On 16 March, Bahrain´s government imposed the state of emergency in the country. The King Hamad ben Issa 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 they 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 by police and armed pro-regime thugs since protests began and hundreds of demonstrators have been wounded and arrested.
At the same time and violating resolutions by the UN and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), 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 had achieved international prestige thanks to its independent foreign policies- also said that it could send more soldiers to support its neighbor´s regime. Qatar has later pulled out its forces from Bahrain.
A British colony until 1971, Bahrain has been for decades been a key ally of the United States in the Middle East. Home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet since 1995 and the site of an 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 with “contacting foreign organizations and providing them with false and misleading information about the kingdom.” Half were charged with attempting to stage a coup. In total, 450 were arrested.
Although many demonstrators are Shiites, protesters in Bahrain have called for unity across the religious divide, with placards and chants of, “No Sunni, no Shiite, just Bahraini,” being a feature of the mass protests since they 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 the end of the monarchy itself.
Despite the fact that Bahrain has an elected parliament, real power lies with the upper house Shura Council. It has the authority to approve or rescind any law passed by the lower house Council of Representatives. Shura members are directly appointed by the king. 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 had been erected around the district, and that thousands of demonstrators had occupied this area.
After the protests in Bahrain broke out, the Saudi regime started to fear that this mass uprising in Bahrain could spread across the region, including in its eastern regions.The members of this Islamic school are also oppressed by Saudi rulers, who are also afraid of the increasingly hostile sentiment towards the Gulf monarchies among the peoples of the region. The monarchy in Bahrain has been closely linked to the Saudi ruling family for a long time. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in 1994 to strengthen the al-Khalifa 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 sacred of the little wisp of democracy on a tiny island in the Persian Gulf,” Shakespeare added. In fact, protests against the Saudi military entry in Bahrain took place in predominantly Shiite cities in Saudi Arabia, such as Qatif, Sawfa, Seehat, Tarut, and Awamiya.
Shakespeare also described 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 citizens. On 16 March, Bahraini police killed at least five protesters and injured some dozens more as they assaulted a peaceful protest camp in Manama\’s Pearl Square.
On 17 March, the Bahraini security forces 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 assaulted the village of Al Musala that night. Manama, remained under siege by police on 17 March, with hundreds of soldiers and tanks deployed at key intersections.
Bahraini security forces detained a dozen of opposition leaders, including Hassan Mushaima of the Haq Movement and Ibrahim Sharif, leader of the Waad Society, on 16 and 17 March.
Bahrain´s Center for Human Rights said that regime forces surrounded Hassan Mushaima\’s house before taking him to an unknown location. Ibrahim Sharif was also arrested. An armed gang stormed the printing press of Bahrain\’s only opposition newspaper Al Wasat and tried to smash its presses and stop its publication.
Saudi soldiers have also attacked protestors. On 16 March, Saudi forces stormed a Manama\’s hospital where hundreds of people were receiving treatment for injuries suffered in clashes with government forces a day earlier. Saudi troops forced their way into Salmaniya hospital and did not allow doctors, nurses and relatives of the victims either to leave or to enter the building.
Despite all this, the Saudi invasion has not frightened Bahraini people. Shortly after 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 the 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 the people to continue to demand 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´s -and other CCG countries´- forces demonstrates Saudi rulers´ hostility to the democratic and social aspirations of the Arab masses. The traditional response of the Saudi, Bahraini and other Gulf monarchies to their peoples´ legitimate demands has been the repression, not the dialogue. “The 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 bashed Obama\’s policy for failing to support Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
This policy is also full of hypocrisy. The week before their countries invaded Bahrain, the GCC foreign ministers declared that Gaddafi\’s regime had become “illegitimate” and called on the Arab League to “shoulder its responsibilities in taking necessary measures to stop the bloodshed” in Libya – even as Bahrain\’s killing machine had already shot unarmed civilians and Saudi rulers had 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 the Gulf simultaneously are acting to sustain Bahrain´s brutal regime.