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بدھ، 16 مارچ، 2011

Foreign interventions in Bahrain and Libya

Although Bahrain’s monarch had requested the Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising six Gulf countries, to send their forces to contain the protests in Bahrain, it is nonetheless a foreign intervention. The 1000-strong contingent sent by five neighbouring countries of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, will be used to suppress Shia protesters, who are demanding political and economic rights in a country ruled by a minority Sunni elite. Arguably, Saudi Arabia was more worried than the rest of the Gulf countries because its oil-rich, Shia-dominated eastern area borders Bahrain and if the Bahraini Shias manage to gain the upper hand, it might spell disaster for the Saudi monarchy’s own existence, which has kept its Shia population backward and deprived for decades. It is in the interest of all reactionary monarchs of the Gulf to not let things get out of hand, hence this collaboration. There is no reason to open fire on unarmed protesters, but when an insecure minority is ruling over a restless majority as in Bahrain, perhaps this is inevitable. It would be pertinent to mention that Pakistan’s retired military officers and civilians are being rapidly hired by Bahrain because they are reputed to be most aggressive. It is not certain if the Bahrainis, who have been out on the streets for a month, would be able to sustain their struggle in the face of a brutal crackdown that now seems on the cards.

When the wave of insurgency started from Tunisia and spread to Egypt, in both cases yielding results quickly and relatively peacefully, an optimistic illusion was created that this would be replicated in all Arab countries where the public had risen. It has turned out that all Gulf countries are not at the same juncture of history where their regimes had been hollowed out from within and needed just the kind of push that the people in Egypt and Tunisia provided. Yemen’s long-serving dictator is not yielding to the protesters’ demands to relinquish the office of president, which he has been holding for the last 32 years. There have been protests in Oman as well without much hope for success. In Libya, there are reports that the tables have been turned by Gaddafi’s use of military force and a vow to fight till the last drop of blood. The rebel forces in Libya that had taken over eastern towns are now being pushed back through the use of navy, air force and artillery bombardments. The imbalance of power between the two sides is so great that an untrained, lightly armed, scattered guerrilla force cannot win over a conventional military force in set-piece battles. Being largely a desert excepting the northern periphery, it will not be easy for the rebels to sustain guerrilla warfare against Gaddafi’s air power. It seems that Gaddafi still has the backing of his military and certain tribes who are aiding him.

In this scenario, saner heads in the West are advising the hawks led by France against military intervention in the name of ‘humanitarian’ action. It has been proved in recent years that such intrusions are, after all, not entirely altruistic and are driven by vested interests. The UN Security Council is unlikely to yield to the proposal of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. It is dangerous thinking, this talk of military intervention and will lead to the expansion of war in Libya and the region. A fig leaf has been created in the shape of the Arab League’s endorsement of a no-fly zone, but this is unlikely to impress anyone. The Arab League has lost credibility over the years and cannot necessarily be taken as representing the interests of the Arab people. Gaddafi may have resiled from anti-imperialist Arab nationalism and may be cracking down on his people, but this should not be used an excuse to call for a foreign intervention. The Arab people must be given the opportunity to settle their affairs themselves.
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