By: Khalid Shabakashi , Saudi Writer
While the protests continue in Bahrain in the presence of Peninsula Shield forces led by Saudi Arabia – which the BICI Report of Dr. Cherif Bassiouni, chief of the commission appointed by the King of Bahrain Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, divested its legitimacy when the report denied the existence of any external dangers (Iranian in particular) threatened Bahrain – the talk today has escalated about a decisive way out and a convincing solution for Bahrainis, who no longer accept going back home without achieving their main demand centering around the resignation of the current Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa and electing their government.
Saudi Arabia – who holds the decision making process in Bahrain – has closed all the doors for a solution throughout the whole year – based on a promise they made to the Americans that they would intelligently and wisely manage the internal situation of Bahrain. Nevertheless, it turned out that the entry of the Gulf forces may have relatively shifted the protests away from the capital and has moved them to the villages and inland areas, but the protests have continued and took different forms that are more sophisticated and complex.
All Saudi offers were not accepted, not because they came from a custodial mind and arrogance, but also because they ignore the people rights, including their right to elect their government, after more than forty years for Sheikh Khalifa as a prime minister. The most famous offer was the one presented by Prince Nayef, the Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior, to the Iranian Minister of National Security Mr. Moslahi during his visit to Riyadh last December, the offer was a parliament with full power as opposed to stopping the uprising in Bahrain. The truth is that the offer was aimed at other aspects; like putting an end to the repercussions of the Bahraini protests on the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, especially after the start of some protests in Saudi Arabia, which may lead eventually to turmoil of all the Arabian Peninsula.
However, the Iranian response was negative as a parliament with real powers alone is below the demands of the largest opposition political society in Bahrain (Al Wefaq) that considers a fully elected government is the beginning of the solution. Mr. Moslahi returned home without a serious offer that can be used as a starting point.
All prospects of a political compromise in Bahrain were blocked by a Saudi decision, despite the attempts by the Crown Prince of Bahrain to find out an outlet to the crisis of the regime that can only be resolved by convincing Bahrainis, who will not accept other than an elected government. The Saudi regime, as the Prime Minister of Bahrain Khalifa Bin Salman, thought that the crisis would end over a period of time, as the protesters would not last long and the bet was based on people getting tired and depressed. However, what emerged later that the demonstrators seemed as if they were getting more determined to keep moving no matter of the risks.
The continuous protests have probably made the US Administration to convey a firm message to its ally Saudi Arabia that it was not possible to continue such a situation, which began deteriorating in the region, reflecting its repercussions on the inside of Saudi Arabia, where some areas began to move and this has been a warning of unforeseen surprises and thus developing decisive solutions was critical.
The Saudis received the American message seriously, and started looking for channels of a solution far from the public so as not to appear as if they lost the battle in Bahrain. Before Saudis started contacting the Bahraini opposition through intermediaries, the surprise came; a correspondent of Reuters in Bahrain leaked the news.
On 21st March, Reuters published a report titled (Saudi Arabia Pressurizes Bahrain to resolve the crisis, fearing the effects of the Syrian crisis), and the Reuters reporter wrote from Manama, the following:
A diplomat said – based on a source from the opposition of Bahrain – that Saudi Arabia wants both the government and the opposition in Bahrain to resolve the political crisis, which Riyadh fears the possibility of its deterioration because of the effects of the sectarian conflict in Syria and the possibility of destabilizing the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain is experiencing turmoil since pro-democracy protests erupted a year ago. The clashes have become a daily occurrence, and usually occurred in areas populated by the Shia majority that lead the protests. A senior Western diplomat said: “We heard that the Saudis were communicating with the main Opposition Party (Al Wefaq) at the end of January and they wanted to hear how Al Wefaq Society would play the role in the second chapter considering last year as the first chapter.”
During the protests last year, the main opposition party Al Wefaq participated in talks behind the scenes on reforms, which were offered by the Crown Prince of Bahrain Shaikh Salman, but the talks stalled after the Saudi troops entered Bahrain and the authorities imposed the martial law.
The Shia majority demand wide a range of democratic reforms that would reduce the power of the ruling Sunni family and give real powers to the parliament for legislation and the formation of the government. Activists say that at least 32 people died since lifting the martial law, although police questions the cause of death. Last January, members of Al Wefaq met with the Minister of the Royal Court, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa for preliminary talks on a formal dialogue on democratic reforms.
The Western diplomat said that Al Wefaq faces inclination to radicalization among many of the young Shia opponents of the monarchy; and once again met with the Minister of the Royal Court in the past few weeks. He added:”There are things going, but things are more difficult than expected. They all have difficulty in reaching a common ground”, he indicated the fears of the government against Al Wefaq’s control on the parliamentary majority. He continued: “a political solution can be expected to satisfy the Saudis, but I think that the red lines will be slightly more than last year.”
An opposition politician, who asked not be named, said that Saudi Arabia fears that the current conflict in Syria, where Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah support the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad, may lead to exacerbate the sectarian divide in Bahrain which might divert the attention from Syria and spark protests by Saudi Shia. He added: ”Saudis fear that the deadlock could push the Shia towards Iran ... in addition to what could appear as a result of the situation in Syria.”
Bahraini Sunni groups organized protests against Asad of Syria, and these groups accused Shia of their sympathy with Asad. The Iranian and Hezbollah media coverage is positive towards the Bahraini opposition, in addition Shia people of Iraq often protest to support Bahrain's Shia. Whereas some Bahraini Sunni leaders fear the fate of Iraq's Sunni who have been marginalized after Shia assumed power after the election.
Tensions have arisen in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia again in recent months. Michael Stevens, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Studies of defense and security, who lives in Doha “The Saudis do not want tension in the Eastern Province now. The priority for the Saudis during the past three months, continued to be Syria.”
Up to this point, it seems that the report has not been written like an ordinary media coverage, there are, however, strong indications in the report suggest that there is a deliberate leak by the Bahraini opposition about what the Saudi government intends to do to put a definitive end to the protests that went on for more than a year.
The Reuters report was shocking and surprising because who deliberately leaked it wanted to abort Saudi Arabia's move towards a compromise, which apparently was not generous enough to attract the Bahraini opposition, thus was leaked at its first moments. The tension on the formal Bahraini – Saudi side was obvious; which reflected in a stern message that was conveyed by the Bahraini and Saudi officials to the Reuters reporter containing a threat to close the Reuters offices in both Manama and Riyadh, and demanded to disclose the identity of the party that leaked the news of the Saudi move towards a resolution in Bahrain.
The Saudi paranoid mind concluded that the one who derailed the move was Iran, which has asked the Bahraini opposition not to accept the Saudi offer. It is worth mentioning that Al Wefaq - the largest political society in Bahrain – expressed since the early days its objectives by considering that the elected government is the gateway to any solution towards putting off the protests.
The problem faces the Saudi regime today is that they rejected the mediations offered by Kuwait, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and others to solve the issue in Bahrain, however, they have come today to re-submit the offer to the opposition, who is now in an advanced position and will not accept what was offered before; especially after the death cases, and the demolition of houses and mosques, hundreds of detainees, and arbitrary dismissal from work, etc.
The Saudi regime insisted before that it was not possible to talk about a settlement before strongly suppressing the uprising in order not to negotiate from a weak position. It seems that the Saudi regime is in trouble today, neither a severe repression put an end to the protests, nor the presence of its troops in Bahrain has become a deterrent, not to mention of course the legality of the troops’ presence, which Bassiouni’s report added a new obstacle when denied that Iran posed a threat to the security or the sovereignty of Bahrain.
The US administration began to gradually distance itself from the Saudi stance, because it has asked to settle two important issues which mean a lot to the US administration; the Bahraini and the Syrian issues, and it turned out that the Saudi regime was unable to resolve any of them.
Observers estimate that Saudi Arabia who has decided to engage directly in the region: Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, its fragile structure worries many of the major powers which maintain vital interests in this region.
It is clear now that the US administration is not as enthusiastic about further involvement in the issues of the region, because the political chaos and security situation in any country of the Gulf mean a potential danger to the US oil and strategic interests. Therefore, what made the US administration to put pressure on Riyadh to search for political solutions for Bahrain stemmed from the absence of any solution that can no longer be tolerated, as time does not seem to serve the repressive and totalitarian regimes. The movements and protests have started in areas that were classified as immune and were away from any political unrest, but having seen movements in parts of southern and northern Saudi Arabia, though they were related to services or education matters, yet converting these into a political issue today is easier than can be imagined, given that the reactions to the protests of female students at King Khalid University at Abha were security/political through describing the protests as an act of terrorism and those who carried them out were few mislead individuals.
In short, the Saudi regime today is in trouble as far as Bahrain is concerned, difficult to manage how to get out of there with minimal losses, especially the tone of integration and the Union between the Gulf countries began to retreat, not at the level of the GCC as a whole, but even on a bilateral level: Bahraini-Saudi. Oman has conveyed a clear message that it could not accept the idea of the Union, but would accept cooperation in the economic, customs, and political aspects, and not to the point of union.
Today, Saudi Arabia is more cautious than ever, after receiving important signals from the US administration regarding the ongoing protests in Bahrain, because the implications are larger than Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and may include the entire Eastern Arab countries.