On 16 March, Bahraini government imposed the state of emergency in the country. The King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa published a decree authorizing the commander of the Bahraini army to take all necessary measures to “protect the safety of the kingdom and its citizens.”
Protests against the regime started on 17 February, but grew from 11 March on. Many streets of the capital, Manama, were taken by protesters who demanded the end of the oppressive measures against the population. Dozens of people have been killed and hundred others wounded and arrested by police and armed pro-regime thugs since protests began.
At the same time, violating the resolutions approved by the UN and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC), more than 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered the country to help crush the protest movement. Five hundred policemen from the United Arab Emirates did the same. Surprisingly, Qatar — a country that has achieved an international prestige thanks to its independent foreign policies — announced its preparedness to send more soldiers to support its neighborhood regime.
A British colony until 1971, Bahrain has been for decades a key ally of the United States in the Middle East. Home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet since 1995 and the US military base since 1947, Washington has long backed the Bahraini regime as part of its efforts to dominate the Persian Gulf, the world’s most important oil-producing region.
Last summer, the government rounded up dozens of human rights workers, religious leaders, and opposition figures who had demanded an end to the regime’s habitual use of torture. Twenty-five were charged of “contacting foreign organizations and providing them with false and misleading information about the kingdom.” Half were tried of attempting to stage a coup. In total, 450 were arrested.
Many of those killed and wounded in the protests were from Sitra and other predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of the capital, Manama. Shiites, which account for 70% of the country’s population, are excluded from key government and security posts. They strongly object to government policies that give citizenship and jobs to Sunnis from other Arab countries and South Asia as a way to put an end to the Shiites’ demographic edge. With these moves, the regime has bred resentment and anger among the majority population.
However, although many demonstrators are Shiites, protesters in Bahrain call for unity across the religious divide, with placards and chants of “No Sunni, no Shiite, just Bahraini,” since the mass protests since broke out in February.
The main Shiite-led political force, the Wefaq, demands a constitutional monarchy, democratic elections, a more powerful parliament, a new constitution, the dismantlement of the security apparatus, fairness in distribution of jobs and housing, freedom of the press and religion, and an end to torture. However, after the bloody crackdown on the protesters and the Saudi invasion, many Bahrainis are now demanding an end to the monarchy itself.
Despite the fact that Bahrain has an elected parliament, real power lies in the upper house Shura Council. The Shura Council, the members of which are directly appointed by the king, has the authority to approve or rescind any law passed by the lower house Council of Representatives. Al-Khalifa family has also sought to preserve its power by importing individuals, who are loyal only to the royal family, for its security forces. Brought from countries such as Jordan, Pakistan and Yemen, they are always willing to beat and kill protesters.
On 14 May, demonstrators cut off access to large sections of Manama’s financial district. Police initially repelled several hundred protesters who had blockaded office buildings, but thousands more overwhelmed police later in the day to set up a series of barricades on the road which led through the area. The BBC said that roadblocks were set around the district, occupied by thousands of demonstrators.
After protests broke out in Bahrain, the Saudi regime started to fear of the spread of this mass uprising over the region, including its eastern regions mainly inhabited by Shiites.
The members of the Islamic school were hence oppressed by Saudi rulers, who were afraid of the increasingly hostile sentiment of people towards the Persian Gulf monarchies.
The monarchy in Bahrain has long been closely linked with the Saudi ruling family. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in 1994 to strengthen al-Khalifa’s dynasty during the previous period of mass demonstrations against its autocratic rule. For years, the Saudis have propped up the Bahraini regime by providing free oil and funding its budget.
Saudi authorities are “scared of its own people rising in protest,” Rodney Shakespeare, chairman of the London-based Committee against Torture in Bahrain, told Press TV in an interview. “If there were free elections in Saudi Arabia, 99 percent of the people would vote against the regime and that is why they are scared of the little wisp of democracy on a tiny island in the Persian Gulf,” Shakespeare added. In fact, protests against the entrance of Saudi military in Bahrain took place in predominantly Shiite cities, such as Qatif, Sawfa, Seehat, Tarut, and Awamiya, in Saudi Arabia.
Shakespeare also described the attacks by Bahraini riot police and Saudi forces on demonstrators in Bahrain as a “deliberate organized large scale massacre of unarmed people.” “These are people who for decades have made moderate demands and have protested in a non-violent way,” he said.
The Bahraini regime has taken advantage of the presence of these foreign troops in the country to unleash brutal repression against its citizens. On 16 March, Bahraini police killed at least five protesters and injured some dozens more as they were staging a peaceful protest camp in Manama’s Pearl Square.
On 17 March, the Bahraini security forces again assaulted the Pearl Square, the epicenter of the anti-regime protests. Helicopters, tanks and machine guns were deployed in the assault. “They broke everything, they shot at kids, there was no humanity, no respect,” Hassan Ali Ibrahim, a demonstrator, was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “When we saw the tanks and the cars, about a hundred of us went towards them, and started chanting, ‘Peacefully! Peacefully!’ This is when they started shooting, from the ground and from the bridge, from everywhere.”
Security forces also attacked the village of Al Musala that night. Predominantly Shiite neighborhoods and suburbs of the capital, Manama, remained under siege by police on 17 March, with hundreds of soldiers and tanks deployed at key intersections.
Bahraini security forces detained dozens of opposition leaders, including Hassan Mushaima of the Haq Movement and Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the Waad Society, on 16 and 17 March. Bahrain’s Center for Human Rights has stated that regime forces had surrounded Hassan Mushaima’s house before taking him to an unknown location. Ibrahim Sharif was also arrested amid some predominantly Shiite villages being surrounded. An armed gang stormed into the printing press of Bahrain’s only opposition newspaper Al Wasat, trying to stop its publication.
Saudi soldiers have correspondingly attacked protestors. On 16 March, Saudi forces stormed a Manama’s hospital, where hundreds of people were being treated for injuries they suffered in clashes with government forces a day earlier. Saudi troops forced their way into Salmaniya hospital and did not allow doctors, nurses and the relatives of the victims to leave or enter the building.
Despite all this, the Saudi invasion has not frightened Bahraini people. Shortly after the news about the arrival of Saudi troops spread around, dozens of thousands of demonstrators held a protest outside Saudi Arabia’s Embassy to oppose the invasion and to condemn the crackdown launched by King Hamad’s regime. “Saudi Arabia has no right to come to Bahrain. Our problem is with the government, not Saudi Arabia,” demonstrator Ali Mansour told AFP.
The National Unity Rally, an umbrella group of opposition parties, issued a statement on 14 March opposing the military intervention, “We consider the arrival of any soldier, or military vehicle, into Bahraini territory … an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain.” Abdel Jalil Khalil, a leader of main opposition Al Wefaq party, identified the Saudi invasion as “a war of annihilation.” “This does not happen even in wars and this is not acceptable … I saw them fire live rounds in front of my own eyes,” he said.
Al Wefaq has called on people to continue demanding their rights. A leading member of the party, Sheikh Ali Salman, urged protesters to continue their peaceful uprising despite Manama’s use of violence against them. He said the peaceful nature of the uprising will help defeat the “dictatorship prevailing in the country.”
The invasion of Bahrain by Saudi Arabia — and other PGCC countries — forced demonstrators protest at the hostility of Saudi rulers towards the democratic and social aspirations of the Arab masses. The traditional response of the Saudi, Bahraini and other Persian Gulf monarchies to their peoples’ legitimate demands has been repression, not dialogue. “The [P]GCC stands behind the Sunni-controlled monarchies in the region,” Gala Riani, a Middle East analyst at London, told Bloomberg news. “It is not a political structure they are willing to negotiate on.” It is noteworthy to point out that King Abdullah has bashed Obama’s policy for failing to support Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
This policy is also full of hypocrisy. A week before their countries invasion of Bahrain, the PGCC foreign ministers declared that Gaddafi’s regime has become “illegitimate” and therefore called on the Arab League to “shoulder its responsibilities in taking necessary measures to stop the bloodshed” in Libya – eventhough Bahrain’s killing machine has already shot unarmed civilians and Saudi rulers have threatened to do the same.
Therefore, while cynically calling for air attacks against Gaddafi’s army because of its repression against Libyan rebels, the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries simultaneously act to sustain Bahrain’s brutal regime. Presstv