19 March 2011

Saudis send a message in Bahrain

While the West moves to use force against Muammar Gadhaffi, Saudi Arabia marches into Bahrain. The goals, however, are not quite the same. The West supports the Libyan rebels desire for democracy and freedom, the Saudis motives are likely less noble. The Saudis are no doubt unnerved by the threat the massive protests pose to the power of the Al Khalifa family who have ruled Bahrain for over two hundred years. The Saud family, with a lot shorter pedigree than the Al Khalifas, are looking over their shoulders at the demand for democracy in the Middle East with its threat to absolute power and can hardly be amused.

Invited by the Al Khalifas, and under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council, hundreds of troops from Saudi Arabia and police officers from the United Arab Emirates have poured into Bahrain, marking the first time Arab nations have intervened in another country's affairs amid the current unrest in the region.

Not only do the protests in  Bahrain threaten royal power but they threaten Sunni power. The Al Khalifa monarchy represents a Sunni tyranny ruling over a population 70 per cent Shia. The Saudi monarchy, also Sunni, faces only a minority Shia population but a population that is becoming increasingly restive.

So the Sauds have good reason to send a message in Bahrain: the tsunami of revolution sweeping across the Middle East will not be allowed to reach the shores of Saudi Arabia. And, given the military hardware the West has put in their hands, they will no doubt be able to enforce that message—for a while.

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