100 missing after Bahrain crackdown, Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh seeks Saudi asylum

[1] Bahraini Shia women hold up pictures of King Hamad and a slain activist during his funeral in the town of Sitra outside the capital, Manama on March 20, 2011. A former Bahraini lawmaker says that around 100 people have gone missing during the Manama-ordered crackdown on the countrywide popular revolution.“We don’t know anything about them, we’ve asked hospital and ministry authorities and none of them are telling us anything about them,” said Hady al-Mussawy, formerly a parliamentarian with Al Wefaq, the country’s largest political party. He made the comments during a short protest in front of the United Nations building in the capital, calling on the world body to make sure rescue medical services operate in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

Demonstrators in the Shia-majority country have been demanding the ouster of the Sunni-led Al Khalifa monarchy as well as constitutional reforms since February 14. The government recently razed the capital’s Pearl Square, where hundreds of protesters had been camping.

At least 12 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured since the start of the anti-government protests during the government-backed armed attacks. On Thursday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay denounced a new move by the government to take control of the country’s hospitals amid the killing and injuring of protesters by the security forces.

“There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centers by various security forces,” she said. Manama recently sought the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to further suppress the protests. Violence has intensified against the demonstrators ever since the deployment of Saudi and Emirati forces in Bahrain.

[3]The Strategic Importance of Bahrain

On 14th February 2011, in the wave of protests that swept the Arab world, Bahraini citizens gathered on the streets of the capital Manama demanding greater political freedom for the majority Shia muslim majority. Their aims included putting an end to the King appointing key government ministers, including the Prime Minister, and to prevent further granting of citizenship to Sunnis from South Asia, which is a policy designed to reverse the Shia-Sunni ratio. Additionally, there were calls to release twenty-three Sunni protestors who had been incarcerated in 2010 for ‘plotting against the government.’ The response from the Sunni ruling family was unequivocal in its refusal, with the self-proclaimed King Hamad Al Khalifa ordering violent state putdowns, resulting in 6 protestors being killed by the police on the 17th February. Since then, protests have increased dramatically, the total absolution of the monarchy now the rallying call for the protestors. In turn, the austerity of the state response has also worsened, with frequent gun battles between police and protestors occurring across the capital.

Whilst such protests have occurred in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia with little in the way of direct action from neighbouring states, Bahrain is a notable exception. It is now hosting 1000 Saudi Arabian troops and 150 United Arab Emirates police officers, brought in to subdue the protests by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a 6-state economic and political union comprising of the Gulf states of Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar. Their soldiers guard government and financial institutions, their tanks patrol the streets of Manama and they have forced protestors away from their strongholds in the city, including the Pearl Roundabout where much of the fighting has taken place. So why did the GCC states take such an action?

Firstly, the strategic importance of Bahrain cannot be overstated. As small as it may be, the archipelago at the tip of Qatar has vast oil and pearl reserves, as well as a significant amount of concentrated capital. Furthermore, it is also the base for the United States Fifth Fleet, from where they control and monitor the Gulf region and curb Iranian influence therein. It should be noted that whilst being a Gulf State, Iran is excluded from the GCC as it is Shia-ruled whereas the other Gulf states are Sunni-ruled.

Secondly, this deep sectarian divide has raised itself several times in recent Bahraini history, with Shia citizens claiming decades of mistreatment under Sunni rule, with difficulties accessing housing, jobs and other infrastructure. The Shia opposition has therefore long been attracted to the Iran and its Shia rule, perhaps most evident from the 1981 failed Islamic revolution which was intended to put in power a fundamentalist Shia cleric exiled in Iran. Even today, some Iranian officials consider Bahrain to be the “14th province of Iran”. Should the Gulf States tolerate this political uprising, there is the definite possibility that Iran’s influence in Bahrain – which currently remains very weak due to the austere rule of the al Khalifa family – would soar, increasing its power in the Gulf and allowing further destabilisation of Bahrain by encouraging sectarian divide, akin to their recent strategy in Iraq. Additionally, there are worries amongst the Saudi ruling class that a seemingly successful protest in Bahrain may trigger similar unrest in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, which is predominantly Shia, and where the majority of their oil wells are positioned. Naturally, the ruling classes of the Gulf States and also the United States cannot tolerate such regional instability, and at all costs they will aim to quell dissent, meaning a potentially long and bloody uprising is in the making.

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22 of March

[4] On Monday night, Saleh told Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz during a telephone conversation that he will be forced to give up power and requested him and his family’s asylum to Saudi Arabia, nahrainnet reported.

Earlier Tuesday, Saleh had expressed his willingness to step down by the year’s end to prepare a peaceful transfer of power in the impoverished Arab nation. The announcement came as a reversal of Saleh’s recent comments in which he had said he would remain in power until the end of his term in 2013.

During talks with the Saudi officials, Saleh discussed the deflection of senior military officials to the opposition and the resignation of many other officials from their posts. A senior Saudi official is expected to visit Sana’a in the next 24 hours to plan Saleh and his family’s departure to Riyadh.

Saleh has been in office for more than three decades, with several opposition members arguing that his long-promised reforms have not materialized. Protests began to sweep Yemen in January. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more have been injured in a brutal crackdown by security forces. Some 40 percent of Yemen’s population lives on under $2 a day or less, and a third is wrestling with chronic hunger, reports say.

21 of March:

Below: The people of Yemen come under sniper fire as they gather to demonstrate

20 of March

[2]Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh has fired the cabinet, according to a statement from his office. Sunday’s announcement comes after a month-long popular uprising calling for political reform and Saleh’s resignation.

The president has asked the cabinet to be a caretaker government until he forms a new one. Several ministers have resigned from the government after security forces killed at least 52 protesters on Friday. Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, has also quit in protest over the violence.

Adding even more pressure on Saleh, the country’s most powerful tribal confederation on Sunday called on him to step down. Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of Hashed, which includes Saleh’s tribe, issued a statement asking the president to respond to the people’s demands and leave peacefully. It was co-signed by several religious leaders.

Meanwhile, thousands joined the burial procession of some of those killed in the uprising. Around 30 bodies were laid out in neat rows and the square near Sanaa University was filled with mourners. Saleh had declared Sunday a national day of mourning for the “martyrs for democracy,” while blaming the opposition for “incitement and chaos” that had led to the killings.

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[1] NEA από όλο τον Κόσμο, 100 missing after Bahrain crackdown
[2] Al Jazeera, Yemen president fires cabinet
[3] Infoshop News, The Strategic Importance of Bahrain
[4] Press TV: ‘Yemeni pres. seeks Saudi asylum’

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Αναρτήθηκε στις: 20/03/2011