Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saudis march in to help crush people of Bahrain - Britain and US provide the weapons

LAST week the states of the Gulf Co-operation Council - Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates - declared that Colonel Gaddafi's regime in Libya was "illegitimate", for using military force against a popular uprising.

This week there are Saudi troops and Emirates forces in Bahrain, assisting the Bahraini security forces using armoured vehicles and helicopters to gun down unarmed demonstrators. They have cleared thousands of peaceful protesters from Pearl Square in Manama, the capital.

People are afraid to go to the main hospital there, which has been taken over by troops. Six leaders of opposition parties are under arrest. Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Bahrain's hereditary ruler, has declared martial law for three months.

Today the British Foreign Office joined the US and Japanese governments in urging its nationals to get out of Bahrain. Thus indicating it does not expect the repression -or resistance -there to be finished soon. It is a pity that 'responsible' governments cannot remove all their hardware too.

In a new report released today, Bloodied but Unbowed: Unwarranted State Violence against Bahraini protesters, Amnesty International documents how security forces used live ammunition and extreme force against protesters in February without warning and impeded and assaulted medical staff trying to help the wounded.

Dr Hani Mowafi, a US medical doctor who was part of the Amnesty team, found a pattern of fatal and serious injuries showing that the security forces used live ammunition at close range and apparently targeted protestors’ heads, chests and abdomens. They also fired medium-to-large calibre bullets from high-powered rifles on 18 February.

Amnesty identifies US-made tear gas canisters and rubber multi-baton rounds and French-made tear gas grenades and rubber "dispersion" grenades, which fragment into 18 pieces and produce a loud sound effect. It notes that Britain has licensed exports of tear gas, assault rifles and machine guns to Bahrain, some of which could have been used during recent repression.

British gunboat diplomacy turned Bahrain, known for its pearls, into a 'protectorate' as far back as 1861, and in 1932 the discovery of oil there added to the island's strategic value. In the 1950s and later a combination of arms and 'advisers' kept the formally independent Bahrain in hand, and arms were available to put down Arab nationalists and keep trade unions in check. Bahrain is not just an oil producer and trading centre but has ship repair and other facilities. Since 1971, when Britain pulled out, the US has established itself, with its Fifth Fleet base at Juffair.

The Gulf Co-operation Council, essentially dominated by the Saudis, was formed in 1981, and besides petroleum company links this led to the construction of the King Fahd Causeway, backed by the World Bank, and linking Dahran, with its US airbase and Aramco oilfields, to Bahrain's refineries. Now with the Saudi tanks rolling in we see that the causeway has another use.

All the GCC states which condemned Gaddafi are backing the Bahraini repression. So if the Libyan regime is illegitimate so are they. But of course, for Britain and the US, these are "our" bastards.

We saw King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia paying his state visit to another hereditary monarch in London in 2007, the pair vying to declare war on "terror", and the Labour and Tory leaders joining them for dinner, no doubt to discuss democracy, and its absence in the Saudi kingdom. Recently we saw David Cameron out in the Gulf with his entourage of arms dealers, order books at the ready.

The hypocrisy of these champions of freedom is matched, as a welcome Morning Star editorial comments, by "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments on Bahrain. 'The people's demands for change must be respected. How is it possible to stop waves of humanity with military force?' asked the man responsible for unleashing violence against peaceful protesters in Iran and carrying out dozens of executions earlier this year to intimidate them".

In the past the imperialists relied not just on the threat of arms to maintain a grip on Bahrain, but on fostering divisions among its people, Arab and Persian, Sunni and Shi'te, encouraged by rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, whether the latter was under the Shah or the Islamicists. The regime is Sunni, and has been seen as maintaining privilege against a majority of Shi'ites. Saudi intervention is bound to strengthen that feeling.

But what has been seen on the streets of Bahrain recently was a movement for democracy and social justice that brought together young Bahrainis from all backgrounds. And that is something that is bound to frighten rulers in the region, and their backers internationally.



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