Arab States Band Together to Squelch Protests in Bahrain

BY Larisa Epatko  March 14, 2011 at 4:30 PM EDT

Updated 3:25 p.m. ET, March 15

Bahrain’s king declared a three-month state of emergency Tuesday as violent confrontations continued between anti-government protesters and security forces.

Three died in clashes Tuesday.

Troops from Saudi Arabia and police from the United Arab Emirates — part of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council — are helping Bahraini forces to try to contain the demonstrations against the ruling Sunni royal family.

Bahraini opposition groups, which are mostly Shiite, denounced the deployment of foreign troops as an “occupation.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, also called the troops’ presence “unacceptable.”

The U.S. State Department warned Americans against traveling to Bahrain and sent Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman there Monday to encourage both sides to hold credible dialogue.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, when asked about Bahrain declaring martial law, said: “One thing is clear: there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain. A political solution is necessary and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain’s citizens.”

Original story from March 14:

The United Arab Emirates sent 500 police to Bahrain to join a regional force aimed at quelling growing protests in the small Persian Gulf state.

“The Bahraini government asked us yesterday to look at ways to help them to defuse the tension in Bahrain, and we have already sent roughly around 500 of our police force,” the UAE’s foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, said at the G8 summit in Paris on Monday.

The police join about 1,000 Saudi Arabian soldiers already deployed to protect government facilities in Bahrain, also at the country’s request.

The units were from a special Gulf Cooperation Council security force made up of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman.

“The fact that you have Arab troops in Bahrain from Saudi Arabia and the UAE is unusual to say the least. This is not common practice,” said Robert Danin, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies. “Clearly the Gulf States do not want to see repeated in Bahrain what is happening in the region.”

Anti-government protests in Bahrain began a month ago, inspired by the uprisings that ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa promised to hold a dialogue with the opposition and work on reforms. But the protests continued, and thousands of demonstrators clashed with security forces in the capital Manama on Sunday.

Demonstrations in Bahrain are sectarian-tinged because the mainly Shiite population is protesting actions of the ruling Sunni Muslim royal family, and seeking more access to resources and opportunities. They also calling for a democratically-elected government elected and a new constitution.

Governments of the surrounding Gulf States fear a revolution in Bahrain could replace the Sunni monarchy with a Shiite government, which could give Iranians a beachhead to expand Tehran’s influence, Danin said.

“One hopes that the situation [in Bahrain] will be stabilized and real dialogue can take place,” he added. Otherwise, continued unrest and violence would likely cause both sides’ positions to harden, the opposition to dig in, and the regime to feel threatened and possibly resort to heavy-handed tactics, making prospects for peace more difficult, he said.

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