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Bahrain’s king said Monday the nation had thwarted an “external plot” to undermine security and stability in his tiny Gulf kingdom and thanked the Saudi forces he invited to the country last week to quell a mostly Shiite protest movement.
The king’s statement, understood to be a veiled reference to Iran, seemed like an attempt to justify the use of foreign forces in Bahrain, as well as the violent crackdown on protesters, by using the regional rival as a boogeyman. There is little evidence that Shiite Iran has influenced Bahrain’s demonstrators, who have protested against discrimination by the ruling Sunni elite and demanded democratic reform in the kingdom.
After the arrival last week of forces from neighboring Sunni-led countries, acting on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain's government attempted to end the protest movement by forcibly removing the protesters from the roundabout that was their symbolic headquarters and declaring a state of emergency that made further protests illegal.
"An external plot has been fomented for 20 to 30 years until the ground was ripe for subversive designs,” said King Hamad Isa bin Al Khalifa, according to the Financial Times, as he visited the foreign troops. The king added that the plot could have spread to other Gulf countries if it had been successful.
His announcement came after Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat Sunday, after also asking the Iranian ambassador to leave. Iran expelled a Bahraini diplomat in response, Reuters reports.
Iran has vocally criticized the Bahraini government crackdown on the mostly-Shiite protesters, and Bahrain on Sunday complained to Arabsat, a local satellite television provider, about “abuse and incitement” by an Iranian satellite channel and two other Shiite channels.
The regional adversary of the Sunni Gulf regimes serves as a convenient excuse for the regimes to crack down on the protests, which are the real threat to their power, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last week. Saudi Arabia is extremely wary of its own restive Shiite population, which also complains of discrimination, and has moved quickly to quiet rumbles of a protest movement at home.
Bahrain’s opposition groups said Monday they would continue to stick by the conditions they have set forth for dialogue with the kingdom’s rulers, and would not talk until troops are off the streets and political protesters are released. They’re also demanding the creation of a government that is not filled with members of the Al Khalifa ruling family and an elected council to rewrite the constitution, reports Reuters.
"Bahrain needs a new agreement between all the people and the government... This system is broken and failed. We need a new system and a new constitution," Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman told a news conference.
"Today we say to the government you took the wrong decision when you let the army come into the streets... We tried our best to solve our problems inside Bahrain. We don't want the Iranians to come. We don't want big problems in this small country.”
The government’s harsh crackdown has dimmed hope for dialogue, and pushed some protesters to go beyond calls for a constitutional monarchy to instead demand the fall of the ruling family.
Meanwhile, BBC reports that security forces in Bahrain continued to occupy Manama’s main hospital Monday. Two doctors have disappeared and others are frightened. Troops are preventing doctors inside from leaving and preventing those at home from coming to work.
Bloomberg adds that security forces are moving into Shiite villages as well. About 12 people were hurt yesterday when police used tear gas and birdshot against people in Karzakan, a Shiite village. Witnesses say the wounded are too afraid of arrest to go to hospitals. At least 13 people have been killed since the protests began in February, and 63 have gone missing since Saudi forces arrived last week.