The King of Bahrain has declared a three-month state of emergency, in which martial law is imposed. The declaration came after calls by Sunni parliamentarians to declare a state of emergency. It follows the entry of Saudi and other GCC forces into Bahrain to assist the Kingdom combat rising unrest. The GCC troops entered as a result of calls by the Bahraini regime.
The situation in Bahrain continued to escalate despite attempts by the ruling family to offer concessions to the protestors demanding political and economic reform. Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is leading the regime’s dialogue efforts, said the protests would continue to be allowed but must remain peaceful. Earlier in the month, he offered opposition groups what has been described by the regime as concessions, in withdrawing troops off the streets. Opposition groups responded by saying that they were ready to enter talks with the government without pre-conditions, but have sent a letter to Sheikh Salman saying they wanted a new government and a new constitution.
Six political groups led by the main Shiite opposition group Al Wefaq want the resignation of the cabinet, a new constitution under which the government is elected and an investigation into the actions of the security forces.
Newswires are reporting that at least one Saudi soldier was killed, and many protestors injured.
March 1-15, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
This is the most serious and dangerous time facing Bahrain since its independence. Whilst there have been times of unrest and suspension of the constitution in the past, the current unrest threatens the very stability of the regime as well as neighbouring states in a way not seen since the Iran-Iraq War.
The threat facing Bahrain comes as a result of what now risks gradually turning into a regional Sunni-Shiite conflict. The fact that the Bahraini regime resorted to calling in Saudi and other GCC support indicates that attempts of resolving the issue through dialogue has failed. This has prompted Iran to explicitly condemn the Bahraini regime and Saudi forces, moving further towards turning Bahrain into a stage for Sunni-Shiite fighting.
It is worth noting that mainstream Arabic-language TV stations sponsored by GCC governments, such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, have only provided minimal coverage of the Bahrain clashes. This is a likely reflection of concerns by the host governments of those TV channels, that are widely followed in the GCC and Arab World, of the conflicts spreading into their territories. Iranian-sponsored Al Alam TV continues non-strop coverage of the riots and started broadcasting over radio, to avoid the authorities blocking its TV signal. It is becoming the main source of information for the country’s Shiite majority, and is viewed by supporters of the regime as inciting violence.
It appears that the most rapid end to the ongoing unrest would be for the King to sack the Prime-minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the King’s uncle. He has been in power since independence and is highly disliked by the country’s impoverished Shiite community. He is often accused of corruption. The King does not appear to be in a position to sack his uncle Prime-minister yet, and the longer it takes for this to happen, the less likely that his sacking will be seen as sufficient. Dangerously for the regime, there are increasing calls among the opposition for ending the rule of Al Khalifa family. Although such calls are coming from extreme elements within the opposition, the escalation of violence will undoubtedly make them more popular among the opposition.
The overall assessment of events in Bahrain is that they are heading towards escalation by both protestors and the regime.
Make-up of the Bahraini population
Make-up of the Bahraini parliament, including opposition MPs who resigned at the start of the riots