Saudi rulers are struggling to contain a new wave of public protests that has erupted across the Arabian kingdom as security forces open fire on unarmed civilians.
The big question: is the House of Saud finally beginning to collapse like the fragile house of cards that this creaking, ruling monarchy represents?
The irony is rich indeed. For the past year, the Saudi rulers have done their utmost to crush the slightest dissent in their country, while at the same time they have backed Western interference, aggression and regime change in Libya and Syria – under the guise, wait for it, of advocating democratic freedom and human rights.
At least two people have been reported dead from Saudi police violence against an outpouring of crowds who have taken to the streets in the kingdom – a female student and a man, described as a well-known human rights activist, are the latest victims. Many others have been injured or arrested as state security forces mobilise in what appears to be a desperate bid by the rulers to contain spreading protests.
The irony is that Saudi Arabia is one of the most vocal members of the Arab League to denounce Syria for alleged human rights violations against protesters in that country. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has even called on Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad to step down and give way to greater democratic reforms.
The irony comes in at least two parts: Saudi’s King Abdullah presides over an absolute monarchy that is brutally suppressing all and any peaceful dissent in his country calling for democracy; and, two, Saudi Arabia is funding and arming subversive groups in Syria who are accused of committing assassinations, kidnappings and many other terrorisms to bring down the secular Assad government.
For the past year, Saudi Arabia – the world’s biggest oil producer and a key Western ally – has witnessed persistent protests against the ruling House of Saud.
Up to now, the demonstrations calling for democratic freedoms have been mainly located in Saudi’s oil-rich Eastern Province, principally in the city of Qatif.
But, most worryingly for US-backed King Abdullah and his entourage of brothers and half-brothers, there is this week growing public dissent in all quarters of the kingdom.
Major street demonstrations are reported in the capital, Riyadh, in the Central Province. Protests are also taking off in the north, such as the city of Ar’ar, the western port of Jeddah and in the southern university city of Abha.
When other Arab countries saw mass protests last year against their dictatorial rulers, Saudi Arabia was also embroiled in the regional ferment. However, Saudi Arabia appeared peripheral to the momentous changes sweeping the Arab region with few media reports of any substantive popular uprising.
This can be explained partly by the ruthlessness of the Saudi authorities in crushing any incipient sign of protest in the kingdom. At least 10 people have been killed over the past year from Saudi state forces attacking peaceful demonstrations. Another explanation for the apparent low-key public protests in Saudi Arabia is the under-reporting of such events by the Western mainstream media.
The popular dissent in Saudi Arabia against its rulers is to be sure there; it is just not being reported by the Western corporate media. That is because Saudi Arabia is a major strategic ally of Western governments, for example in supplying oil, buying huge amounts of weapons, and advancing geopolitical agenda in support of the garrison state of Israel or facilitating the NATO conquest of Libya, hammering Syria, and trying to destabilise Iran.
The so-called free press and media in the West take tacit orders from their governments. The corporate media also take, depend on, lucrative advertising money from Saudi and Gulf Arab super rich entrepreneurs and state Sovereign Wealth Funds. Reporting on protests in Saudi Arabia and more especially reporting on state brutality is for the more accurately termed unfree media tantamount to cutting off the hand that feeds.
But, despite the suppression of protests and information, the people of Saudi Arabia are on the move against their Western-backed despotic rulers. And the grievances are as abundant as the oil in that country.
For a start, the Eastern Province has a large Shia Muslim population – perhaps 50 per cent compared with 10 per cent overall in Saudi Arabia. The Shia have been grossly discriminated against by the Wahhabi rulers of the House of Saud. Despite possessing the vast oil wealth of the Arabian Peninsula, poverty is rampant among the Eastern Province Shia.
Secondly, the Shia of Eastern Saudi Arabia are inflamed by the House of Saud’s invasion of neighbouring Bahrain and the ongoing brutal crackdown against the mainly Shia-led pro-democracy movement on that island. Recall that before the relatively recent imposition of European colonial boundaries, the people of Bahrain had close kinship with those of Eastern Saudi Arabia. It is not uncommon for families to have members in both territories until this day.
But the issue is much bigger than that. Right across Saudi Arabia, there are deep, seething grievances in the populace against the House of Saud, grievances that unite Shia, Sunni and non-religionists alike.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth and official GDP per capita, unemployment and poverty are rampant. As with the other Gulf Arab countries, Saudi Arabia’s rulers rely on a slave labour economy recruited from South Asia and Africa. This means that many young Saudis have to endure a life of unemployment.
Other grievances include no elections and negligible freedom of expression – all forms of public protest are strictly banned; the state is run on an extreme Wahhabist application of Sharia law, where limbs are amputated for petty crimes and women are forbidden from driving cars because the kingdom’s religious police view that particular activity as being “unchaste”.
Nevertheless, the winds of change that have swept the region seem now to be assailing Saudi Arabia with increasing force.
While analysts have been focusing on the implications of a weakened Syria and Iran, the other side of coin has not received much attention. The fallout from a determined pro-democracy movement succeeding to overthrow the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia could be the surprise to rock the region, akin to the seismic event of the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Such an outcome would not be hard to contemplate. After all, Saudi Arabia as a state is a very recent and fragile construct. It was only formed in 1932 when imperialist Britain shoe-horned Ibn Saud into power against the Ottoman Empire and after the violent ouster of several tribal rivals.
Ever since, the House of Saud has ruled with fragile control over a fissile territory with deep, enduring tribal animosities. The present ailing and 87-year-old King Abdullah is one of 37 reputed sons of Ibn Saud. Rifts within the House of Saud and rivalries as to the successor of King Abdullah are constantly boiling. But even more explosive than these House of Saud tensions are those of the general population who are weary of dynastic, despotic rule.
A collapse of the House of Saud would have explosive consequences. How would the US-led warmongering towards Syria and Iran be conducted/blunted? How would that especial affront to international law and human rights, Israel, continue to survive? The price of oil would hit record levels beyond $150 a barrel and that would surely spell a coup de grace to the death-gasping capitalist world economy.
Bring it on.
Finian Cunningham is Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa Correspondent
Bahrain’s disgraceful show trial of medical staff is set to continue, with news this week that 20 doctors and nurses are to be retried in a civilian court on trumped-up charges of subversion against the US-backed regime.
The medics were already sentenced by a military tribunal (a military tribunal!) to up to 15 years in prison after months of being held in illegal detention, denied legal counsel and subjected to torture.
Moving their case to a civilian court is presumably meant to signal a concession by the regime. But what it illustrates is that the Al Khalifa royal rulers of Bahrain are unreconstructed despots who are implacably set against accepting any kind of democratic reform.
The persecution of the majority Shia population – 70 per cent of the island – by an unelected Sunni elite is business as usual as epitomized by the vindictive targeting of medics whose only “crime” was that they treated hundreds of people injured in the state’s brutal crackdown against the pro-democracy movement.
Recently, Washington has been doing its PR best to present the monarchy in the Persian Gulf kingdom as being belatedly open to reform – this after a year of unrelenting repression against a largely peaceful pro-democracy uprising.
Bahraini grassroots activists are concerned that sections of the official opposition belonging to the Shia Al Wefaq political society are being groomed by the US State Department to accept a “compromise deal” with the royal rulers that would effectively see the monarchy remaining in power and the status quo merely being given a facelift.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has been praised in the US corporate media for overseeing “brave” moves towards political power-sharing and dialogue with the mainly Shia-led opposition.
Washington’s envoy on human rights Michael Posner and former national security advisor Elliott Abrams have talked up “important steps” by the Bahraini regime towards reform.
However, no amount of Washington spinning can conceal the facts of life: that the US-backed Bahraini regime will continue violating human rights and international law in order to maintain its stranglehold hold on political and economic power at the expense of the Shia majority.
For 280 years, the Sunni rulers, who invaded the country from neighbouring Qatar, have sat on the chests of the indigenous Shia, and they are not going to give up their privileged seats of comfort. The Al Khalifa dynasty has enriched itself through graft and corruption while the majority of Bahrainis struggle with unemployment and poverty.
The oil wealth of the tiny island has lined the pockets of the Al Khalifas, but for the ordinary Shia it has brought poverty, pollution and sickness. To add insult to injury, when the mainly Shia-led uprising last February peacefully demanded elected government to replace the unelected venal family dynasty, it was met with batons, bullets and brutality, with thousands incarcerated or fired from their jobs, several tortured to death while in prison.
Historically, to maintain this excruciating state of inequality, the Bahraini rulers developed a system of governance and state security apparatus that is “bullet-proof to reform”. Under American and British tutelage, the Bahraini rulers became adept at presenting the kingdom as a relatively benign monarchy. They may have acquired the modern semantics and appearance of political progressivism, such as referring to the kingdom as a constitutional monarchy with a (rigged) parliament instead of an absolute monarchy as in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf sheikhdoms. But not far below the surface, Bahrain’s institutionalized despotism was always the dominant reality.
For example, the kingdom’s prime minister is 78-year-old Prince Khalifa Al Khalifa, the uncle of the incumbent king. He is the world’s longest sitting prime minister, having first occupied the post in 1971 when Bahrain gained nominal independence from Britain. Prime Minister Khalifa – also known locally as Mr Fifty-Fifty – has never faced an electorate and is notorious for siphoning off Bahrain’s oil wealth to become one of the richest men in the world.
For decades, despite glamorous images of mirrored skyscrapers and Formula One Grand Prix, Bahrain has been run with an ironclad National Security Agency. The agency was, and is, a veritable “torture apparatus” headed up by members of the royal family and assisted in its nefarious conduct by ex-colonial power Britain.
Between 1968-98, the main architect of the NSA and its sectarian methods of repression against the Shia population was British colonel Sir Ian Henderson. Henderson, who had previously gained British government commendation for his role in efficiently, that is brutally, suppressing the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya during the 1950s-60s, oversaw the detention and torture of thousands of Bahrainis held for years without trial in the dungeons of Bahrain.
Former detainees told Global Research that one of Henderson’s sadistic methods of interrogation was to force them to sit naked on upright glass bottles, the necks of which had been roughly broken off to leave protruding jagged points. The detainees told how Henderson personally oversaw the torture of inmates.
Today, the British influence on Bahrain’s NSA continues. One of Bahrain’s senior police chiefs is Briton John Yates, formerly of Scotland Yard; another senior police chief is American John Timoney, who formerly ran the force in Miami, Florida. Both men have reputations of corruption and brutality from their previous commands.
Bahrain’s institutionalized despotism under a family dynasty is backed up with a military and police force whose ranks are filled by foreign expatriate Sunnis recruited from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan and Jordan. The regime forces serve their Sunni masters with a vicious hatred towards the Shia population.
This fact is attested by the daily and nightly attacks on Shia villages by Saudi-backed regime forces, with massive amounts of tear gas fired into streets and homes. At least 25 people have died from suffocation with tear gas over the past year since Saudi-led forces invaded Bahrain to crush the uprising. The victims range from a five-day-old baby girl to elderly men and women who are too weak or infirmed to escape from their smoke-filled homes.
In the past week, mourners attending the funerals for two men who died from tear gas exposure were themselves attacked by riot police who proceeded to fire more tear gas.
So, on the one hand, we see the Bahraini rulers wearing a velvet glove offering “dialogue” and “reforms”, with Washington and London providing the positive-sounding script; while on the other hand, what is felt is an iron-fist smashing down the doors of homes, firing tear gas into houses, dragging suspects away in the middle of the night, detaining them without trial and torturing to death.
And this is all happening in a supposed new era of reformism and dialogue in Bahrain that Washington assures is underway.
The continued persecution of the Bahraini medics is another fact on the ground to demonstrate the despotic nature of Washington and London’s “important ally” in the Persian Gulf.
The medics were sentenced for up to 15 years by a military court last September on a range of outlandish charges, including “attempting to overthrow the government” and “spreading defamatory information” about the royal rulers.
That verdict caused international protests from human rights groups, who denounced it as a travesty of legal procedure, not least because the sole basis for the prosecution were the confessions of the defendants – confessions that were obtained under torture.
Then, as now, the response from Washington and other Western governments and media was muted.
The medics include world-renowned surgeons Ali Al Ekri and Ghassan Dhaif and his wife, Zahra, and brother and sister, Bassim and Nada. Also sentenced was Rula Al Suffar, the former head of Bahrain’s Nursing Society. These are individuals of impeccable medical professionalism and ethics, who refused to close the doors of Bahrain’s main public hospital, Al Salmaniya, when the regime began butchering protesters last February-March. Global Research can bear witness to the dedication of these medics and countless others who struggled in the wards and corridors of the hospital to patch people up with the most horrendous wounds as wave after wave of injured were ferried in.
Dr Al Ekri was assaulted while performing surgery and hauled into detention by Saudi-backed forces who had smashed their way into Salmaniya Hospital – a crime against humanity, just one of many following the Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain that was given the green light by Washington and London.
There was a faint sign that Washington’s recent talk of progress and reform in Bahrain may have somehow sent the hint to its favoured despots to quietly drop the embarrassing show trial against the medics. But with the continuance of the prosecution – albeit in a civilian court instead of a military tribunal – it seems that institutionalized barbarism cannot overcome its tyrannical instincts for power, even at the behest of its more PR-savvy patron in Washington.
One can only imagine the sanctimonious mouth-foaming reaction by Washington, London and the corporate media if such a travesty was perpetrated against medics in Syria.
But Bahrain is not Syria; it is an ally, therefore Western governments and media suddenly develop blindness and speech impediment in the face of blatant crimes against humanity.
Finian Cunningham is Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org
SLIPPING INTO CHAOS: After Libya, NATO Intervention Threatens To Destabilize the Entire Region
by John Cherian
One year after the NATO intervention, Libya faces disintegration as the oil-rich eastern region seeks semi-autonomy.
Libya seems to be on the verge of disintegration one year after the military intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In the first week of March, leaders from its oil-rich eastern region, which includes Benghazi, the focal point of the Western-backed rebellion that ousted Muammar Qaddafi, announced their intention to seek “semi-autonomy” from the central government. The meeting in Benghazi, where the decision was taken, was attended by major political leaders, military commanders and tribal leaders from the region. The new “semi-autonomous” region, Cyrenaica, will extend from the central coastal city of Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown, to the country's border with Egypt. According to energy experts, the area holds around two-thirds of the country's oil reserves.
Observers of the Libyan scene predict that the move is aimed at partitioning the country. At the Benghazi meeting, there was an open call for the re-adoption of the 1951 Constitution, which recognised Tripoli as the administrative capital and Benghazi as the financial capital of the country.
Under King Idris, the pro-Western puppet ruler at the time, Libya was divided into three provinces, Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitana in the west and Fezzan in the south. Benghazi, where the King resided, was the centre of decision making. The United States had military bases nearby while big Western oil companies monopolised the country's oil resources. After Qaddafi came to power, he nationalised the oil industry and forced the U.S. to vacate its bases.
Sheikh Ahmad Zubeir al-Sanussi, who has emerged as the leader of the Benghazi group, is a grand-nephew of King Idris. The Benghazi meeting rejected the decision of the Libyan Transitional National Council (NTC) to allocate 60 seats to the eastern region in the 200-member Assembly. The leaders are demanding around 100 seats for the region. Elections for a new government are scheduled to be held in June. But with a powerful Western-backed power bloc emerging in the east and general lawlessness prevailing in most parts of the country, it would be an uphill task for the interim government in Tripoli to supervise a peaceful transfer of power to an elected Assembly.
Over 100 militias, flush with lethal arms, are bunkered down in the major towns of the country. They are unwilling to integrate into the national army or give up their arms. In the capital, Tripoli, the main airport and major government buildings are still under the control of opposing militias. Frequent clashes have erupted in the capital and other parts of the country as each militia has been trying to expand its turf. The seven-month- long war inflicted by the NATO forces not only claimed thousands of lives but also destroyed the country's infrastructure.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the NTC Chairman, has described the Benghazi declaration as “the beginning of a conspiracy against Libyans” which could lead to the eventual disintegration of the country. He blamed “some Arab nations” for encouraging the secessionist moves. Qatar, which was among the early backers and sponsors of the counter-revolution against Qaddafi, is said to figure prominently on the list of the Arab countries behind the conspiracy. Senior officials in Tripoli have been critical of the interference of the tiny but rich Gulf emirate in the internal affairs of the country following the ouster of Qaddafi. Abdel Rahman Shalgham, Libya's Ambassador to the United Nations, had famously asked, late last year, “Who is Qatar?” He was angered by Qatar's continued interference in the internal affairs of Libya and its backing of Islamist militias and politicians.
In statements issued earlier in the year, Mustafa Jalil had said that Libya had descended into a state of “civil war”. Sirte, which was reduced to rubble by NATO bombing, is occupied by fighters from Misrata. Tens of thousands of Qaddafi supporters continue to languish in jail. International agencies have provided graphic accounts of the torture they endured at the hands of their captors. Many citizens, including a former Libyan Ambassador to France, Omar Brebesh, died following brutal torture in prison. The town of Tawergha near Misrata has been depopulated forcibly because its residents supported Qaddafi. Amnesty International, in a report on Libya released in February, has documented details about the widespread abuse of human rights in the country. A spokesman for the organisation said that militias in the country “are largely out of control of the government”.
Navi Pillay, the chief of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), asked the Libyan authorities to take control of the prisons. “There is torture, extrajudicial killings, rape of both men and women,” she said in late January.
The NATO-backed government in Tripoli has said that it will guarantee the primacy of Sharia law in the country. Under Qaddafi, women enjoyed considerable freedom. Polygamy was banned. A man needed his wife's legal consent to get a divorce. Qaddafi had encouraged women to join the workforce. The interim government has announced that it will relax the strict rules against polygamy.
The majority of the anti-Qaddafi militia leaders, despite being backed by the West, are avowed Islamists. Libyan militia leaders are now coordinating with the Free Syrian Army fighting against the government in Damascus. The Russian Ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkov, has accused the Libyan government of training Syrian rebels in Libyan camps and then sending them back to Syria.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has given instances of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa being targeted for detention and summary executions by the militias. Baso Sanggu, the President of the U.N. Security Council and South Africa's Ambassador to the U.N., said that NATO had to be investigated for human rights abuses. NATO air raids resulted in the death of thousands of innocent civilians. The destruction of Sirte is mainly the handiwork of NATO forces. A new U.N. report has concluded that NATO has not sufficiently investigated the air raids it conducted over Libya. The U.N. had mandated a “no-fly zone” over Libya with the overt aim of protecting civilians. NATO drones and Special Forces had played a key role in facilitating the capture of Qaddafi. He was later tortured and shot by his captors. The report also said that the militias were continuing with their “war crimes”.
Another report, by the West Asian Human Rights Groups, which included the Arab Organisation of Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the International Legal Assistance Consortium, released in January, concluded that there was strong evidence to implicate NATO in war crimes in Libya. “NATO participated in what could be classified as offensive actions undertaken by the opposition forces, including, for example, attacks on towns and cities held by Qaddafi forces. Equally, the choice of certain targets, such as regional food warehouses, raises prima facie questions regarding the role of such attacks with respect to the protection of civilians,” the report stated.
The mission found the strongest evidence of NATO war crimes in the city of Sirte. The U.S. had spent around $2 billion for its “special operations” which finally led to the grisly assassination of Qaddafi. France and Britain were the other notable NATO countries that played a key role in guaranteeing regime change in Libya. Qatar and Saudi Arabia opened up their purse strings and launched a propaganda blitz through the auspices of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya respectively, demonising Qaddafi and whitewashing the sins of the Libyan militias and their patrons.
There are reports in the Arab media that Qaddafi loyalists have started regrouping under the banner of the “Green Resistance” movement. Al Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper, reported that Green Resistance fighters had recently stormed the prison in Misrata and killed 145 guards. There are claims that hundreds of fighters owing allegiance to the new government have been killed by the resistance since the beginning of the year.
The Tuareg ethnic group, which stood by Qaddafi until the very end, while siding with the resistance, has also linked up with its kinsmen in neighbouring Mali and Niger. The Tuaregs, known for their distinct style of dressing and nomadic lifestyle, have been demanding a separate state. Well-armed Tuareg groups have, in recent months, attacked towns in Niger and Mali. Sophisticated arms in the Libyan armoury have trickled down not only to militant Islamist groups but also to groups fighting to overthrow governments in the Sahel region bordering Libya. NATO's military intervention in Libya now threatens to destabilise the whole region and beyond.