Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Clear Message To Those Trying To Destabilise Bahrain

GCC forces have been deployed not only to fend off foreign threats but also to tackle domestic challenges

By Abdullah Al Shayji
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 21/03/2011

While the world was transfixed by the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the anxiety over a possible nuclear meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Japan, Arab attention was focused on their own brewing revolutions. The GCC leaders and people are besieged by multiple socio-economic and political challenges given the unrest in both Bahrain and Oman. The GCC strategy seems to be: united we stand, divided we face the abyss.

The Arab winter of discontent is giving way to a bloody spring in which leader Muammar Gaddafi's onslaught continues in Libya and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's defiance leads him to commit atrocities. Both continue to use excessive force against their own people. The people's only crime is demanding reform, and rebelling against decades of marginalisation, failed policies, stagnation and corruption.

After the almost peaceful revolutions which toppled former president Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and former president Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali in Tunisia, things have taken a turn for the worse.

Arabs regained their self-confidence and started to believe in people's power and bringing about change through peaceful means, rather than through American tanks or through terrorist movements. Now, there is a new way of enacting change in a new Arab order, which has eliminated the negative stereotype about Arabs being resistant to change.

There is no doubt the Arab political landscape has changed for the better with the newly empowered masses, buoyed by information technology and social media, which helped them push fearlessly for change and overcome their fear.

While the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions unfolded quickly and at minimal cost, the Libyan and the Yemeni revolutions and, to a lesser extent the upheaval in Bahrain, reversed the trend which was becoming the model of change in the region. But for a trend to be widely adopted, it needs to weather many storms.

The bloodiest version of change is happening now in Libya, where Gaddafi's slaughter of his own people has warranted international military action. Gaddafi was not cowed by the United Nations Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and the air strikes. 

Writing on the wall

Yemen is another example of a president refusing to see the writing on the wall and continuing the onslaught against his own people. Last Friday his forces shot dead at least 50 people and injured hundreds. It is ironic that both Gaddafi and President Ali Abdullah Saleh are the two longest serving Arab heads of state.

But the GCC's preoccupation is currently with events in Bahrain. The GCC alliance was formed in 1981 as a security and economic grouping to consolidate the states' power and resources to counter the threats and challenges. GCC states have been besieged by a host of soft and hard security threats. But the most vexing challenges have been the lack of a balance of power and threats by the big regional states, Iraq and Iran. With the unrest in Bahrain, and to a lesser extent in Oman, GCC states find themselves at the crossroads in a region which has witnessed three major wars over the past three decades.

Iran has loomed large for decades and has been a source of instability with the capacity for mischief in the region. Sidelining Iraq exacerbated the situation and enabled Iran to step in to fill the vacuum with its grand project, proxies and ideological-sectarian agenda. All of this is impacting Bahrain and making the unrest there different from others in the region.

What has been happening in Bahrain is a movement with demands for reforms and dialogue, which has been hijacked and transformed into a sectarian grouping, spreading mayhem and instability. The GCC stepped in and sent the Peninsula Shield forces to assist in protecting major installations. Bahraini and GCC officials described the GCC involvement as a move to defuse tension and to support the Bahraini government and to restore stability and order. This will pave the way for the Bahraini government and the opposition to resume their dialogue in order to reach a solution which could pull Bahrain from the abyss and relieve GCC anxiety.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa has accused Iran of interfering in Bahrain's affairs and confirmed more GCC security forces are on their way to Bahrain.

This is the first time the GCC states have found themselves in this situation since the occupation of Kuwait two decades ago. The GCC states are providing generous support for both Bahrain and Oman through a $20 billion (Dh73.4 billion) fund over the next 10 years. That was followed by an agreement to stand by Bahrain politically and militarily and execute the provisions of the mutual defence pact, as the security of all GCC states is inseparable. The GCC troops will continue in Bahrain with the state of emergency. This is a clear message to Iran and its proxies and whoever has designs to destabilise Bahrain or any country in the GCC.

The message is clear and a precedent is being set. The GCC states will be there to deploy their troops not only to fend off foreign threats, but to tackle domestic challenges as well.

The Bahraini upheaval is increasing the distrust between Iran and the GCC. But more importantly, this episode reminds the GCC states again of the widening and changing nature of the threats and challenges. Once again the GCC states are scrambling to stay afloat.

Dr Abdullah Al Shayji is the Chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University.

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