August 27, 2011

Russia’s Counter Revolution Strikes Bahrain

Whether or not they’re working in tandem, Russia and China have proven equally counter-revolutionary as Saudi Arabia. Having obstructed UN resolutions and boycotted in Libya, Syria and Yemen, Moscow is also increasing security ties with the Bahraini monarchy. A source “close” to Russia’s Defense Ministry told Bloomberg that Rosoboronexport has lined up shipments of AK103 Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers. According to Bloomberg, Russia’s state-run arms trader is looking to expand its business as King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa struggles to contain the democratic uprising.

“The relationship between Russia and Bahrain has been increasingly getting stronger,” Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, a Bahraini government spokesman, told Bloomberg in response to its report. “We are looking to cooperate with Russia in trade and technical services. One of the fields is in the area of light arms.”

Anatoly Isaikin, Rosoboronexport’s Chief Executive Officer, made headlines last week when he shrugged off Hillary Clinton’s warning to halt arms transfers to Syria. After the Secretary of State told CBS News, "We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime," Isaikin countered that business with Syria would continue “as long as such sales remained legal under international law,” including Russia’s new fighter jet, the Yakovlev Yak-130. Isaikin added that Rosoboronexport has already lost $4 billion in arms contracts with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, as if this claim will induce any sympathy from protesters or the international community. He also admitted that Bahrain’s government has become a new customer.

“States in the region are interested in Russian air- defense systems, aviation equipment and weapons for ground forces,” Rosoboronexport told Bloomberg in an emailed response.

A combination of factors explain Russia’s ongoing response to the Arab revolutions. Beyond basic economics (Isaikin anticipates arms exports in excess of $9 billion), Moscow has vigorously protected old allies - Gaddafi, al-Assad and Saleh - in a bid to counter U.S. influence. Battle-lines have been drawn in Libya and Syria while opportunities are being exploited in Yemen and Bahrain. In every case arms have been dealt under the security of a UN veto. Although Moscow is unwise to position itself on the losing end of so many tyrants, its advantage is a lack of domestic and international expectation to uphold universal rights.

America as a whole bears this burden even though many citizens have little interest in the Arab revolutions. Some believe the Obama administration is wrong to intervene in any way. A majority of Russians will likely react indifferently to Bahrain’s crackdown, to the breakdown of a fatally-flawed “National Dialogue,” or to a potentially chaotic parliamentary election scheduled for September 24th.

Refusing to back down from its demands for greater political representation and judicial reform, Al Wefaq has stepped up its pressure after the “National Dialogue” collapsed in July. The Shia party held numerous rallies across the island, many of them suppressed by Saudi, Pakistani and Jordanian troops, culminating in an announced boycott of September’s election. The King’s chronic insincerity has delegitimized his reform process, and Al Wefaq considers the lower parliament’s makeup irrelevant without limitations on the powerful upper house.

"The core issue is that the legislative authority does not exist any more," Khalil al-Marzouq, a former Wefaq lawmaker and leading delegate in the National Dialogue. “There are no significant figures among the candidates... The coming parliament will not really represent the people.”

Al Wefaq could be bluffing up until the final hour, as it did before entering the “National Dialogue” at the last moment. Abdullah Al Buainain, the executive director of the elections, said that 33 candidates had registered in the Northern Governorate, traditional Al Wefaq territory. Barring government propaganda, the group could be preparing for both options depending on the situation. Meanwhile Khalifa al-Dhahrani, speaker of the 40-seat parliament, called the election an “opportunity for the people of Bahrain to vote in large numbers, thereby significantly boosting the reform process.”

If Shia don’t turn out in large numbers, the combination of a boycott and government corruption could prime the situation for a tampered verdict.

Aware that a gathering minority demands total regime change, Al Wefaq has grown more defiant over the previous months and will use September’s election as a non-violent flashpoint. Unlike their fellow oppositions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, Al Wefaq has yet to call for the downfall of King Hamid and his royal family. This position is eroding over time though, and Al Wefaq enjoys the political support to harden its demands. Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim, Al Wefaq’s leading cleric, rejected a hostile letter from Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa during his latest Friday sermon. This letter accused Qassim of inciting violence and using his sermons to announce a boycott of September’s election, slandering Al Wefaq’s political position.

Calling the regime’s actions "political suicide,” Qassim asked his followers, "Can't they learn from the fall of dictatorships and see what happens to those who denied their people basic rights? We now see what happens to the Libyan dictator, just as what happened to Tunisian and Egyptian despots... There is no exit to the crisis except through political reform. To run away from this fact will not solve anything and to delay reforms will only deepen the crisis."

The same warning should be delivered to Washington, Riyadh, London, Moscow and all the other governments running away from Bahrain.


  1. Have you seen this?