Bahrain: the Usual Arab Tale of Corruption, Repression, and Sectarianism………

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“Black and yellow concrete barricades block the roads entering this wealthy Sunni enclave, where foreign-born Sunni soldiers in armored personnel carriers guard the mansions of the ruling family and the business elite. Beyond the enclave are impoverished villages of Shiites, about 70 percent of Bahrain’s more than 650,000 citizens, where the police skirmish nightly with young men wielding rocks and, increasingly, improvised weapons like homemade guns that use fire extinguishers to shoot rebar.…………. Pearl Square, where demonstrators staged a weekslong sit-in three years ago, has now been turned into a permanent military camp, its namesake statue demolished, in a grim memorial of the day in March 2011 when vehicles and troops from the neighboring Sunni monarchies rolled across the causeway from Saudi Arabia to crush the Shiite-dominated movement for democracy……………”

The turmoil in Bahrain is not just about discrimination and what many locals consider a form of apartheid: all that could be taken care of by an elected parliament, something that Bahrain does not have. Another major motivator is unchallenged corruption by the Al Khalifa ruling clan and their tribal and business partners. Bahrain is a small island country that had an oil boom before the other Gulf countries, even before Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. But the oil resources of Bahrain are limited and there is now less for the ruling oligarchs to control and abuse. A real estate boom tied to the finance and tourism industries made many of the potntates and their cronies rich. But that has slowed down in recent years, forcing the Saudis to encourage a move by some GCC and Arab institutions to Manama.

Now there is intense competition as the rulers use more of their limited resources to import thousands of foreign mercenaries from places like Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, and others to augment the Saudi forces dealing with the continued uprising (now in its fourth year). The fact that the U.S. Fifth Fleet continues to be stationed in Manama is now widely taken as an implicit approval by Washington of the repression: a Saudi military base and an American naval base in the same restless neighborhood may inevitably lead to certain conclusions. There are now signs that some fringe elements of the opposition may be meeting regime violence with their own low-level sporadic violence.

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum