Alwaght- The mid-March reminds the Bahrainis of the bitter memory of occupation of their country by the Saudi and Emirati forces when in 2011 an uprising swept through the small Arab emirate as a broader wave of revolutions hit the Arab world.
In such days in 2011, a thick column of armored vehicles carrying Saudi and Emirati troops crossed the Saudi borders into Bahrain under the name of Peninsula Shield Forces to back the Al Khalifa regime’s crackdown against the popular uprising. Thousands of foreign forces seized the important sites in the capital Manama as well as major streets there. Within a short time, they generated an atmosphere of horror among the protesting citizens as they imposed a curfew.
Saudi Arabia sent 1,200 and the UAE sent 800 troops to Bahrain at the behest of allied Bahrain rulers.
Under Saudi-Emirati military intervention and on the strength of the Western diplomatic cover, not only the Bahraini regime did not treat discrimination, injustice, and royal corruption but it strengthened its iron fist policy, torturing and killing hundreds and jailing thousands of activists and protesters after unjust trials. Meanwhile, the government stripped of their nationality and expelled from the country some figures, mainly religious leaders, as it feared the consequences of their jailing and execution.
Now, on the 9th anniversary of the occupation, a number of Bahraini rights activists launched a campaign dubbed “our country is against occupation”, calling on the Bahrainis to join. Manama Post newspaper reported that a number of them have arranged a sit-in outside the Saudi embassy in Berlin calling for self-determination and the exit of occupying forces from Bahrain.
The participants condemned the human rights abuses and the repression of the pro-democracy activism in the small nation by the PS forces. The sit-inners held posters bearing witnesses to the PS crimes including the posters of the victims, like “Martyr Ahmad Farhan” and also the demolition of the Shiite mosques and other holy sites. The protestors called on the Saudi leaders to end political and military intervention in Bahrain and immediately pull their forces out of Bahrain.
Bahrain, divisive point in Peninsula Shield
In its foundation charter of 1981, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council referred to no military cooperation of the member states. However, in 1984, the leaders approved the foundation of a military wing for their political body, naming it Peninsula Shield Forces. Its main duty was to give a collective response to military aggression against the member states.
The PS, which has its command center in Saudi Arabia, started its mission with about 4,000 troops. But as many experts suggest, it has failed so far to do its mission. Christopher Davidson, a Reader in Middle East Politics and a Fellow at Durham University in Britain, says that the force after 40 years failed to do its mission of creating deterrence in the face of common threats to its member states due to internal differences. Its decline to protect Kuwait in 1991 against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invasion bears witness to this inefficiency. The failure of the force is so resounding that in 2007 the Arab League debated its dissolution.
Four years later, when Arab uprising waves swept through the Arab countries as part of a larger Muslim awakening wave, some of the conservative Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf region decided that they need to broaden their definition of security threats to prevent the spread of the popular uprisings against their rule. The decision also helped them end the crisis of meaning and competence surrounding the existence of the force. As a result, the force was deployed to Bahrain to quell the peaceful protests in the first place after the redefinition of the mission.
Such a definition of the PS mission soon caused division among the member states. Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar refused to send forces to Bahrain's mission. The difference over the mission remains standing to date.
When in December 2019, the Kuwaiti government named Ghadir Assiri as the minister of social affairs to the parliament for a vote of confidence, the decision caused a dispute between Kuwait and Bahrain and that is because the Kuwaiti politician had taken tough stances against the deployment of PS forces to Bahrain to help Al Khalifa rulers put down the demonstrations. For the Saudi and Bahraini officials, the appointment was the disregard of the justification behind the PS forces’ presence in Bahrain.
Protests as fire under the ashes and baseless justifications for PS stay in Bahrain
Whenever facing the international condemnation for its occupying presence in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia brings to surface the Bahraini regime's invitation of the PS forces to help it contain the “home security threats” as the justification for its forces' stay in the small country. Simultaneously, Saudi and Bahraini officials insist that the Arab forces are not meddling in the home developments of Bahrain. In March 2011, PS commander claimed that their main mission is to protect strategic and military infrastructures of Bahrain against any foreign intervention and also guard the country’s borders.
Now 9 years after the deployment of the Arab forces, the Bahrain public argue that the presence of the Saudi and Emirati forces, while there is no foreign threat for the country’s borders and the rule, is itself posing the biggest threat to the country. The dominant concern among the Bahrainis is now that Saudi Arabia seeks to in the long run and when the opportunity is ripe annex the country to its territory. The Shiites, who account for 70 percent of the population, can take the power in case of the democratic political process. Riyadh is seriously worried about this outlook. So, if Bahrain is annexed to Saudi Arabia, Saudi and Bahraini Shiites together will be a minority in Saudi Arabia and suffer under the repressive Wahhabi domination.
The West gives its green light to the continuation of the Arab presence. In fact, the continued PS presence indicates that the Western countries are concerned about the fire under the ashes of the revolution in Bahrain.