The day the Bahraini authorities demolished the Pearl monument at the center of Bahrain’s ‘Tahrir Square’ on March 18th, the state-run Bahrain News Agency announced to a puzzled public that the “GCC monument” had been removed for a “facelift” in order to get rid of "bad memories.” Amidst the rubble, it came to light that the symbol known locally as the ‘Pearl roundabout’ in reference to Bahrain’s pearl diving and trading history was in fact officially known as the “Gulf Cooperative Council roundabout”—with each pillar of the now-destroyed structure representing a member state of the “cooperative” council. Meanwhile in the areas of Sitra and Karranah, 29-year old Ahmed Farhan Ali and 40-year old Mohammed Abd’ali were buried by throngs of enraged mourners after being shot by troops in the head and chest respectively earlier in the week.
Now that the dust has settled in the grim light of a demolished social movement, the equation seems all too obvious. If recent events have shown anything, it is that any movement for social change in Bahrain not only has to take on the bulwarks of its own regime, but the entire matrix of power that maintains the status quo in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia at its apex (and the United States on the other end of the phone). The deaths of Ahmed Farhan, Mohammed Abdali, and the twenty-four others who were killed as well as the hundreds detained since the beginning of the uprising are the heavy price of maintaining that decaying status quo.
Aiding, abetting and sustaining this matrix are of course other ‘great powers’ and that most odious of terms in international relations: ‘interests.’ In this light, an important equation that has emerged is the alleged deal between the US and Saudi Arabia. According to diplomats from Europe and the BRIC group, GCC support for the UNSC Resolution 1973 regarding a no-fly zone over Libya came at the price of US silence in return for a license for Saudi Arabia’s free reign in Bahrain.
As the Peninsula Shield Forces effectively reduced Bahrain to the status of a Saudi vassal state dependent on the latter for military and financial survival, American soldiers at the largest naval fleet in the Gulf slept soundly at their base in Juffair. Let us not forget also, the quagmire of Saudi and American financiers and their chosen "cops on the beat," the Pakistani government, which effectively outsources its poorer citizens to work as the ruthless messengers of the Bahraini regime’s zero-tolerance message to its people. A major non-Nato ally which has allegedly been struggling to sustain sweet deals on oil supplies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has been promised greater military, economic, and trade ties with Bahrain since the GCC offensive began.
Add to the balance sheet the hypocritical Western governments in their bid for contenders of ‘acceptable revolutions’ in the Arab Spring. Robert Cooper, former personal assistant to Tony Blair and current advisor to EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement effectively green-lighting the Bahrain-GCC violence and repression of civilian protesters by saying, “accidents happen.”
As the local uprising was dragged into the international arena, the GCC was quick to raise the tired old specter of a belligerent Iran, with the Bahraini rulers claiming the regional effort ‘thwarted a 30-year old foreign plot’. The Bahraini regime could only have issued such a revelation to impress the necessity of its brutality upon Western governments. In Bahrain, however, people have surely become accustomed to such heroics. Looking back over the last twenty years alone: in June 1996 the Bahraini government foiled a “foreign-backed plot” by arresting forty-four alleged plotters; in December 2008 the authorities arrested fourteen citizens for allegedly receiving training in Syria; in September 2010 the nation was spared once again as another twenty-three citizens were arrested for being part of an ‘international terrorist network.’
The flimsy allegations of Iranian involvement—which, according to American intelligence reports released by Wikileaks cables, are baseless- have enabled international players to shuffle into predictable geopolitical positions. The US has already warned Iran over its alleged intervention in Bahrain, with the European Union more concerned about possible Iranian influence than the GCC troops’ actual lethal violence. On their part, Iran and Hizbollah have criticized Saudi intervention and made statements in support of the Bahraini protesters. All the while, voices of the Bahraini opposition categorically denying and rejecting Iranian involvement are all but unheard and summarily dismissed.
So what has the Saudi hand, which last month threatened to “cut off any finger” raised against its own regime, brought to Bahrain? Almost-daily raids are carried out in villages across the country, where residents have attempted to maintain limited and subdued acts of protests against the military repression. Nightly arrests of opposition figures, human rights activists, journalists and most recently commentators on social networking sites such as twitter have also persisted. As the death toll quietly rises, international journalists are being detained for reportedly failing to produce identification papers, and the only independent local newspaper was suspended and faces legal action for "unethical coverage" of recent events.
Saudi hegemony, built with the greasy palms of petro-dollars and maintained by a ruthless regime—one that enjoys diplomatic support from the world’s most powerful democracies—already has to answer for violence and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan. Bahrain is only the latest client on the list; and we certainly fit the bill, with a ‘shared’ Saudi oilfield already providing most of the Bahraini regime's budget and the economy dependent on Saudi investment and expenditure. And so the answer is clear: any challenge to the stalwart system of oppression, coercion, and crooked economics of the ‘GCC’ will be met with the guns of those regimes. The deaths of the civilians who christened the roundabout with their hope of reviving Bahrain’s glow as the ‘pearl of the Gulf’ are a testament to this. As the Bahraini Prime Minister chillingly reminded us this week, “we will help those who help us, but we will not let bygones be bygones.” So it seems a democratic spring will not be allowed to flourish in the Gulf this Arab Spring. We are to accept our new masters, the nefarious princedom of the House of Al Saud, along with their dirty and reprehensible international and domestic policies.
In 1965, the British newspaper The Guardian wrote of the Bahraini ‘March uprising’ against British colonial presence that, “nationalism has become such a potent force in the Middle East that attempts to resist it by providing artificial support for regimes such as the one now ruling Bahrain may delay, but will not deflect, the success of the movement in establishing its power throughout the Arab world.” Once more we face a delay, and once more we (the people) must unite—across the Gulf, the region and beyond—on the basis of our political identity and rights as nationals. And we must not be divided by the identity politics of sect, ethnicity, religion, class or gender, knowing that these splits only allow those who work to keep us divided and oppressed to continue to destroy our social fabric and our aspirations for a better future for all.
Protesters outside the Bahraini embassy in Oman condemn foreign interference in Bahrain
[Image from muscatdaily.com]
Kuwaitis protest in solidarity with peaceful protesters in Bahrain
[Image from allvoices.com]