Shia majority ruled by the Sunni minority. Insidious notions of Iranian or Shia 5th columnists acting as internal rebels perhaps along a Hezbollah model are of acute concern in Bahrain (and elsewhere in the Gulf). These fears are made worse by the slow but sure ending of Bahrain’s rentier bargain. With oil all but finished, the Manama government can not simply doll out welfare in all its numerous forms to, essentially, buy the acquiescence of groups in society, as the other Gulf States do as a matter of course.

America’s guarantees and the stationing of its forces in Bahrain are, therefore, central to Bahrain’s security. However, Bahrain and not America has to live with Iran but a few hundred kilometers across the Gulf. They can not employ the hard US line towards Iran; they must seek some kind of accommodationist, working relationship. This can also be very clearly seen with Qatar. Only yesterday, a press release emerged of the Qatari Foreign Minister in Tehran uttering the usual platitudes regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme whilst visiting Ahmadinejad.

It is exactly the same for Bahrain here. They are well aware that the American presence in Bahrain antagonizes Iran quite seriously. Though they are not willing to countenance getting rid of this umbrella, they are willing to make such rhetorical concessions. By insisting that American troops are there for ‘defense’ purposes only and by saying that offensive strikes cannot be launched from Manama, they are simply trying to placate Iran; to make their day-to-day life easier.

Also, one must not forget that all politics is local; there are elections in Bahrain soon. Such a statement might resonate well with a significant minority in Bahrain who see Iran in a positive light.

In reality, it would seem to be an empty gesture. The notion that America’s Navy would not be involved were there to be a conflagration with Iran is unrealistic. Moreover, it would seem highly unlikely were there some kind of clause in the basing agreement dictating what America could and could not do with its forces.

Bahrain’s security crackdown 18, August 2010

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Four opposition activists have been arrested in Bahrain and their whereabouts remains unknown.

Abd Al Jalil Al Singace was arrested on 13th August when he arrived back from London. Abdal Ghani Al Khanjar, Sheikh Said Al Nuri, and Sheikh Muhammad Habib Al Moqdad were arrested on 15th August after attending a conference in the UK’s House of Lords earlier on in the month during which they criticized Bahrain’s human rights record. Al Muqdad and Al Nouri are outspoken critics and Al Kanjar is the head of a human rights group that supports the victims of torture.

Whilst no official comment has been made, it is believed that they have been arrested for “inciting violence and terrorist acts.” Despite Bahraini law dictating that they ought to have been brought before the public prosecutor by now, this has, as yet, not happened.

Human Rights Watch reports that Al Singace is a lecturer at the University of Bahrain and a leader of the Shia-based Haq movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy that has advocated the boycott of elections and election officials.

Elections for Bahrain’s Parliament are due on the 23rd October. The majority of Bahrain’s population is Shia yet are largely disenfranchised. Recent years have seen the percentages of Shia and Sunni change starkly. Whilst the Shia used to be a clear, large majority (70%+) thanks to the co-option and immigration of Sunni tribes, they are down to a majority of, according to some reports, only 55-60%.

These measures have already fostered protests and more are surely on the way.

Bahrain backs down over GCC nomination 31, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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Bahrain backed down and has not nominated Muhammed Al Mutawa as the new Secretary General of the GCC. Hid nomination was widely seen as one of the key precipitants of recent problems between Qatar and Bahrain. Qatar strenuously objected to the nomination of Al Mutawa as he was prominent and vocal in advancing Bahrain’s case against Qatar to the ICJ over the border dispute. Although the dispute was resolved some years ago, Qatar could not brook the idea of him as the next Secretary General.

Instead Bahrain has nominated Abdul Lateef Bin Rashid Al Zayani. This change came at the behest of Saudi King Abdullah who sought to mediate between the two countries. Given Bahrain’s political and economic position, they are in no position to refuse an request such as this from the Saudi King.

US announce expansion of Bahrain navy base (again) 27, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Bahrain.
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The US Navy is to spend nearly $600 million upgrading and expanding their navy base in Bahrain. Whilst part of this was announced some time ago, it appears that this is yet another expansion of port facilities. Clearly, they are not planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

(Incidentally, is that not the most ridiculous picture? I can almost see the incredulity on the faces of the Bahraini royals “You want ME to pick up a SHOVEL??” I bet they were chauffeured home as quickly as possible so their servants could give their hands a thorough – yet gentle – scrubbing…)

On the Qatar Bahrain naval skirmish 25, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Qatar.
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A few more scraps of information regarding the Bahrain-Qatar skirmish:

  • The GCC are discussing a system that would allow each member state to fish within each other’s boundaries, reinforcing the idea that it was just a fishing-border demarcation incident
  • Manama said that Doha is still holding 106 Bahraini fisherman
  • Qatar downgraded its representation at a Bahraini Petrochemical conference
  • This incident where the Qataris shot a Bahraini fisherman comes less than a year after a Qatari coastguard boat rammed a Bahraini boat over, I believe, similar issues
  • The Bahraini Foreign Minister (rightly) said that the Qatari coastguard ought to have shot at, for example, the ship’s engines and not the sailors
  • Qatar initially dropped all charges against the sailor that it shot and his crew but later changed their minds. They also refused to let a Bahraini medical crew visit him.

Update:

Qatar has released 9 Bahrainis who had been held over the recent trespassing incident.

The (unusually informative) article in the Gulf News also pointed out a latent issue between Qatar and Bahrain being Qatar’s refusal to acquiesce to the appointing of Mohammad Al Mutawa, Bahrain’s former information minister, as rotating GCC Secretary General. Although it is Bahrain’s turn to appoint the post, Qatar are apparently angry over Mutawa’s stance over the now settled border ICJ conclusion between the two countries.

Bahrain contemplating the T word 6, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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Despite being an economic inevitability the fact that Bahrain’s Minister of Finance has publicly said that the Manama government will have to consider imposing taxes in the near future is still somehow surprising.

“Here in Bahrain, the government cannot afford to continue to pay for everything and subsidise everything so at some point taxation is inevitable.

Is there a rational argument against imposing taxes? Or indeed any argument that doesn’t essentially boil down to the stamping of the foot and bleating ‘I just don’t wanna!’…I can’t think of one.

Two quick thoughts: First, it seems to me that by putting the topic of taxes off as the Gulf rentier states clearly are, they are simply passing the problems onto their children. By ‘their’ children I am referring the future Crown Princes who, given that lineage guarantees power in the Gulf, will be in  power and will have to deal with the problems that current rulers do not want to deal with. Second, at the moment, most of the Gulf States (not Bahrain, though) are, I’d suggest, roughly at the apex of their earning a capacity. Of course, for decades to come, they will continue to earn huge amounts of foreign rent for oil and gas, but with this enormous fiscal largess stretching in front of them, is not now the best time to introduce taxes: i.e. when everybody is rich? It will surely be harder to do this when gas and oil is dwindling and the public purse is no longer as bulging.

Hat tip: Suq al Mal

 

 

 

Arabia running out of…sand 5, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia.
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DSCN4147

No longer is the key debate in Gulf politics about when oil and gas reserves will run out but instead when sand will run out. This may come as a surprise to those who have been to the various bits and pieces of desert in the Gulf and seen, well, lots of sand or those that know about Saudi’s ‘Empty Quarter’, one of the world’s largest sand deserts covering some 250,000 square miles (i.e. France, Holland, Belgium and a bit of Luxembourg).

Yet as unbelievable as it seems, Bahrain will soon be looking for another supplier of sand as Saudi Arabia have announced that they will be stopping the sale of this latest precious substance for fear that they might run out.

Cynics, however, (or those with a rudimentary grasp of geography and common sense) might suggest that this policy about turn has more to do with politics and international relations. It was, after all, King Abdullah himself that ruled that no longer would Saudi Arabia supply the region’s sand. Unless he is some kind of sandologist and/or knows a whopping big secret about Saudi’s quarter of a million miles of sandy deserts, there is, it could tentatively be suggested, something else afoot.

Gulf Daily News reports that this is the second blow to Bahrain’s construction industry in little over a month. At the beginning of October King Abdullah banned the transport of cement and – wait for it – sand across the King Fahd Causeway to ease traffic congestion. How noble of the King to care about traffic congestion and to care about the plight of Saudi’s disappearing sands.

So, answers on a postcard as to what King Abudllah currently has against the powers that be in Manama. Perhaps he’s still angry that Saudi’s former protectorate/vassal-state knocked Saudi out of the World Cup last month…

Hat tip: MEI blog

Bahrain-Israeli relations 1, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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MEMRI reports that the Bahraini foreign minister is calling for direct negotiations with Israel. It remains to be seen, however, exactly how their domestic, largely Shia, largely Iran supporting and largely angry audience will take this announcement. In Qatar, where their Foreign Minister frequently openly seeks better relations with Israel, their population is far less divided, far less angry and far more monetarily rewarded than in Bahrain, giving him a certain amount of leeway to say such things.

First official Bahrain trip to Israel…nearly 5, July 2009

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A group of Bahraini officials have made the first ever official visit to Israel, nearly. They landed at Tel Aviv International Airport and were met on the tarmac by Israeli officials who handed over several Bahraini citizens who had been intercepted by Israeli forces trying to break the blockade of supplies to Gaza. Although the officials did not officially enter Israel by going through customs, this story nevertheless made headlines around the region.

Currently, only Jordan and Egypt of the Arab countries have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Qatar has an Israeli trade office that opens and closes from time to time but the rest of the Arab world operates under the premise that Israel does not officially exist. Part of the current road-map for peace in the Middle East includes full recognition by Arab states of Israel in return for the establishment of a viable Palestinian State.

It seems unlikely that this interlude is Bahrain testing the waters of normalising relations with Israel. Bahrain is a country with a large majority of Shia and a Sunni governing elite. Many of the Shia have close links to Iran and are severely critical of Israel. This currently disenfranchised majority is currently at boiling point with countless disturbances and riots in recent weeks and it would therefore be something of a provocative act by the governing elite in Bahrain to normalise relations: they have enough to deal with already.

Bahrain bans its oldest newspaper 23, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Iran.
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Authorities in Bahrain have closed down the oldest newspaper in the country after a reporter alleged that Iranian President Ahmadinajad was Jewish. It is not known when Akhbar Al Khaleej (Gulf News) will reopen. An article – ‘Islamic Republic – Popular Fury’ by a female member of Bahrain’s Consultative Council, Samira Rajab, which slammed Ahmadinajad’s government is believed to have precipitated the closure, though this has not been officially confirmed. The author was repeating an oft mooted notion that Ahmadinahad has in fact changed his name from the Jewish name Saborjhian.

The immediate and somewhat drastic reaction of the Bahraini authorities is surprising. Bahrain has a majority Shia population of Iranian descent and thus perhaps it was to allay any potential issues there. Alternatively, Bahrain could have wanted to temper any Iranian reaction to the story. It was only a few months ago that the speaker of the Iranian Parliament bemoaned the fact that Bahrain used to be to be considered as Iranian territory. This drew a vociferous reaction from Bahrain as such statements hit an exceedingly raw nerve in Manama.

Their overly-placatory reaction to this story highlights the changeable nature of Gulf politics.Perhaps included in the Bahraini calculation is Iran’s war games exercises in the Gulf this week. Whilst such activities may well be somewhat threatening, the US fleet anchored in Manama and their stated desire to expand their port space in Bahrain, ought to assuage any Bahraini worries.