These news stories, posted above, provide a few interesting points on the geopolitics of Bahrain during the protests that began in February.
Since the beginning of the uprisings in February, flights have been banned between Iraq/Iran and Bahrain. Critics of this policy obviously cite the trouble this causes for international business. However, the Bahraini regime has clamped down on these flights in order to ensure that one route through which Iran may intervene in Bahrain. It is no secret that the Bahraini government believes the Iranian government wishes to support the Shia protesters. For this reason, the Bahraini government has banned all flights from Iraq and Iran into Bahrain. These flights will supposedly be allowed to begin again in November, however, all involved have doubts that this will actually occur.
It is interesting to note that even before the Unites States had announced its departure from Iraq, the Bahraini regime assumed that the Iranian influence in Iraq was great enough that it should ban flights from Iraq. This fear of Iranian malcontents using Iraq as a transit point to Bahrain to ferment protests is an interesting concept.
The city of Sirta has been a flash point for protests since the uprising began in February. This city is a “little” Bahrain, according to those who live in it. The protesters claim that the harsh tactics used by the government, and the Saudi forces, to crush the protests in Bahrain in February have made Sirta close to being a city with “nothing to lose.” When looking at Bahrain, protesters in the city of Sirta say that the government has made them “people with nothing to lose”. This was a common theme in Egypt and Tunisia, and if this feeling continues to grow in Bahrain, it will mean the escalation of protests.
In this vein, the United States has just had a team return from the Department of Labor that went to investigate thousands of lost jobs within recent months in Bahrain. This is a troubling development given the United States’ extensive trade ties with the Bahraini people. The General Labor Federation of Bahrain says that more than 2,500 laborers have been laid off since the beginning of protests, while others have been put in prison or have been killed. The Bahraini government has been quick to react since the United States has sent this team from DoL, however, they have ruled that 174 employees were “rightfully” dismissed, while others were reinstated. If the Bahraini government continues to use jobs as a political leverage tool, it means that the United States could be forced to cancel its trade deal with the regime. Although this would have little effect economically, it would tremendously damage the regime’s legitimacy and embolden protesters.
Protesters in Bahrain do not seem to be backing down. More than two weeks ago, protesters attempted to cause a shutdown of the capital. Instructions on how to “erect roadblocks” were shared on the internet and peaceful protest was encouraged. In the wake of elections, the Shiite block al-Wefaq disputed the election results, saying that the regime did not address the grievances that started the protests in the first place. The bloc left all their seats in the Parliament at the start of the protests.
To respond to these critiques, the regime set up a “Committee for National Dialogue”. While this is a novel gesture, many are concerned with the committee’s legitimacy. However, the protesters can use this committee to voice their concerns as all are obliged to “fully cooperate with this panel.” It is clear that the protests, which flared some over this weekend and I will post on soon (November 5-6) are not slowing down.