By Pepe Escobar
February 19, 2011
The king of Bahrain, Hamad al-Khalifa, has blood on his hands after his mercenary security forces ~ Pakistani, Indian, Syrian and Jordanian ~ with no previous warning, attacked sleeping, peaceful protesters at 3 am on Thursday at the Pearl roundabout, the tiny Gulf country's version of Cairo's Tahrir Square.
The resourceful Maryama Alkawaka of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was there; "It was very violent, [the police] were not showing any mercy." An avalanche of tweets from Bahrainis denounced an "Israeli-style" sneak attack and shoot-to-kill approach. And many have denounced al-Jazeera for not having kept a live satellite link as it had in Cairo, and for implying that this was only a Shi'ite protest. The Pearl roundabout is now surrounded by nearly 100 tanks at every entrance and exit. Downtown Manama has been turned into a ghost city.
Khalifa had the courage to stand up and harshly confront Bahrain's foreign minister at a press conference, totally debunking his version of events (he called the deaths "regrettable" but insisted protesters were sectarian, and armed).
KILL THEM, BUT WITH A VELVET GLOVE
Even the New York Times was forced to acknowledge that US President Barack Obama had "yet to issue the blunt public criticism of Bahrain's rulers that he eventually leveled against President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ~ or that he has repeatedly aimed at the mullahs in Iran". But he can't; after all, Bahrain's I-shot-my-people king is another usual suspect, a "pillar of the American security architecture in the Middle East", and "a staunch ally of Washington in its showdown with Iran's Shi'ite theocracy".
"The US had to plot the repression of Bahrain to appease Saudi Arabia and other Arab tyrants who were mad at Obama for not defending Mubarak to the very end."
It's never enough to stress Bahrain is all about Iran vs. Saudi Arabia (see All about the Pearl roundabout Asia Times Online, February 18).
The US naval base in Manama translates as a cop on the (Persian Gulf) beat. Moreover, 15% of Saudi Arabia's population is Shi'ite, living in the eastern provinces, where the oil is. That makes it very hard for Bahrainis ~ Shi'ite and even Sunni ~ to threaten the ruling, Sunni, al-Khalifa dynasty, as the House of Saud will immediately rush in with all sorts of logistical and military support.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia has huge leverage over Bahrain's oil, which comes from the shared Abu Saafa oilfield, explored by Saudi Aramco and shared with a Bahraini refiner.
Bahrain is far from swimming in oil. According to International Monetary Fund figures, in 2010 Saudi Arabia produced roughly 8.5 million barrels of oil a day; the United Arab Emirates 2.4 million barrels; Kuwait 2.3 million barrels; and Bahrain only 200,000 barrels.
According to Moody's, to balance its budget the Bahrain government needs oil at $80 a barrel, "one of the highest budgetary ‘break-even' points in the region", says the Financial Times. As a Barclays Capital report puts it with typical corporate contortionism,
"The announcements of street protests, concessions by the government at the cost of a deteriorating fiscal position and simmering political tensions have created a backdrop that has clearly caused investors to view Bahrain with increased caution."
Prospects are bleak. The inside dope in Manama is of a split within the royal family.
TIME TO CROSS THE BRIDGE
Yet there may be reasons to dream of Saudi Arabia following the winds of new Egypt. The average age of the House of Saud trio of ruling princes is 83. Of the country's indigenous population of 18.5 million, 47% is under 18. A medieval conception of Islam, as well as overwhelming corruption, is under increasing vigilance on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
The middle class is shrinking. 40% of the population actually lives under the seal of poverty, has access to virtually no education, and is in fact unemployable (90% of all employees are "imported" Sunnis). Even crossing the causeway to Manama is enough to give people ideas.
Once again, talk about an extraordinary uphill struggle ~ in a country with no political parties ~ or labor unions, or student organizations; with any sort of protests and strikes outlawed; and with members of the shura council appointed by the king.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.