Bahrain Settlement Scuttled by Saudi Arabia

A Bahraini protestor drags wood pallets to use to block a road during clashes with riot police following an anti-regime protest in the village of al-Maqsha, on September 21, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Mohammed al-Shaikh)

By: Elie Chalhoub

Published Friday, October 11, 2013

The good news is that a political settlement of the Bahraini crisis – sponsored by the United States and acceptable to Iran – is beginning to take shape. The problem is that Saudi Arabia is not yet ready to play along.

Recent developments on the Bahraini crisis suggest that agreement on a political resolution, initiated by Washington and agreed to by Tehran, is gaining momentum. However, it appears that Saudi Arabia is not yet ready to sign on to the deal, encouraging elements in Manama over which it has sway to take a hard line against the nearly three-year uprising.

The details of the proposed six-point agreement were discussed in several meetings held in London in August attended by Crown Prince Salman bin Khalifa and the Secretary General of Wefaq Ali Salman, with American oversight. It would involve giving the Shia opposition a majority in parliament, which in turn would gradually be turned into a legislative, rather than simply an advisory, body.

The prime minister would still be appointed by the king, but must be approved by the legislature. And while the ruling family would retain sensitive ministerial posts such as finance, defense, interior, and foreign affairs in the government, the remaining portfolios would be given to the opposition. Finally, the regime would have to release all prisoners and facilitate the return of those employees laid off during the course of the uprising.

Today, there are three major currents in the Bahraini regime that are competing over what course to take in dealing the crisis: the Saudi-backed prime minister, Khalifa bin Khalifa, represents the hard-liners; the reform-minded crown prince favors a more conciliatory approach; King Hamad bin Khalifa plays the middle ground between the two.

The US plan was offered to the Iranians, who found it acceptable. It was not only that the Bahraini crisis was becoming a major burden on American interests in the region, but the Barack Obama administration was hoping to neutralize Iran’s involvement in Syria in return for resolving the interminable Bahraini conflict.

But when the strike against Syria did not materialize, the Americans were no longer as enthusiastic about pushing their proposal, because they would not receive anything in return from the Iranian side. This allowed those who have the most to lose from a political settlement, such as Saudi Arabia, to take an uncompromising stand and reinforce the hard-liners’ position in Manama, prompting them to unleash a major crackdown that has seen dozens of activists jailed under harsh sentences.

A meeting between the Bahraini and Iranian foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly gathering in New York – in which Manama’s envoy asked the Iranians to return their ambassador to the kingdom – did not result in either side taking concrete steps. Today, progress in Bahrain remains hostage to developments in Syria and the power struggle underway in the region as a whole.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

So the syrian Revolution was not a "real" revolution but Bahrain was. And Democracy only for Iraq and Bahrain. And not for syrians. And what happened in egypt was not a counterrevolution? Of course not. The U.S and Iran who cooperated in the Iraq-war make it now official and you still can´t smell the coffee?

Please don't make such simplistic comparisons, especially when they're factually completely wrong.

1- The Syrian "revolution" turned violent in a matter of days, the Bahraini one, despite having started before the Syrian one, is still peaceful.
2- The Syrian regime agreed to all request in a matter of weeks and months (end of martial law, release of political prisoners and opening elections to opposition parties) whereas the Bahraini monarchy made no concessions yet
3- The Syrian regime is secular and always included high ranking political figures from all sects, the Bahraini is run exclusively by the 5% minority sect
4- The offered concessions mentioned here for Bahrain are less democratic than Syria was before the "revolution" started, and far less than since the Assad regime re-wrote the constitition

Can I make a joke about Arabic? Doesn't "khalifa" permit the translation of "left behind"? And in Qatar we have the "seconds"? And in Lebanon we have the "Christians"?
It seems, when any proper noun (those which are capitalized in English) becomes crucial in governance, nobody can be happy for long.
Israel?
If we want to learn to live together, maybe we should ban the use of proper nouns in government actions.
There is some sort of language in the US Constitution to that effect, something about ex post facto laws, which would be laws where, say, the losers of the last election, like March 14 (45% v 55% for March 8) are declared the winners, via the magical incantation of "Taef Accord". And also in the US Constitution is the ban on "bills of attainder", whereby someone convicted of treason lost all her estate along with her life: her descendents were disinherited. That seems to describe Palestinians in the time of modern Israel, and Shias in the time of the Taef Accord.
As an economics professor who'd studied law said to me when I was a student, a "stop" sign is a wonderful example of a law. I could add to that now, "Unless the 'stop' sign adds, 'non-Jews only'."

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