'This is a very tricky, delicate moment. I wouldn't be surprised if things get a lot worse,' scholar says
The Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Bahrain failed to end demonstrations in the island-kingdom as hundreds were injured in clashes with security forces on Tuesday and two lawmakers resigned in protest.
Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency as a second contingent of forces from Gulf states arrived in the kingdom. Police opened fire on protesters in the village of Sitra, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said. At least two people were killed and 250 people injured during clashes, Ali Al-Akri, a doctor in the emergency room of the Salmaniya Medical Complex, said in an interview.
“This is a very tricky, delicate moment,” David Ottaway, senior scholar at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if things get a lot worse.”
Clashes between mainly Shiite protesters and Bahraini forces escalated on March 13, with more than 100 people injured as demonstrators demanded democracy through elections from their Sunni monarch. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Tuesday asked the military to ensure security, state television said.
The rallies have fueled fears that unrest may spread to Saudi Arabia. Many Shiite Bahrainis retain cultural and family ties with Iran and Shiites in eastern Saudi Arabia; Bahrain’s ruling family has close links with Saudi Arabia, which holds 20 percent of global oil reserves. Shiites comprise as much as 70 percent of the Bahraini population.
German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer said on Tuesday he has “great concerns” about Bahrain. The origins of the conflict are of a domestic nature and should not be solved by foreign troops, Hoyer said in an e-mailed statement.
Troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, moved into Bahrain March 14, the first cross-border intervention since a wave of popular uprisings swept through parts of the Arab world.
King Hamad has offered a national “dialogue” and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa has said he’s committed to talks that would address demands including a “parliament with full authority,” a “government that represents the will of the people,” and “fair voting districts.”
The yield on the kingdom’s 5.5 percent bond maturing in March 2020 climbed 30 basis points, or 0.3 percentage point, to 6.88 percent at 2:59 p.m. in New York, according to data compiled on Bloomberg. Credit-default swaps surged 44 basis points to 359, the highest level since June 2009, making the island kingdom the world’s third-worst-performing contracts among governments after Egypt and Greece.
Bahrain’s credit rating was cut two levels at Fitch Ratings on Tuesday. Bahrain’s long-term foreign currency issuer default rating was lowered to BBB, the second-lowest investment grade, from A-, Fitch said in a statement. The outlook for the rating is negative, indicating that more downgrades may follow. Bahrain’s credit ratings were cut Feb. 21 at Standard & Poor’s.
Iran criticized the GCC deployment. “The presence of foreign troops and meddling into Bahrain’s internal affairs will only further complicate the issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran on Tuesday.
Bahrain, which is home to the US Fifth Fleet, recalled its ambassador to Iran after Mehmanparast’s statement, Bahrain’s state television reported.
“Bahrain strongly denounces and absolutely rejects the Iranian statement which is considered an intervention in its domestic affairs and a threat to regional and international peace and security,” Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Regional and GCC Affairs Hamad Al Amer said, according to BNA.
In Sitra, Bahraini police fired tear gas at hundreds of Shiite protesters wielding metal rods. At least two police helicopters could be seen flying above the village. Riot police fired rubber bullets and shotguns, killing one protester, the Youth Society said.
In the capital, Manama, thousands of protesters marched toward the Saudi Embassy.
“The Saudis are adding fire to the situation,” said Hussein Ali, a 40-year-old mechanical engineer, who camped overnight on a main street in the financial district. “We consider the Gulf force to be an invader.”
Ebrahim Sharif, head of the opposition National Democratic Action Society, called the GCC deployment “an occupation.”
“We have to see whether the Saudis have an active or passive presence,” Ottaway said. “The danger is that eventually they get sucked into confrontation with the opposition and that will polarize the situation even more.”
If they were able to keep the peace “this could convince some, if not all the opposition groups to start talking to the government,” he added.
GCC forces will protect “vital installations in Bahrain and maintain stability and security,” Jamal Fakhro, the first deputy chairman of the Bahrain Shura Council, said March 13 in a telephone interview.
The king declared the state of emergency “after all peaceful doors to find solutions to the violence,” Fakhro said on state-run television on Tuesday. “I am sad about what happened and sad about the bad economic, social and political situation we have reached. Bahrain is looking into an abyss.”
Gulf states said on March 10 that they plan to provide Bahrain and Oman, which also faces a popular protest movement, with $10 billion each over a decade.
“The GCC stands behind the Sunni-controlled monarchies in the region and it is not a political structure they are willing to negotiate on,” said Gala Riani, a Middle East analyst at London-based forecaster IHS Global Insight in an interview.
Saudi Shiites, who make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population, have been holding protests every Thursday and Friday for the past few weeks in towns and villages a short drive from the Bahrain causeway connecting the two countries. Saudi Shiites have demanded the release of Shiite prisoners held without public trial since 1996.
I am sorry, but is anyone else seeing shades of Northern Ireland here