United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits Bahrain to meet King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Saturday. Saudi Arabia invades Bahrain on Monday. This has got to be just a coincidence; Gates and the king were obviously discussing the fortunes of Ferrari and MacLaren in the (postponed) Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain.
Moreover, this walks like an invasion, talks like an invasion, but it’s not really an invasion, as White House spokesman Jay Carney confidently reassured world public opinion. It helps that said opinion happened to be conveniently narcotized, transfixed by the heartbreaking post-tsunami drama in Japan to the point of ignoring some distant rumblings in a tiny Gulf kingdom.
Let’s imagine that neo-Napoleonic French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi decided to send North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops to help not the Libyan rebels but Muammar “King of Kings” Gaddafi to protect his “sensitive installations”. After all, as Gaddafi assured the world, these rebels are “terrorists”.
That’s exactly what happened with the House of Saud sending armored carriers, tanks and 1,000 troops – part of “Peninsula Shield” forces – to Bahrain to repress an unarmed, civilian, domestic opposition (al-Qaeda or Iran “terrorists”, take your pick) demanding political reform.
While the whole West – plus the Arab League – was involved in the dead-end no-fly zone debate concerning Libya, the Gulf neighbors ensured an all-drive zone through the causeway linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain’s capital Manama. Gates must have been jet-lagged to oblivion; he had said he was convinced the al-Khalifas “are serious about serious reform”.
“The US and world community must show they will not stand by while this thug al-Khalifa uses tank power to murder fellow Bahrainis.”
Substitute Gaddafi for al-Khalifa, airpower for tank power, and Libyans for Bahrainis, and these are the exact words pronounced in outrage by US Senator John Kerry. But outrage is for the “thug” in Libya; the al-Khalifa and the Saudis are our “valuable allies”.
One thing is already certain. These two paragons of equanimity – the House of Saud and the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty – have just helped to reconfigure a peaceful mass movement towards a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain into a full-fledged revolution. The ignominy extends to auditioning for mercenaries in Lahore, Pakistan; the al-Khalifa’s methods are Gaddafi’s methods (see the details here ). Bahrain’s revolutionaries will now settle for nothing less than the overthrow of the al-Khalifas.
Time to call the cavalry
Whatever the spin, Saudi Arabia could not have invaded Bahrain without Washington’s assent (and this even after Gates told the al-Khalifas there was “no evidence” the bogeyman, Iran, “started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region”.)
Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are Washington’s solid client states. Details of Bahrain’s subservience, especially to the Pentagon, abound in WikiLeaks cables – here, here and here. There’s also this one here laying down the law; “As the smallest Gulf state, Bahrain has historically needed closer security ties with a Western patron than any of its neighbors … we can use our close security ties with Bahrain to continue pushing the envelope for GCC-US security cooperation.”
GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council, the US-protected umbrella of regional paradises on Earth (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates). Since the start of the protests in the Pearl/Lulu roundabout in Manama, Bahrain has revealed itself to be the GCC’s weak link; a 70% Shi’ite majority living as third-class citizens under a corrupt 200-year-old Sunni dynasty.
If the pro-democracy movement succeeds in Bahrain, the next in line will certainly be the minority Shi’ites in the eastern oil provinces of Saudi Arabia (which had their “Day of Rage” last Friday). That, in the long run, could spell out anything from the end of Bahrain as a prime parking lot space for the US 5th Fleet to the end of Saudi Arabia’s “stability” – the other pillar, along with the Egypt, of US foreign policy in the Middle East since the 1970s.
Once again, it’s the al-Khalifa regime that has sought a clash. Bahraini journalists and tweets tell the campaign of civil disobedience was stepped up this Sunday, with roadblocks set up across the highway in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbor. The police fired tear gas; then followed protesters to the Pearl roundabout, launching stun grenades, more tear gas, and possibly using live ammunition. Street battles ensued. Bahrainis tweeted the crackdown offered images similar to those on the bridge near Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak had ordered the Internet all across Egypt to be shut down.
Meanwhile, in the University of Bahrain – the largest public university in the kingdom – protesters were attacked by al-Khalifa loyalists. According to eyewitnesses, many pick-ups carrying baltajiyya (thugs)- a la the last days of Mubarak – a lot of them masked, entered the campus with sticks and swords and attacked protesters. And once again, the government used mercenaries against Bahrainis; this is generating a worrying series of revenge attacks on South Asian residents.
This is all essential to debunk the Western corporate media narrative of “violent protests” that must be “contained” by Saudi intervention. It is the al-Khalifas who are fostering violence – a la Mubarak. To top it off – another cheap stunt – Western media were “invited” to leave the country on Monday, so as not to report on the Saudi invasion.
The frightened al-Khalifas did call the cavalry – in the form of Saudi tanks and troops. The House of Saud – as the GCC’s top dog – was just itching for such a fight; if France and Britain are itching to intervene in Libya, what would prevent Saudis from intervening in Bahrain? Western corporate media depicting “Saudi Arabia’s reluctant emergence as the key regional policeman” is nothing but cosmic disinformation; there’s nothing “reluctant” about it, it’s a question of fear mixed with ruthlessness, as in the survival of both repressive regimes at stake.
To compound the advanced wave of hypocrisy, while Europe debated no-fly in Libya the House of Saud came up with its “all-drive” and sped to Manama in the dead of night. al-Wefaq, the largest Shi’ite party in Bahrain, now describes Saudi Arabia as an occupation force. Imagine the outrage in the “international community” – and the calls to start carpet-bombing right away – if this was Iran invading Lebanon.
No fly? No; no drive
By the way, GCC members – also part of the Arab League – support no-fly in Libya (not because they love the eastern Libya revolutionaries, but because they hate Gaddafi’s guts). Yet abandon all hope those who expect the Barack Obama administration to support a no-drive zone in Bahrain (for Saudi tanks).
Great swathes of Arab public opinion are absolutely right on the money; Western elites are staging just an illusion of action in Libya. The objective is to create a firewall between the revolutions in northern Africa and the repressive Gulf petro-monarchy clients. No fly against “evil” Gaddafi? Why not? No drive against strategic Saudi Arabia? Don’t even think about it.
The West really doesn’t care much about a bunch of kids with guns in Libya, those that have been grabbing a Kalashnikov and wrapping a keffiyah (checkered scarf) around their heads, rushing to the front in sports utility vehicles to fight for a better life. Yet this is Homage to Catalonia revisited, George Orwell on the Spanish Civil War, with Benghazi as the new Barcelona – an outburst of revolutionary fervor that may be crushed by the heavy weaponry of a northern African neo-fascist army.
Yet a no-fly zone in Libya won’t change a single fact on the ground. A game-changer would be to support the eastern Libyan council to force a no-drive zone on Gaddafi’s tanks and armored personnel carriers; and to arm the rebels with weapons and intelligence. That’s exactly what they’re asking of the West (and not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization invasion). So the first step would be for the Obama administration to immediately recognize the “rebels” as the legitimate government of Libya. Then cause havoc on Gaddafi’s communications system (a cakewalk for the Pentagon). And then tell the rebels what Gaddafi’s command and control are up to. All this at virtually zero cost – and no US boots on the ground.
Invading you softly with my tanks
While the pro-government daily al-Ayyam talked about hundreds of Bahrainis “welcoming the Saudi forces”, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s answer to Saif al-Gaddafi (the relative “modernizer”) still talks of dialogue, including electoral reform, “a government representing popular will”, investigations on corruption and the end of “political naturalizations” (Bahrain naturalizes scores of Sunnis to dilute the Shi’ite political representation).
The absolute majority of the population doesn’t believe a word of it anymore. Not with the Medieval House of Saud having supported Mubarak to the end, welcoming Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali as an exile, supporting Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and now invading Bahrain – with the White House virtually begging Riyadh to pump just a little more oil to make up for the shortfall in Libya.
Everything one needs to know about the House of Saud is in these words by Minister of Interior Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, King Abdullah’s half-brother and the de facto Minister of Pain. On the oily family hacienda having survived this past Friday’s “Day of Rage”, Prince Nayef said, “Some evil people wanted to spread chaos in the kingdom and called for demonstrations that have dishonorable goals.” But in the end the House of Saud managed to thwart this “deeply nefarious plot”. They certainly did; just in time to invade a neighbor.
Saddam Hussein must be kicking himself in his tomb. If only he’d been slightly more subtle while invading Kuwait (which, by the way, was part of Iraq before the British Empire decided it wasn’t). There would have been no no fly zone, no shock and awe, no US wasting a trillion dollars, and on top of it he’d be hailed today as a pillar of “stability” in the Middle East, as well as a “valuable ally”. As valuable as those irrepressible democrats, the al-Khalifas and the House of Saud.