Analysis – Some Gulf rulers wary of U.S. shifts on Islamists, Iran

By Andrew Hammond and Rania El Gamal

DUBAI | Wed Sep 5, 2012 3:43pm BST

(Reuters) – The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological affiliates in the Arab Spring uprisings has stoked fears among Gulf Arab governments that the United States may one day abandon its traditional allies as it warms up to Islamists. Continue reading Analysis – Some Gulf rulers wary of U.S. shifts on Islamists, Iran

Analysis: Saudi Gulf union plan stumbles as wary leaders seek detail

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Thu May 17, 2012 11:46am EDT

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s thrust for a Gulf Union, driven by fear of Arab Spring contagion and spreading Iranian influence, has stumbled on misgivings among smaller neighbors about a loss of sovereignty and increasing domination by Riyadh.

Gulf diplomats, officials and analysts expressed surprise that Saudi Arabia had opened itself up to such a public setback.

The union proposal, initially designed to contain Shi’ite Muslim dissent in Bahrain and counter the growing sway of Shi’ite Iran, surprised Gulf Arab leaders when King Abdullah first unveiled it at a summit in December. Rather than fade away, it acquired momentum when a Saudi minister outlined plans for shared foreign and defense policy last month.

Yet when the meetings ended on Monday, there was little hiding the fact that some leaders in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had put the brakes on the project, if not shot it down entirely.

“These things need to be looked at in depth,” said Ghanem al-Najjar, professor of political science at Kuwait University.

“You don’t just decide that you will have unity, by trying to create some sort of unified body against Iran and to handle the development created by the Arab uprisings,” he said, referring to street revolts that have toppled several dictators since early 2011 and have rattled GCC member Bahrain’s monarchy.

It will “take time” to get all Gulf countries on board, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters after the GCC summit, explaining that Gulf leaders wanted to know “details and details of the details” of how Saudi Arabia imagined a “union” bringing them closer than they are now.

He even stated baldly that there was “no step to have a special relationship between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia” – despite fanfare to the contrary in pro-government Bahraini media – while admitting both leaderships would welcome a closer association.

“They had no idea really what they wanted the union to look like, then they came on Sunday to try to work things out and couldn’t agree. By Sunday night there were strong rumors it wasn’t going well,” said a Qatar-based analyst familiar with the talks. Saudi officials were angry and disappointed, he said.

People with access to the room where the leaders met noted few smiling faces, in contrast to most such events, and even sensed anger among some of them.

Revealingly, heads of state from Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not attend the summit, which brought leaders from the other three member states – Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

OMAN, UAE, KUWAIT OBJECTIONS

The Saudis envisage close economic, political and military coordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh, replacing the current Secretariat of the 31-year-old GCC.

Reports from officials, diplomats and media suggest that Oman, Kuwait and the UAE mounted the strongest objections to the union proposals, fearing being lorded over by the Saudis as well as difficulties in integrating varying social and political systems. A Saudi spokesman was not available to comment.

“The UAE will not accept a single country taking over a union, so that issue has to be clear,” a UAE official told Reuters, pointing to the UAE’s 2009 withdrawal from a monetary union over Saudi insistence that Riyadh host the central bank.

Asked if he thought the union would eventually happen, the official added: “Let’s just say it will take more time.”

Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest and most powerful state in the group of major, U.S.-aligned oil and gas producers.

Although the six states look similar on the surface – Arab, conservative Muslim and with similar social customs – there are wide differences of tribe, history, sect and geography among them, particularly in Bahrain with its Shi’ite majority, as well as in their degree of openness to Western culture.

Oman, which has long sought to protect its identity deriving in part from a distinctive Indian Ocean coast and maritime tradition, said as early as 2006 that it would not join the as-yet unrealized single currency project.

“The UAE may not be as keen on a stronger union because they may worry about Saudi Arabia being dominant within that,” a Western diplomat said.

MISSILE SHIELD DISPUTE

Dubai-based defense analyst Theodore Karasik said the UAE was also concerned that rushing into a Gulf Union could endanger progress already made in delicate defense negotiations.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are arguing over where to locate the central command of a Gulf missile shield that the United States has pushed them on as the best means of defense against Iran, but they are reticent about sharing data.

“A GCC military technical committee has been working on a shared anti-ballistic missile plan for the last few years and now there’s a debate about where it should be based – the UAE or Saudi,” Karasik said.

Kuwaiti parliament speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun said equal levels of political openness in each country should precede a closer political compact. Saudi Arabia has no elected parliament, while Kuwait has the most lively political culture.

“Freedom of expression and the right of popular participation in decision-making…, we hope (that) will be achieved in all GCC states shortly so the union can be established,” Saadoun said on Twitter.

“Leaders of Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman expressed concern about a loss of identity of individual states and pointed to differences in law between the countries,” the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas commented. “A lot of GCC decisions have still not been implemented. It would be better to get these done first.”

Even the rise of Iran over the past decade and the Arab Spring uprisings have failed to put all GCC six on the same page, while lingering border disputes have often marred ties among states where personalized, dynastic rule is the norm.

While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE want a strong policy to stem Iranian influence in the region, Qatar and Oman have hedged their bets by nurturing good relations with Tehran.

BAHRAINI ENTHUSIASM

The only country to wholeheartedly welcome the fast track to Gulf Union appears to have been Bahrain, where many see the proposal as a way of crushing an uprising led by majority Shi’ite Muslims who they believe have backing from Iran.

“I believe the union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will happen 100 percent, with maybe the others coming afterwards,” said Anwar Eshki, a Saudi analyst and ex-adviser to the cabinet.

Bahrain, whose economy relies on oil from a field shared with Saudi Arabia, allowed Riyadh to send in Saudi troops in an initial attempt to suppress the protests last year.

But the turmoil has revived, economic growth has been cut in half and a sense of crisis pervades an island state increasingly divided by sect where hardliners on both sides gain ground.

Iran has strongly objected to the Saudi move to formalize its influence over Bahrain, with parliamentarians saying it would deepen divisions on the island and speaker Ali Larijani even suggesting it should be Iran that Bahrain integrates with.

Nabeel al-Hamer, media adviser to Bahrain’s King Hamad, tried to reassure supporters afterwards, promising a Riyadh summit in coming months to sign a unity charter including Qatar.

Bahrain’s opposition movement dismissed the entire project as just the latest maneuver by aloof, entrenched rulers to put off the day when they cede powers to an elected government.

“This is an attempt to escape a political resolution by putting Bahrain under the hegemony of Saudi Arabia, which wants to show it is the big power in the region,” said political activist Abdulnabi Al-Ekri. “I think it will be a failure.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond, Sylvia Westall, Angus McDowall, Amena Bakr, Regan Doherty and Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)

Wary of Iran, Saudis seek progress on Gulf union

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Mon Apr 30, 2012 4:16am BST

(Reuters) – Wary of Iran and regional protest movements, Gulf Arab states are pushing ahead with plans for a political union that would involve joint foreign and defense policies, the Saudi foreign minister said in a speech at the weekend.

The comments by Prince Saud al-Faisal come two weeks ahead of a summit of U.S.-aligned Gulf leaders in Riyadh that will review an outline for such a union after Saudi King Abdullah first floated the idea last December. Continue reading Wary of Iran, Saudis seek progress on Gulf union

Bahrain pledges to act on criticism of crackdown

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:58am EST

(Reuters) – Bahrain has announced a commission to steer reforms after an inquiry found systematic rights abuse during a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests this year, but opposition parties said they would not participate.

The U.S. administration has said it will delay a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, pending the government’s response to the inquiry.

Protesters, mainly from Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority, took to the streets in February demanding a bigger role for elected representatives and less power for ruling al-Khalifa family, who are Sunni Muslims. Some Shi’ite groups sought an end to the monarchy altogether.

The protests were followed by a harsh crackdown and two months of martial law. After complaints of abuse and torture, King Hamad set up an inquiry in June to look at the events.

It reported last week that abuse was systematic and called for a commission including opposition figures to implement reforms. Among its recommendations were recruiting more Shi’ites to the security forces, reviewing jail sentences for activists, punishing those to blame for abuse and compensating victims.

“The National Commission will study the recommendations and put forward proposals including with regards to the recommendation on necessary amendments in laws and regulations and how the recommendations can be implemented,” a statement on the official BNA news agency said late on Saturday.

“The Commission will end its work by the end of February in a framework of transparency,” it said, citing a royal decree from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Wefaq, a Shi’ite Islamist party and the largest opposition political bloc in Bahrain, said two of its members had been asked to join the 22-member commission, but that they had not agreed to participate because the party itself was shut out.

“We as a political party have not been approached and we were not consulted over who represents us,” senior Wefaq member Jawad Fairooz told a news conference by five opposition groups.

The commission includes the justice minister and a range of Sunni and Shi’ite businessmen, politicians and rights figures. Only four, however, are considered members of the opposition, including the two Wefaq members and two rights activists.

Fairooz said the commission was dominated by pro-government figures and that the justice minister was responsible for mosque demolitions and criminal cases against doctors, teachers and opposition leaders, which were criticized by the inquiry.

CABINET RESIGNATION CALL

The opposition parties said the charges of rights abuse in the report were serious enough to warrant a cabinet resignation.

Radhi al-Musawi of the Waad party said the commission outlined in the decree, with powers to study, propose and comment, fell short of the language used in the inquiry report, which talked of powers to implement reforms.

The inquiry called for legal action against “those in government who have committed unlawful or negligent acts resulting in the deaths, torture and mistreatment of civilians.”

It said security forces should include Bahrainis from all communities. Sentences linked to political expression should be reviewed, sacked workers given their jobs back, and compensation paid to families of those killed – 35 died during the unrest – and those who suffered torture and incommunicado detention.

It also called on state media to relax censorship and give access to the opposition, and for a “national reconciliation program ” to address political, social and economic grievances.

It is not clear how far the government is prepared to go in negotiations with opposition groups. A “national dialogue” was held in June, but Wefaq walked out and few reforms were agreed.

The foreign minister told Reuters on Friday that opposition parties including Wefaq should take part in the National Commission and that all issues would be on the table. But he later said on Twitter that he was not suggesting the creation of a new political dialogue.

Analysis: Bahrain digests inquiry as protests continue

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Fri Nov 25, 2011 3:30pm EST

(Reuters) – A report that slammed Bahrain for using systematic torture to crush pro-democracy protests has put pressure on the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state to take some steps toward political reform but the opposition doubt anything substantive is in the works.

The hardhitting findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), headed by international rights lawyer Cherif Bassiouni, vindicated majority Shi’ites and opposition groups over claims of repression during martial law brought in after the government broke the protests up.

The government will have to be seen to implement its recommendations if it wants the U.S. Congress to approve a major arms sale, but it is not clear if hardliners in the ruling family opposed to empowering Shi’ites have the upper hand.

The Sunni-dominated government says it has formed a working group to study the report, which calls for an examination of Shi’ite political, economic and social grievances, but opposition parties say no one has contacted them yet.

“I fear that the government team formed will try to bury the issue. As Bassiouni said, there is a crisis of confidence between the government and opposition,” said Radhi Musawi, deputy secretary-general of the secular Waad party.

“What Bassiouni wrote about is only about 50 percent of what happened. There were acts of rape that he didn’t detail directly,” he said, adding policing remained heavy-handed.

Shi’ites complain of discrimination in jobs, housing, education and government departments, including police and army. They say electoral districts are gerrymandered.

The government has said it is addressing those concerns but the opposition says it has heard such promises for years now and there should be international monitoring of the government’s response to the Bassiouni report.

After martial law was lifted, the king initiated a national dialogue in July that recommended giving parliament more powers to monitor and question ministers, but it did not alter the fundamental balance of power. The elected chamber does not have full legislative powers, nor does it form governments.

Foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said in an interview Friday that reforms would be looked at again.

He told Reuters a national commission would invite opposition, including the main Shi’ite group Wefaq, to look at “all important issues,” both political and security.

ROYALS HEAR OF TORTURE

Senior figures of the ruling al-Khalifa family, including army and security officials listened to an unexpectedly harsh summary of how their agencies had repressed the protest movement this year at a lavish ceremony aired live on state television.

King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman and Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman sat mostly motionless on a podium as Bassiouni recounted the abuses their citizens had suffered to extract confessions and as punishment for protesting against the family.

The report made for harrowing reading: the foreign minister told Reuters he had read it and was “shocked.”

Details from the testimonies from unidentified detainees who the BICI team were given access to included sexual abuse, lost eyes, threat of attacks by dogs, the abuse of wounded hospital patients, electrocution, beatings with hoses and other objects, leaving many with permanent disabilities.

Opposition groups and street protesters who clash with riot police almost daily in Shi’ite villages have been emboldened. Thousands marched in a funeral procession Thursday taunting police with chanted snippets from Bassiouni’s report.

“There is ongoing violence, there are ongoing abuses, there is a complete lack of faith that the government will even read the report,” Alaa Shehabi, daughter of a prominent dissident based in London who opposes al-Khalifa rule, said at the march.

State media and opposition groups have focused on the parts of the BICI report that put their opponents in a bad light.

Government papers lauded Bassiouni comments this week to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya saying there was “no cause for revolution” in Bahrain, but the independent al-Wasat daily cited Bassiouni saying the interior minister and state security agency were responsible for “shortcomings” in investigating torture.

Bassiouni said Wefaq had passed up a genuine opportunity for reform from the crown prince during the protests, in the hope of making gains through street action rather than dialogue. He also said the last instance of mistreatment heard by the inquiry was on June 10, when martial law was over.

HARDLINERS ON BOTH SIDES

Many on the Shi’ite street say they do not want the monarchy at all, although that does not necessarily mean that in future elections they would not continue to give their vote to Wefaq.

If there is any U.S. pressure for some democratic reforms, they could be trumped by Saudi demands that Bahrain not empower Shi’ites, which would embolden its own Shi’ite minority in the nearby Eastern Province. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Many Sunni Bahrainis look to the al-Khalifa as a safety valve against majority Shi’ites and there is pressure on the authorities not to back down. The Bassiouni report acknowledged cases of Shi’ites attacking Sunnis during the uprising.

“I’m optimistic, there is another neutral committee that will be formed by national figures to investigate national reconciliation,” said Samira Rajab, a prominent government loyalist who sits in the appointed upper house of parliament.

“The important thing is for there to be good intentions from the opposition and a will to solve the problems. There are demands that can be discussed within a timeframe.”

But Michael Stephens, a Royal United Services Institute researcher in Qatar, said there was a good chance the ruling family would ride out the storm and avoid critical changes.

“I don’t see how the king can implement more reforms. It would be too damaging to his powerbase and challenge the fundamental underpinnings of how they run the country,” he said.

Bahrain used “excessive force” in crackdown: inquiry

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:07pm EST

(Reuters) – Bahrain’s security forces used excessive force to suppress pro-democracy protests earlier this year, torturing detainees to get confessions, an inquiry panel charged with investigating abuses said on Wednesday.

The government commissioned report, designed to help heal sectarian divisions between the island kingdom’s Sunni rulers and majority Shi’ites, acknowledged five people had been tortured to death but said abuses were isolated incidents.

However the inquiry panel, led by Egyptian-American international law expert Cherif Bassiouni, dismissed Bahrain’s allegation of Iranian interference in fomenting unrest, saying that was not supported by any evidence.

“In many cases security agencies in the government of Bahrain resorted to excessive and unnecessary force,” Bassiouni said at the king’s palace, adding that some detainees suffered electric shocks, and beatings with rubber hoses and wires.

Bahrain’s Shi’ite-led opposition reacted cooly to the report, some saying it did not go far enough while others complained that those responsible for the abuses remained in office.

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Shi’ite Wefaq bloc which quit parliament over the unrest, said: “We cannot say Bahrain is turning a new leaf yet…because the government that carried out all those abuses is definitely not fit to be given the responsibility of implementing recommendations.”

The United States urged its ally Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, to quickly address abuses laid out in the report.

Washington, which has been faulted by rights activists for not criticizing Bahrain more sharply for the crackdown, appeared to carefully balance its demand for the abuses to be addressed with praise for its Gulf ally.

“We are deeply concerned about the abuses identified in the report and urge the Government and all elements of Bahraini society to address them in a prompt and systematic manner,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

“We believe the … report offers a historic opportunity for all Bahrainis to participate in a healing process that will address long-standing grievances and move the nation onto a path of genuine, sustained reform,” Clinton added.

Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets in February and March to demand political reforms but their protests quickly escalated into the worst sectarian political violence since the mid-1990s.

The ruling al-Khalifa family responded by declaring martial law and called in troops from fellow Sunni Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as it set about crushing the protests.

The inquiry panel said there was no official policy of abuse during the widespread unrest, led by Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite population demanding an end to sectarian discrimination and demanding a greater say in government. A few Shi’ite groups called for the abolition of the monarchy altogether.

The panel – which said 35 people were killed, including five security personnel – urged a review of sentences handed down on people arrested following the protests, when more than 2,000 state employees were also sacked, according to Bassiouni.

KING RENEWS ACCUSATION AGAINST IRAN

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, speaking after Bassiouni delivered his report, repeated the accusations against Iran, but said laws would be reviewed and if necessary revised in light of the unrest.

“We do not want, ever again, to see our country paralyzed by intimidation and sabotage… nor do we want, ever again, to discover that any of our law enforcement personnel have mistreated anyone,” he said.

“Therefore, we must reform our laws so that they are consistent with international standards to which Bahrain is committed by treaties,” he said.

In a statement, Bahrain noted the inquiry showed five deaths during the unrest were the result of torture, but added: “The report does not confirm that there was a government policy of torture, mistreatment or using excessive force.”

A section of the 500-page report found the security service and interior ministry “followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which amounted in many cases to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees.”

Bassiouni also echoed elements of the kingdom’s narrative of the unrest, saying Sunnis were targeted for intimidation by protesters. These included foreigners, including Pakistanis that the opposition say were naturalized because they are fellow Sunnis and employed in security services.

The United States has said a $53 million arms deal depends on the delivery of the report, and Bahrain has already acknowledged security forces used excessive force in some cases, while consistently denying any coordinated policy of torture.

The report follows a state-orchestrated “national dialogue” in the wake of the unrest which opposition groups dismissed as a farce.

The crackdown has left Bahrain polarized along sectarian lines, with low expectations from both sides that the inquiry would lead to reconciliation.

“It should have criticized the opposition that claims to represent the Shi’a, it only criticized the government,” said Sheikh Muhsin al-Asfoor, a pro-government Shi’ite cleric who advises the king on Shi’ite affairs.

Maryam al-Khawaja, an activist with a Bahraini human rights group, suggested the investigation wound up exonerating Bahrain rather than identifying abuses, noting on Twitter: “Minutes after talked of violations…Hamad thanked the police.”

Bahrain admits “excessive force” before rights report

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Mon Nov 21, 2011 6:32pm GMT

(Reuters) – Bahrain admitted Monday its forces had used excessive force and mistreated detainees during pro-democracy protests, as it awaited the release of an independent report expected to criticise the Gulf state’s handling of the unrest.

“The government has carried out its own assessments and conducted its own investigations. These investigations have revealed things to praise as well as things to deplore,” said a cabinet statement sent to Reuters in English.

“Regrettably, there have been instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees. This was in violation of government policy. Twenty prosecutions against the officers involved have been initiated,” it added.

The death of a Bahraini teen-ager after he was run over by police during protests last week has raised the stakes ahead of the release of a report into the government’s crushing of the democracy protest movement early this year.

Sixteen-year-old Ali Yousef al-Sitrawi was killed during a protest in Manama. Officials said a police vehicle lost control because of oil spilt on the road deliberately by protesters, but activists say police often drove straight at them.

More than 40 people have been killed in the unrest which began in February, when thousands of Bahrainis, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and led by the Shi’ite majority, took over Pearl Roundabout in Manama demanding reforms.

A month later Bahrain called in Saudi and UAE troops to help crush the protests and imposed martial law.

The statement said the penal code would be amended to outlaw torture and the government would set up a human rights body.

The Sunni-led government has said the protests were fomented by Shi’ite power Iran and aimed to establish a Shi’ite Islamist republic like Iran’s. Opposition parties say the ruling elite are playing on sectarian fears to avoid reform.

REPORT DUE ON WEDNESDAY

The report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation (BICI) is due to be presented Wednesday to King Hamad who requested the formation of the commission, led by eminent international rights lawyers, in June.

The opposition and majority Shi’ites say they expect it to play down the harshness of the crackdown.

Street protests in Shi’ite districts could erupt after the release of the report, which the government has feted in official media in advance.

Amnesty International urged Bahrain to act on the report’s findings.

“Allowing this independent inquiry … was a very welcome move, but the whole exercise will have been meaningless if the report’s recommendations are not translated into real action to redress abuses,” Philip Luther, an Amnesty regional director, said in a statement.

The cabinet statement said police had suffered over 800 casualties and accused opposition protesters of provocation.

“Our police forces have generally shown admirable restraint when faced with great provocation. Every civilian casualty is a defeat for the government. The extremists know this, and have engaged in reckless provocation,” it said.

“The police have suffered 846 injuries since the beginning of the events; four deaths; innumerable threats and insults, especially to their families.”

The economy of the island state has suffered during the civil unrest. Some banks and other firms have relocated business elsewhere in the Gulf.

Bahrain offered a high interest rate of 6.273 percent on an Islamic bond worth $750 million last week, with less turnout than usual from Asian consumers of debt, in a sign of investor concern about stability in Bahrain.

The government held a “national dialogue” in June which led to some promises of parliamentary reforms. But they stop short of the key opposition demand of giving the elected chamber legislative powers and power to form cabinets.

Bahrain’s government is headed by the world’s longest-serving prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, an uncle of King Hamad who has occupied the post since 1971.

Defining the ‘Gulf’

So, the currently in vogue phrase is “Gulf monarchies”, and although some of their leaders are emir, one is sultan, a few are sheikh, and only two are “king”, I guess it works as a way of grouping the dynasties together. They certainly want to be grouped together. The Gulf, they often say, is different. Family rule suits the particular social and political circumstances of the countries involved. With this appeal to khususiyya, the Gulf rulers are circling the wagons. The Arab countries that have witnessed upheaval are republics, with fundamentally different political systems – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen. As far as Al Saud are concerned, Bahrain only witnessed protests because of the deviance of the Shia and the meddling of Iran: If the republics were descending into de facto hereditary polities, that just shows the wisdom of the Gulf way, as Tareq al-Humayyid wrote in Asharq al-Awsat in February. (It’s a bit more complicated: the families in charge generally come to a concensus among themselves on who among brothers and sons of rulers has the qualities to maintain the stability of the state and continued rule of the family.) Continue reading Defining the ‘Gulf’

Analysis – Saudi policy on Yemen and Syria seen floundering

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Wed Jul 13, 2011 7:13am BST

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has helped damp down democracy movements sweeping the Arab world but is waiting now to see how events play out in places like Syria and Yemen for fear of overplaying its hand.

After witnessing the sudden collapse of rulers in Egypt and Tunisia this year, the Al Saud family that monopolises power in Saudi Arabia orchestrated Gulf Arab moves to stop the unrest from spreading through the Gulf region. Continue reading Analysis – Saudi policy on Yemen and Syria seen floundering

Bahrain uprising: What went wrong?

In a room overlooking the waters of the Gulf in Manama, the leader of Bahrain’s largest opposition party ponders a troubling question: Did he throw away a chance for the first real democracy in the Gulf Arab region?

Over two months after the government brought in Saudi forces to help break up a protest movement unlike anything the ruling Gulf Arab dynasties had seen before, many Bahrainis wonder if the question haunts Sheikh Ali Salman like no other.

[VN320090 Salman interview] Continue reading Bahrain uprising: What went wrong?