Why Bahrain is unlikely to turn into an Iran-Saudi battleground
The intervention of Saudi forces has escalated tensions between Bahrain's protesters and the country's Sunni rulers, leaving at least one dead and drawing criticism from Iran.
The intervention of Gulf forces to help put down Bahrain's pro-democracy uprising escalates an already dangerous situation but does not necessarily mean the entire region will be pulled into the conflict, say analysts and scholars.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Protests in Bahrain
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For now, Saudi Arabia's decision to send 1,000 troops to Bahrain under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) is most likely a protective, albeit provocative, measure – one Sunni monarch helping another, says Michael C. Hudson, director of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.
“It's not [that] other countries are coming to the rescue,” says Dr. Hudson, who was on his way to Bahrain Tuesday. “It's like other families coming to the rescue. It's symbolic.”
While both Arab and Iranian leaders may seek to influence the outcome in Bahrain, ultimately the central tension is between the tiny nation's ruling Khalifa family and an increasingly resolute protest movement.
“The main issue is that [the] Khalifas have been extremely poor managers of their country,” says Jean-François Seznec, a professor at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. "They have promised reform for many, many years and never delivered."
He called the Saudi troop presence on Bahrain soil a "terrible mistake" and, while only a symbolic gesture, one that will likely escalate tensions between the protesters and Bahrain's ruling Sunni family.
“It could have been solved very easily by having the Shiite liberals and Sunni liberals come together with the crown prince to establish a constitutional monarchy,” he adds.
Bahrain, key US ally, declares state of emergency
The protests started in earnest Feb. 14 as Bahrain's Shiites rallied against widespread discrimination. Bahraini security forces responded violently, shooting and beating protesters. Since then the calls have been to topple the entire ruling monarchy.
Yesterday, Saudi Arabia sent its troops together with 800 police from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Bahrain on Monday to help the government deal with weeks of unrest in the tiny island nation. Bahrain's king went on state television today and declared a three-month state of emergency to deal with the uprising.
Located just offshore Saudi Arabia's oil-rich east, Bahrain has some oil facilities of its own and is host to a US naval base and other installations crucial to American military operations in the Persian Gulf.