Opposition groups in Bahrain have recently proclaimed they are prepared to commit to meeting with the ruling monarchy to end the political stalemate in the nation after over a year of political uprisings. “Any offer of dialogue requires consensus on its agenda, means, and duration in order to provide initial guarantee of its seriousness,” the main opposition association said in a statement.
According to the opposition, an important point of discussion will need to cover the leaders that were jailed during the vicious government suppression in 2011 in the pro-democracy uprising.
The Bahraini rebellion was inspired by the Egyptian revolution in the Arab Spring, when Bahrainis took to the streets in mid-February 2011 to call for democratic political reforms. It took only one month into the pro-democracy protests before the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops entered the country to crush the revolt.
Yet, we did not see any intervention on the part of Saudi Arabia in the Egyptian revolution. Last month the Bahraini opposition activists publicly sought an end to the occupation of the GCC troops, who were deployed to protect the monarchy.
No other government in the Middle East has explicitly invited foreign occupation to assist in suppressing its own people, bringing added attention to the obvious imbalances within the GCC.
With its formation in 1981, only two years after the Iranian Revolution, the GCC remains an unusual hybrid of economic and security institutions. It was in fact the 1979 Revolution that represented a traumatic turning point for Gulf States with the significant rise of instability in the region. The most immediate concern was not of an external threat, but rather, a domestic security threat inspired by militant Shiites and Iranian rhetoric. While Saudi Arabia does not have a Shi’a majority, Bahrain does – coupled by a Sunni monarchy. The GCC provided legitimacy through unity for the monarchies to rule the Gulf States, as Saudi Arabia was seeking to prevent a coup within the country following the Iranian Revolution, which served as a catalyst for the organization of the Council.
Three decades later, the Arab Spring has brought another “coup-proofing” mechanism with Saudi Arabia sending troops into Bahrain to serve their own interests. Only now, the stakes are much higher, as the Bahraini royal family and its loyalists are pushing for a confederation with Saudi Arabia so that the hegemonic neighbor can quell the pro-democratic movement entirely. What we see now is a point at which the Bahraini regime would rather forfeit its sovereignty than undergo a democratic transition – and of course, Saudi Arabia is more than happy to play a role in this.
Tactically, the Bahraini regime continues to frame the Bahraini uprising in sectarian terms, hoping to fuel divisions between Sunnis and Shias within the nation. Also using the Sunni majority in the Middle East to their advantage, painting the revolt as Shi’a – when in reality, it is a revolution of the people.
While the Bahraini uprisings show blatant similarities to the rest of the Arab Spring, the media has systematically overlooked the nation. Although the GCC acts as an economic institution, it also expands the exchange of political information interchangeably among the states. Since its formation, agreements involving sharing sensitive intelligence information in a timely manner have been implemented, and in 1987 the security regime was made fully multilateral (aimed at transnational threats). This unique level of information sharing has allowed the GCC to make consensual decisions regarding Gulf-owned satellite channels, which have portrayed the Bahraini uprising as an Iran-backed Shia insurrection against Sunni rulers.
This brazen misrepresentation fails to inform its audience that the uprising was initially calling for reforming the government into a constitutional monarchy, and the call for the abolishment of the regime only came after security forced murdered protestors on the streets.
Much like Hezbollah controls the majority of the media within Lebanon, the role of state-controlled media in the GCC remains significant in broadcasting the regimes’ deception.
What strikes one as most disturbing however; is the inexcusable assistance by Qatari-based Al Jazeera Arabic in ignoring the Bahraini uprising. While the news source had no issues reporting extensively on Egypt, Libya, Syria, and even Tunisia – Bahrain’s uprising would hit “too close to home” if they were to accurately broadcast the reality.
What can Bahrain’s case teach us about the Arab Spring? Authoritarian rulers will pull at any thread to maintain power – using sectarianism to divide the country further, and manipulating the media to unite and solidify the Gulf State monarchies.
– Danielle Morland