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Meanwhile, in Bahrain and Yemen ...

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Robin Lustig | 12:32 UK time, Friday, 2 September 2011

You will have noticed, I hope, that there have been dramatic developments in Libya over the last couple of weeks. You may also have noticed that there have been continuing protests in Syria.

But how about Bahrain - and Yemen? Two more Arab nations which, earlier this year, were very much in the headlines as they too became engulfed in popular protests. Since then - well, what?

Bahrain first. Two days ago, according to a report by the Associated Press news agency, hundreds of protesters tried to reclaim control of a central square in the capital Manama, which had been the symbolic hub of the protest movement after it began in February. Riot police used buses to block roads and fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Yesterday, thousands of people - tens of thousands, according to one activist quoted in the New York Times - were out in the streets again, for the funeral of a 14-year-old boy who was said to have been killed during Wednesday's protests.

Witnesses said he was hit in the head by a tear gas grenade fired at close range. (The interior ministry said a coroner's report indicated that the boy's injuries were not consistent with being hit with a tear gas canister or rubber bullet, and that there had been no clashes at the time he was said to have received his injuries.)

Also in Bahrain, a group of 14 doctors who are in jail awaiting trial on charges of having turned their hospital into a "terrorist base" when the protests first erupted last February have now gone on hunger strike in protest against their treatment. (There'll be more about Bahrain on the programme tonight, Friday.)

So, what about Yemen? Two weeks ago, nearly 150 opposition leaders formed themselves into a "national council" to act as a sort of government-in-waiting, while the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was seriously injured in an apparent assassination attack last June, remains in Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, government forces backed by fighter planes killed 17 people in the south of the country in what officials said was continuing action against al Qaeda-linked militants. In the poorest, and most volatile, country in the Arab world, the dangerous stalemate continues.

Why do we hear so much about Libya and Syria, and so little about Bahrain and Yemen? True, Bahrain is tiny by comparison with its much bigger neighbours - its population is barely half a million - but it happens to be home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet, and its position as an island in the Gulf, linked to Saudi Arabia by a 16-mile long causeway, gives it a strategic importance that far outweighs its size.

As for Yemen, it too is of immense importance to the Saudis, with a long and ill-policed border and suspected jihadi bases which the Saudis regard as a permanent potential threat. For the past few years, President Saleh has been cooperating closely with the US in counter-terrorism operations, aimed principally against groups believed to be linked to al Qaeda.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American jihadi of Yemeni origin and sometimes described as the world's "number one terrorist", is based in Yemen and is said to have been linked to a string of recent attempted terrorist attacks, including the so-called "underpants bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to blow up a plane on its way to Detroit in December 2009; the attempted Times Square bombing in May last year; and the dispatch of explosives-filled toner cartridges from Yemen last October.

In other words, Western security agencies have a lot invested in Yemen, and although no one pretends that President Saleh is the world's number one democrat, there's no great appetite - in either Washington or Riyadh - to see him replaced.

And if you were wondering why King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain is never spoken of in the same breath as Muammar Gaddafi of Libya or Bashar al-Assad of Syria, despite continued reports of serious human rights violations, well, he was an invited guest in Paris yesterday at the Libya conference hosted by President Sarkozy and David Cameron, where he joined them in celebrating the overthrow of a hated tyrant.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.


  • Comment number 1.

    Part 1.
    Arab Spring moved quickly to Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and finally Syria.
    Results negative - no democracy, no elections, no stability, no security.
    Results positive - strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and Iran. In fact radical Muslim extremists, most prominently the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), seem to have the upper hand in Tunisia & Egypt.
    When Gaddafi goes, the tribal instincts of the Libyan rebels will drive Transitional National Council (TNC) to in-fighting, violence. Who ever believed these guys wanted freedom & democracy?
    Jordan and Morocco have kept the Arab spring’s out in the cold with cosmetic changes in govt & promises of more power to elected leaders; but civilians remain restless & the kings even more so. (Jordan’s Abdullah II​ is aware that the most powerful enemies in his kingdom are Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Saudi Arabia has stemmed the tide by throwing money - about $130B for salaries, housing, & religious organizations. The Saudi fear is that their powder keg and Iran's match.
    The uprising in Bahrain was repressed with the aid of Saudi tanks and troops. The Saudis acted quickly because it did not want neighboring Bahrain to become a stepping stone for Shiite Iran’s influence in the Sunni Arab world. (Neither did the ruling family in Bahrain, who welcomed the Saudi armed forces.) No one wants the price of oil to go up, so the Saudis HAVE NO CONCERNS ABOUT UN SANCTIONS OR WORLD OPINION.

  • Comment number 2.

    Part 2:
    In Yemen protests began in late January and have continued non-stop. hundreds have died, but there is no leadership.
    At this point things are not looking good for the Arab countries assailed by the “Arab Spring.” Already fragile economies have been disrupted by the violence, and nowhere in sight is the emergence of anything other than feuding tribes and radical Islamist destabilization unless you want to count Iraq (as the model for freedom in the Middle East).
    Syria is different. It's almost impossible to decide which are the least bad of the bad options. On one hand we have young Bashir al-Assad, whose brutality seems boundless (and to whom Obama gave a free pass, benignly ignoring his butchery for months while thousands of Syrian civilians were slaughtered, quite unlike our President’s swift political and military actions against Mubarak and Gadaffi).
    Bashir is an Iranian ally; his removal would be a major defeat for Iran. An imposed break between Syria and Iran would also be very bad news for Hezbollah, whose terrorist leaders rely heavily on Iranian supplies, funds, and armaments, all channeled into Lebanon via Syria. Laying a finger on Syria would mean HUGE Middle Eastern trouble.
    The Muslim Brotherhood, aided and abetted by Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is at work behind the scenes organizing against Bashir. In the unrest and chaos that would almost certainly set in if Bashir were to fall, the MB would be ready to step forward up. Jordan’s Abdullah II would love to re-direct MB efforts in Jordan to a new and far more repressive target in Syria. But Iran does not want to see its foothold in the west undermined by this upheaval; so Iran has helped Bashir.
    To gain maximum benefit from the situation in Egypt and to turn the world’s attention from Syria, Iranian proxies Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and “resistance committees,” in conjunction with al-Qaeda, have renewed attacks on Israel: blowing up the natural gas pipeline from the northern Sinai to Israel, firing scores of rockets into Israeli towns and villages near the Gaza Strip, and most recently launching 3 attacks on civilians near Eilat. Igniting a new war between Israel and Egypt would be a win for Iran, al-Qaeda and the MB.
    Provocations from Iran’s allies could initiate a Middle Eastern War which could see Israel fighting on 7 fronts at the same time.

  • Comment number 3.

    It is all about power and wealth. There is no point in escalation if there is no benefit for us. Forget Al Q, forget democracy. Influence over regional trade is the key.
    There was another view on Yemen in The Keiser Report (part two, ep.178, 1st Sept). Although he does tend towards rant there was a lot of sense in it.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thank you Robin for keeping an eye on other areas of the middle east.

    If we look at this historically we will see that what is happening today is pretty much the norm. The West cares little for Arab human rights unless it is in the West's economic interests. When it comes to information the electorates in the West are fed crumbs from the table. If you want the info you have to dig it up yourself, and then - as in Plato's cave - no-one will believe you and think you're nuts.

    Given that the over whelming majority of Arabs think the USA and Israel are the biggest threat to the middle east the West will do all it can to stop the spread of Arab democracy. Let's not forget that Egypt is still a military junta.

  • Comment number 5.

    Yemen has its own Transitional Council; this Transitional Council continues to condemn intervention from Saudi Arabia and the United States. This meddling, Yemen says, only aims to suppress the ongoing Yemeni revolution.
    Yemenis have rallied against Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Washington's interference; they accuse both of making efforts to save the ailing Ali Abdullah Saleh Regime.
    Protesters have declared in a statement that they will continue their daily protest rallies until Saleh is gone. Saleh & 5 other high-ranking officials fled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment following a rocket attack on the Yemeni Presidential Palace in Sana'a on June 3rd.
    Hundreds of thousands of people have turned out for regular demonstrations in Yemen's major cities since late January, calling for an end to corruption, unemployment & Saleh's leadership.
    One can only think that United States ties to Saudi Arabia & therefore Ali Abdullah Saleh's Regime is the KEY reason that Yemenis Transitional Council merits no assistance.

  • Comment number 6.

    Since you have me to form my on conclusions, they are these:
    George Bush: "You are either with us or against us."
    "You are either an evil-doer or not an evil-doer."
    Gaddafi was an evil-doer, then not an evil-doer, then an evil-doer again.
    So being an evil-doer today assures nothing about tomorrow.
    Maintaining your status as not an evil-doer depends on how pleasing you are to the United States of America.
    Being an evil-doer will quickly get you labelled as undemocratic, terroristic, possibly barbaric and certainly in need of regime change.

  • Comment number 7.

    The Hurricane developing between Turkey and Israel should not be taken lightly. Another case of double standards -- but one that could lead to Turkey leaving NATO.

    A UN Human Rights committee has already decided that the blocking of Gaza (by Israel) is illegal, This new inquiry into the killing of Turks on a ship attempting to break the blockade has decided the Gaza blockade is legal. Turkey is now taking the case to the International Court of Justice --whose decisions are of little interest to Israel.

    As America is known to be actively against the present recognition of a Palestine State, the accusation of American pressure on the UN inquiry decision making -- has already appeared.

    Turkey has developed into a regional power over the last years --and after being snubbed by the EU for full membership -- will not take this American (and other allies) snub lying down.

    With no solution to the Cyprus problem (Greece and Britain walked away from their Cyprus responsibilities) and Greece occasionally causing problems on the EU and NATO fronts --we should not be surprised if Turkey flexes it muscles.

  • Comment number 8.

    the West supported the dictators that are now in disfavor but still have some that they find useful. Democracy is used only when it is beneficial to commercial interests. The moral higher ground of the West was abdicated some years ago. The mess will unfold and people will learn more about Western involvement in supporting the brutality of many regimes. When the business of government is business, this is what you get.

  • Comment number 9.

    Even though you did not address Syria, I do believe a lot of foreign meddling is also going on there. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself has underscored the importance of a "direct access" to what is really happening in Syria in light of the ongoing "media distortion". We know there's been distortion in Libya; so why not Syria?
    Al-Assad was talking to Jacob Kellenberger, Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is visiting Syria for talks on caring for the sick and wounded in the ALLEGED government's persecution of so-called protesters.
    Al-Assad welcomed an independent assessment by the ICRC.
    Kellenberger noted the huge transparency allowed to the ICRC delegation by the Syrian Government, which has allowed access to several areas and cities in Syria, including all detention centers.
    Kellenberger also with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. Moallem briefed him on the current situation in Syria and maintained that "armed groups" are engaging in destruction, sabotage, killing & wounding Syrian citizens.
    Kellenberger expressed relief because of the evidently massive measures being taken by the Syrian Government to shoulder the responsibility to protect its citizens.
    Kellenberger also remarked on the humanitarian activities of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Organization which has played an effective role in providing the humanitarian needs for the citizens, stressing the importance of the volunteers.
    Syria has been in turmoil since mid-March when alleged anti-government protests broke out in the southern province of Daraa & spread to other cities.
    The Syrian Government has blamed the unrest on "armed groups engaged in a foreign conspiracy". The Syrian Government stressed that it would track down these rebels who have intimidated the people, damaged public works & private properties.
    This is not the first time that Assad has made these allegations, and because we have all seen outside interference, meddling, distorted media presentation in many other countries, I believe him. I also believe (sadly) that after Libya may come Syria - not for Syrians - but for the foreign operatives.

  • Comment number 10.

    #9 BluesBerry

    --The ´new´Syrian president has had 10 years to uphold his promise to improve the situation after his fathers death --I DO NOT believe him !

  • Comment number 11.

    Turkey has just stopped all military cooperation with Israel (BBC)

  • Comment number 12.

    US & Bahraini Intelligence: Thick as Weeds.
    Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet - tip of imperialism's water- spear responsible for naval operations in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea & east coast of Africa as far south as Kenya. Should Obama Administration decide to attack Iran, the Fifth Fleet would be called upon, as they were at the start of Bush's "shock and awe" which destroyed Iraq.
    Given Bahrain's strategic importance to Washington, and the regime's close links to the US military and intelligence apparatus, Hilary Clinton's expression of "deep concern" when security forces attacked unarmed protesters was a cruel & empty gesture.
    Sheikh Khalifa, according to the State Department, understands that if he is to fulfill his mandate of protecting Bahrain, he must go deep, develop robust intelligence liaison relationships with partners around the world. To that end, he has embarked on a program to establish & strengthen intelligence ties abroad, with a central focus on counter-terrorism. Against this backdrop, Sheikh Khalifa unabashedly positions his relationship with the US Intelligence Community above all others, insisting that his lieutenants communicate openly with their US partners.
    Huge weapon: Trovicor's Intelligence Platform - spies on political dissidents. It can also fabricate communications thereby setting-up activists for more serious charges, particularly when authorities (falsely) accuse protest organizers of "fomenting violence" through messages they've artfully invented themselves.
    One no longer need insert agents provocateurs into proscribed groups. With the Intelligence Platform one can spread disinformation or incite violence from the safety and security of a monitoring center. Think of the savings to security budgets in these deficit conscious times!
    Where (I wonder) and when (I wonder) does the US use Trovicor? the Guernsey-based Perusa Partners Fund 1 LP renamed the business Trovicor, coined from the Latin and Esperanto words for "find" & "heart."
    Trovicor is really scary stuff...


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