May 16, 2012

Half-Steps Walk Bahrain Into Total Disorder

According to Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the central debate of the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 14th Consultative Summit ended in non-decision. Staring down a hot media glare with indifference, the Prince would cool international headlines of a union between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the other GCC members during a post-summit news conference. Telling reporters that GCC leadership "approved the call for a commission to continue studying in order to present final results (to a coming summit),” al-Faisal expects the issue to "take time... The aim is for all countries to join, not just two or three.”

He then shifted back into high gear: “I am hoping that the six countries will unite in the next meeting."

All qualifications are inevitably lost on Bahrain's opposition, which reacted to Riyadh's developments by pulling every alarm within reach. Al Wefaq's chairman, Sheikh Ali Salman, responded immediately with a calculated statement, insisting that "we are with all honest intentions towards union." He also condemned a "forcefully imposed" union that "looks down to their people," telling his audience at al-Mugsha's ad hoc Freedom Square, "any decision taken to implement this (annexation) plan is void and illegal."

"The Bahraini regime is pushing the nation into the circle of violence through its incorrect treatment of the popular movement."

Opponents of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa don't need the GCC's full picture to see it. They see a desperate monarchy rushing to its Saudi sanctuary and no attempt to hide its urgency. Many protesters believe that Riyadh's full-spectrum dominance is the only force keeping King Hamad in power; completing their uprising would be even more arduous with Bahrain militarily and economically synced to Saudi Arabia. While Prince al-Faisal chose a more diplomatic word pallet, King Hamad's media advisor later announced an extraordinary GCC summit to be held in the coming months

"The GCC Union is so close and will materialize soon," Nabeel Al-Hamer said from his Twitter account.

Despite a coordinated backlash, the prospect of deeper Saudi-Bahraini relations isn't a zero-sum loss for Bahrain's opposition. The potential inevitability of this event allows the political and street movements to see what's coming and prepare accordingly, much like a disaster scenario. An illegal union provides a dominate rallying point and, if it does "materialize soon," the reaction is likely to magnify March 2011’s introduction of GCC security forces. Although the Peninsula Shield initially crushed Bahrain's street movement, the opposition's struggle would have lagged without this link in the chain reaction of revolution. Given that political and popular grievances are intertwined with Riyadh, Saudi influence is integral to the natural combustion of Bahrain's uprising.

U.S. half-measures have generated similar effects, yielding multiple narratives for the opposition to rally around. Political figures admit that America's 5th Fleet is both curse and blessing, a source of international attention that the monarchy cannot hide. Ultimately the provocation of U.S. arms - whether teargas canisters or missile packages - helps the opposition more than staying quiet in the back row. Many activists have already taken their criticisms public and, in a bid for fresh international hits, the entire next week has been earmarked for anti-American demonstrations. Since Washington isn't going to assist Bahrain's protesters directly, turning certain disadvantages into advantages creates a path of indirect support. Conflict resolution this isn't though.

“It's a direct message [from the US] that we support the authorities and we don't support democracy in Bahrain, we don't support protesters in Bahrain,” Mohammed Al Maskati, a Bahraini rights activist, told the Christian Science Monitor's Kristen Chick.

One of Al Wefaq's high-profile members, Matar Matar, informed the Obama administration that, "Bahrainis are disappointed by this decision. The situation is moving from bad to worse." Sensing Washington's hostility and insincerity, few have been fooled by a "partial" resumption in U.S. military aid and the ensuing predictions of Iranian interference. The youth-inspired February 14th coalition made no distinction between a total presumption of aid, warning the White House that "recent weapons" are perceived as a "full partnership with al-Khalifa's crimes." Coupled with the extended detention of Nabeel Rajab, the island's leading human rights activist, and Bahrain's opposition possesses an excess of fuel to power its pro-democracy movement.

"Do you think people will do home when you arrest a figure like Nabeel?" Al Wefaq rhetorically asked King Hamad on the Twitter battleground. By the same reasoning, protesters won't stay inside and forfeit their streets to the divisive threat of U.S. arms and Saudi "unity."

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