About 2,000 Saudi Arabian and UAE troops were deployed Monday to Bahrain, to assist the local government dealing with civil unrest that followed violent encounters with demonstrators that blocked main roads to the center of the Island’s capital Manama. The move came after thousands of anti-government protesters clashed with security forces in Manama on Sunday, it was the worst day of confrontation since demonstrations began a month ago. A day later the king declared a “state of national safety”, following continued conflict with demonstrators.
According to Nabeel al-Hamer, a former information minister and adviser to the Bahrain royal court the troops are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) special response unit. Thes units are tasked with protection of critical facilities such as government buildings and installations like oil facilities. Reuters has quoted eyewitnessessaying that about 150 armored troop carriers and about 50 armored scout vehicles headed for Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family.
Aparently, Saudi Arabia is worried by the unrest in Bahrain as this would embolden restive Shiites in its own Eastern Province, the center of the oil industry but for Bahrain’s opposition the Saudi intervention is a “foreign occupation” officials from the largest opposition group Wefaq said today that any intervention by Gulf Arab forces on the Gulf island is considered a declaration of war and occupation. The oposition bloc in Bahrain is comprising seven opposition groups, mostly Shiites. The Iranian government Tuesday called the presence of Saudi troops in Bahrain “unacceptable,” saying the move “will further complicate the issue.”
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The Saudi move could derail a possible reconciliation with Bahraini opposition groups, including Wefaq which is the largest Shi’ite party. Representatives of the group met the Bahrain Crown Prince Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa earlier, to discuss a mechanism for national dialogue aimed at ending weeks of unrest. Bahrain’s Crown Prince said that a dialogue would address key opposition demands, including giving parliament more power and reforming government and electoral districts.
Activists from Island’s Iran-backed Shi’ite majority are protesting for weeks over discrimination by the Sunni royal family. However, the foreign intervention (by Sunni Saudi troops) may have re-ignited the hardliners at opposition. The Saudi intervention is likely to stir sensitivity in the Gulf, where several Shiite communities complain of discrimination and marginalization. “Shiites in states with large Shiite populations, in particular Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, may intensify their own local anti-regime demonstrations,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, partner at consultancy Cornerstone Global, told Reuters. “The Bahraini unrest could potentially turn into regional sectarian violence that goes beyond the borders of the particular states concerned.” he added.
Further reading: Bahrain and Saudi Arabia: Two kingdoms in turmoil