Monday, March 14, 2011
Rather oddly, the Saudis have justified this action by reference to a request by the Crown Prince of Bahrain for assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council, much as the Russians maintained that it invaded Czechoslavakia in 1968 in response to a Czech governmental request for assistance from the Warsaw Pact. Meanwhile, the US is definitely concerned.
Troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates crossed into Bahrain on Monday under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help quell unrest there, a move Bahraini opposition groups denounced in a statement as an occupation.
Witnesses said a convoy of 150 armored troop carriers and about 50 other lightly armed vehicles crossed the bridge linking Saudi Arabia to the tiny island kingdom, and a Saudi security official told The Associate Press that the troops were there to protect critical buildings and installations like oil facilities. However, witnesses later said that the convoy seemed to be heading for Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and a military hospital that is closed to the public, Reuters reported.
The opposition statement said it considered the arrival of any soldier or military vehicle an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain.
INITIAL POST: From the Guardian:
I guess we shouldn't be surprised, as the extension of the protests to the financial district crossed a red line, as reported by Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, oddly enough, from Cairo:
Saudi forces are preparing to intervene in neighbouring Bahrain, after a day of clashes between police and protesters who mounted the most serious challenge to the island's royal family since demonstrations began a month ago.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain is expected to formally invite security forces from Saudi Arabia into his country today, as part of a request for support from other members of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council.
Thousands of demonstrators on Sunday cut off Bahrain's financial centre and drove back police trying to eject them from the capital's central square, while protesters also clashed with government supporters on the campus of the main university.
Amid the revolt Bahrain also faces a potential sectarian conflict between the ruling minority of Sunnis Muslims and a majority of Shia Muslims, around 70% of the kingdom's 525,000 residents.
The seriousness of a Saudi intervention cannot be exaggerated. One gets the impression that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates green lighted the Crown Prince's decision during his trip to Bahrain on Friday. Apparently, the prospect of social movements in opposition to the monarchy in places like Bahrain partially explains why Saudi Arabia has the third highest level of defense spending per capita, with only Oman and Qatar ahead of it. Or, to put it more bluntly, the suppression of the Shia remains an essential feature of the policies of the US and its Gulf State allies.
Thousands of antigovernment protesters in Bahrain blocked access to the financial district in Manama, the capital, on Sunday, preventing workers from getting to their offices and pushing back police officers who tried to disperse them.
It was the most serious challenge to the royal family that rules Bahrain since protests began last month.
Witnesses said the police used tear gas and fired on the protesters with rubber bullets.
This was a very, very big day, Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said by telephone from Pearl Square, the epicenter for protests in central Manama. Now the protesters control these streets. There are walls of rubble keeping out the police and armed groups. People say they will not sleep tonight.
There were also clashes at the campus of the main university, where protesters contended that the security forces were protecting armed vigilantes accused of fomenting tensions between the 70 percent of the population that is Shiite Muslim and the Sunni ruling family and elite.