Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saudi presence 'fuels' strife fears: deployment of more than 1,000 Saudi troops to Bahrain could increase the Sunni-Shia divide

Monday's arrival of more than 1000 Saudi and hundreds of Emirati security forces with a mandate from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to support King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's regime in Sunni- ruled, Shia-majority Bahrain only stokes sectarian conflict and fuels the regional power politics between US-Saudi hegemony and an increasingly influential Shia-led Iran, analysts argue.

"Although it is clearly too early to know the outcome of this decision, or perhaps even the purpose - to crack down on the protesters? to intimidate the opposition into joining the national dialogue? - I will hazard to predict that the impact will be negative, even on the stability they hope to preserve," said Kristin Diwan, an expert on the Arab Gulf at the American University.

The highest-ranking member of Bahrain's Shia religious establishment, Sheik Isa Qassim, criticised al-Khalifa's claims that the mobilisation of GCC troops is a broader effort to ensure regional stability, rather than what Qassim considers to be Sunni entrenchment and a veiled challenge to Shia representation in the government.

"[T]he narrative of preserving order will be insufficient," Diwan said. "Sectarian tensions are already on the rise in the Gulf since the Iraq intervention, with Shia populations throughout the Gulf facing the rising influence of anti-Shia Salafi Islamist movements. Inflaming these communal tensions hardly qualifies as a recipe for stability." (read more)