October 10, 2011
GCC Adds Friction to Arab Revolutions
On Sunday King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa reconvened Bahrain’s lower house of parliament after September’s divisive by-election. Ignoring the oppositional Al Wefaq’s boycott, which dropped turnout below 25%, at times Hamad spoke as though no political crisis existed in his country. Several days ago the King hailed a report from the ministerial committee in charge of implementing the “National Consensus Dialogue,” announcing that the “results and recommendations yielded by the multiparty National Dialogue are positive and constructive for the nation and citizens' interests.”
This “dialogue,” widely considered a political farce by Bahrain’s opposition, represents, "a consolidation of our firm and unlimited commitment to supporting the state of laws and to reinforcing the role of constitutional institutions and the principle of cooperation between the branches."
Although the King would declared that “dialogue is the language of civilizations and the means for success and goodness,” some of these civilizations have relied on open-ended negotiations to ward off both regime change and genuine reform. Whether in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya or Syria, a combination of internal and external forces have manipulated a “dialogue” to corrupt the ideals of revolution, not resolve the grievances of past and future generations. These government had their chance to reform and failed; full-blown revolution isn’t a political crisis to be negotiated on equal terms, with compromises offered to autocratic regimes.
Despite their ongoing uprising, Bahrainis are the least supportive of regime change in comparison to their regional counterparts. Aside from a minority calling for King Hamad’s outright fall, the loose alliance of oppositional blocs initially stood their movement on demands for political and judicial reform, centered around the country’s Shia-Sunni divide and an imbalanced parliament. Al Wefaq took 17 out of 40 seats in 2006 (plus another in 2010) to prove that it could, then dropped out in February and boycotted the election to fill their void, a political maneuver with greater value than holding the neutered lower house. Yet the minority demanding regime change continues to attract protesters with each act of government suppression, and Sheikh Ali Salman had some strong words for the King after the September 24th election.
Warning him that Shia Bahrainis rejected his superficial political and economic reforms, Al Wefaq’s president told a press conference in Manama, "There is no such thing as 'Bahraini democracy,’ there has to be peaceful rotation of power. If there is no transition, Bahrain will remain in a crisis of security and human rights. This is a historic moment."
King Hamad is more rattled than his unflinching public persona lets on. Facing the longest sustained revolt since the 1990s, the monarchy fended off Al Wefaq’s boycott with accusations that the party obstructed voters against their will (some discrepancies were reported, but the government’s own display of force needed to be countered). The King is taking baby steps to soften his hard-line, ordering those medical workers accused of “antigovernment activities” to be released “pending retrials,” and keeping its security emphasis on riot control. Not every protest is attacked. Only when a funeral concluded for the boy recently shot by bird pellets did government forces disperse the crowd, which had taken the opportunity to continue protesting and blocking traffic.
Hamad spoke as though this would be the limit of his reform.
"The premise is that in the world of force, there is room only for the strong. The strength of the GCC stems from the faith of its leaders and the stress of its peoples on the need for cohesion, unity and the development of its institutions. We will strive towards further coordination, integration and interdependence among the GCC countries in all areas in order to achieve unity.”
While his umbrella is taking on significant water, the King still enjoys his shade from the U.S., GCC and Arab League. All three actors have counterproductively engaged Bahrain’s uprising through Iran's specter, advocating “reform” and thus driving up support for regime change. The GCC in particular (and with U.S. approval) deployed its Peninsula Shield through Saudi and UAE troops, the first inter-bloc mission. Jordanians, a GCC candidate, also contributed to the force along with Pakistanis, another satellite within Saudi influence. The GCC’s collective political, military and economic muscle has allowed Hamad to weather the Arab Spring, and also reached into non-GCC members such as Syria and Yemen.
Following the Arab League’s belated response and flimsy reform package that would leave Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in power, the GCC echoed King Abdullah’s call for an "immediate end to violence and bloodshed." Dialogue and “serious reforms” were recommended - and duly rejected by both protesters and al-Assad’s regime. SANA, Syria’s state-run news agency, quickly denounced the GCC’s statement for “disregarding the package of reforms announced by President Bashar al-Assad” on June 20th, “in which the president stressed the paramount importance of national dialogue to solve the current situation.”
“Syria has received with regret the statement of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which completely ignored the information and facts presented by Syria on the killing and sabotage acts committed by armed terrorist groups seeking to undermine the homeland's sovereignty and security.”
And this is just for saying that protesters were being killed. Never did the GCC aim direct criticism at al-Assad’s regime or call for his resignation. Over two months of inaction have passed since the GCC’s first “warning.”
Yemen’s revolutionaries have been hit equally hard as Bahrainis, not left for dead like Syria but actively suppressed by Saudi influence. The GCC was summoned in April to negotiate a favorable settlement between Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen’s unpopular opposition bloc, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), and the deal remains on the table despite multiple burials by pro-democracy protesters. The GCC initiative is a curse upon Yemen's revolutionaries. So far they've escaped military deployments, specifically Saudi reinforcements, but only because Saleh is willing to apply his own lethal force in abundance.
Whether those protesters marching under the GCC’s shadow would dispose of their targets without foreign intervention is impossible to predict with certainty. Syria in particular would undergo limited changes. Bahrainis and Yemenis, on the other hand, would see a boost in their movements and they need every advantage that they can scavenge. Without the GCC’s intervention - by definition Saudi and U.S. support - Hamad and Saleh’s desperation would rise, escalating their backlash but also increasing the pressure against them. Of course the GCC shows no indication of altering its nefarious policy - of pursuing the political and economic development that its leaders speak so eloquently of.
The GCC is no more than one of Washington and Riyadh’s many breaks applied to the Arab revolutions. In the event of failure, intervention in Bahrain will symbolize the fact that the bloc is a threat to itself.