Bahrain: When petro-dictators unite

Image removed.

Saudi troops invade Bahrain.

By Khuloud and Ziad Abu-Rish

March 19, 2011 -- Jadaliyya -- For at least several decades, geopolitical, economic, territorial and ideological considerations have led to serious tensions, if not outright feuds, between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. In recent weeks, however, the regimes of GCC states have shown their citizens that when their authoritarian rule is at stake, they will put aside their differences and put up a united front.

Exceptional times, it seems, do call for exceptional measures. As such, the GCC endorsed UN Security Council Resolution 1973–authorising “all measures necessary” in Libya, including a no-fly zone. Indeed, while some GCC states have agreed to send troops to help overthrow one brutal dictator in Libya, others have already sent their US-trained and -armed troops to uphold the rule of another entrenched and equally brutal dictator in Bahrain. But what exactly happens when some of the world’s most oppressive dictators unite, not to fight a well-known regional adversary further up north, but to put down a peaceful and democratic popular uprising?

The GCC’s Peninsula Shield Forces—composed mainly of Saudi, but also Qatari and Emirati troops—officially entered Bahrain on March 14, 2011. While their stated goal is to protect Bahraini government and oil facilities, the level of indiscriminate state violence against unarmed civilians in the last few days has been unprecedented. Firsthand accounts and video footage of Bahraini state security personnel using tear gas, rubber bullets, machine guns, tanks and other weapons against unarmed civilians and journalists without warning have emerged from many villages, mainly Sitra and Qadham, and not just from the capital, Manama. In one reported incident, an Indian national working for a private security firm in Bahrain was killed while on duty by a stray bullet from a  military helicopter that was firing at protesters.

Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa held a press conference on March 18 in which he denied that his regime is involved in any systematic violence against civilians. He rendered the escalation of violence in Bahrain as an expected consequence of the “volatile situation” as security forces try to “restore order.”

While some sense of “calm” has reportedly been restored to a few areas in Bahrain, many neighbourhoods and villages are suffering from extreme police and military brutality. Especially alarming has been the shootings at medical facilities as well as the harassment and detention of medical staff. According to the Bahraini al-Wasat newspaper, the Salmaniya Medical Complex remained under siege for days, and at least two of its doctors have been detained so far. Dr Nada Dhaif, who appeared on Al Jazeera last week, has also been confirmed as missing by her relatives. So was Dr Mohamed Saeed, member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and one of the 25 political detainees who were released earlier last month as a concessionary attempt by King Hamad. Dr Saeed has been reported missing since the morning of March 17.

Several attacks against medical staff have also been reported, including an attack by thugs against nurses on the campus of Bahrain University. Hospitals in Bahrain have issued pleas for help from the international community, given the alarming number of casualties. However, medical staff traveling to Bahrain in response to a call by the Red Crescent have been denied entry to Bahrain, including a Kuwaiti 30-plus medical team that was turned away at the Bahraini airport.

While the Bahraini regime purports to still be committed to dialogue, its forces have launched a systematic attack against many members of the formal opposition, protesters and those who have publicly criticised the ruling family. Security forces have already raided the homes of the members of the “group of 25”. According to the BBC, 60 people have been missing since March 16, whereas the Al Manama Voice puts the total number of those missing at 115, 35 of whom have been found while 80 remain unaccounted for. As a recent tweet by @Nabeelrajab put it, “As Bahrain arrests the opposition leaders, no one is left for dialogue.” 

Activists Abdul-Jalil Alsingace and Mohammad Sultan—a BCHR member who is suffering from a brain tumor were both arrested. Ali Abdulemam, the Bahraini “blog father”, and Ali al-Yaseen, who called Bahrain TV accusing it of inciting sectarianism and maintaining a media blackout in Bahrain, are both missing. Isa Al Radhi had been missing for five days, when on March 18 the military hospital contacted his family to collect his body. Many others, whose names are not known, have suffered the same fates. So far, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemnedr the detention of at least eight activists and protest leaders. As details of disappearances and detentions continue to emerge, there seems to be a systematic attempt at torturing some of those in the regime’s “custody” both to deter them from further political activity as well as to extract information on others deemed threatening by the regime.

Bahraini forces, taking cue from their Saudi counterparts, have also escalated sectarian-based harassment and violence. Reminiscent of ID-based killings in Beirut during Lebanon’s protracted civil war, Bahraini officers are reportedly beating up and holding civilians at checkpoints based on their accent (which indicates their sect). Shi’a neighborhoods have also been singled out for random police and military attacks, and several accusations have been levelled at Bahrain TV for inciting sectarianism and sectarian violence. It seems that the predominantly Sunni GCC states will stop at nothing to prevent what they perceive as a Shi’a takeover of one of their own member states. One of the consequences of the GCC intervention has been the escalation of blatantly sectarian state and security policies against all Shi’a civilians, even those who did not partake in the democratic uprising.

This week’s shootings, torture incidents, arrests and disappearances are far from collateral damage of the regime’s attempt at “restoring security”. They are part and parcel of its plan to terrorise, silence and ,in some instances, eliminate the democratic opposition within its borders. The destruction of the Pearl Roundabout, which in the last month was transformed from a symbol tying the monarchy to Bahrain’s historic pearl diving industry to one indexing the histories of protest against the authoritarian rule of the al-Khalifa, is yet another example of state violence even against the memory and infrastructure of the uprising. By redesigning the space on which the Pearl Roundabout once stood, the al-Khalifa regime  is able to write this momentous month out of its national history while ensuring the future life of the space will not be as welcoming to public gatherings as the previous one was.

Today, the Bahraini people’s resolve is strengthened in the face of the regime’s escalated retaliation against their popular democratic uprising. Today, as Bahrainis defied the state of emergency and the ban on public gatherings and took to the streets, we are reminded of the currency that the word “samidoun” (resilient) had during the 2006 Lebanon War. Then, “samidoun” emerged as a lynchpin symbol of civilian defiance in the face of Israel’s brutal attack on Lebanon and (some of) its people.

Today, the word symbolises the resolve of Bahrain’s peaceful movement for democracy and justice against the brutal attack by “its” own government, which in turn is aided and abetted by a conglomeration of the world’s most authoritarian petro-regimes and their Western sponsors. Whether the Bahraini opposition survives this systematic campaign to destroy it remains to be seen.

The implications are not just local, but regional as well in that the Bahraini uprising represents the first major manifestation of the “Arab Spring” in one of the Gulf monarchies. That journalists, writers and bloggers are being harassed and intimidated into silence does not make their struggle any easier. Neither will the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon accusing the Bahraini regime of possible violations of international law, or those in the White House who are “deeply troubled” by the treatment of Bahraini activists and protesters. As Bahraini civilians bare the brunt of the GCC’s sectarian military machine on their own, we stand humbled by their resilience.

The following list of those killed by the al-Khalifa regime in its brutal suppression of the Bahraini people’s peaceful, democratic uprising continues to grow:

Ali Mshemi', 24 years old, killed in al-Dayya on February 14, 2011

Fadil al-Matruk, 21 years old, killed in al-Mahuz on February 15, 2011

Mahmud Abu-Taki, 23 years old, killed in Sitrah on February 17, 2011

Ali Mansur Khudayr, 53 years old, killed in Sitrah on February 17, 2011

Isa Abdul-Hasan, 60 years old, killed in Karzakan on February 17, 2011

Ali al-Umin, 22 years old, killed in Sitrah on February 17, 2011

Abdul-Ridah Muhammad Hasan, 32 years old, killed in al-Malkiyyah on February 21, 2011

Ali al-Dumistani, 18 years old, killed in Dumistan on March 13, 2011

Ahmad Abdullah al-Farhan, 30 years old, killed in Sitrah on March 15, 2011

Ahmad Abdullah Hasan, 22 years old, killed in Hamad Town on March 16, 2011

Jafar Muhammad Abd Ali, 41 years old, killed in Karranah on March 16, 2011

Jafar Abdullah Ma'yuf, 30 years old, killed in 'Ali on March 16, 2011.

[This article first appeared at Jadaliyya. Jadaliyya is an independent ezine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, a network of writers associated with the Arab Studies Journal (]