Mar 21, 2011
While Qaddafi’s troops in Libya tighten their grip against the insurgents in the east of the country, Bahrain, at the other end of the Arab world, took a turn toward repression. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to restore “order and stability.” A thousand Saudi soldiers arrived on March 13th in Bahrain. The United Arab Emirates also announced that it would send troops. This is the response of Saudi Arabia to the demonstrations that have shaken Bahrain for a month.
Faced with this outrageous intervention, the opposition denounced the “foreign military occupation.” Bahraini protesters blocked several roads into the center of the capital, Manama. The police sprayed them with tear gas to clear access to the business district.
The Saudi monarchy is afraid the protests in Bahrain will only encourage protestors in Saudi Arabia. On March 10th, the Saudi police made warning shots to disburse protesters in the east of the country, wounding three people. Small demonstrations have taken place since mid-February in this Saudi province.
In Saudi Arabia, petitions have circulated to demand political reforms, more openness about the state budget and for measures to cut unemployment and poverty. Youth unemployment is in fact the number one problem in Saudi Arabia, since 70% of its population is under age 30. Today 40% of these youth are unemployed.
Unemployment is all the more important as the Saudi bosses prefer to employ non-Saudis, at lower wages. So the number of Saudi youth in a precarious situation and the number of people living under the poverty level has begun to climb in one of the most prosperous states in the world. But in Saudi Arabia, wealth profits only businessmen, especially those linked to royal family.
There have been numerous scandals recently that reveal the degree of corruption and nepotism in state institutions, but the guilty are never punished. Criticism of the king and princes remains prohibited while the regime’s prisons are full of political militants, irreverent bloggers, lawyers and university peace activists.
The Saudi monarchy had announced that 36 billion dollars would be spent for social measures. Obviously, it’s a matter of trying to appease the protestors. It’s also a measure of the fear the regime is beginning to have. Still the protests spread to different sectors, like intellectuals in favor of democracy and defenders of human rights, Salafist Islamists, representatives of the Shiite minority and even clans of the royal family that have been pushed aside.
The direct intervention of Saudi troops in Bahrain shows that the Riyadh monarchy intends to stifle all political protest. It uses its petrodollars – 20 billion dollars dedicated to support its neighbors in Bahrain and Oman – but also, when necessary, it uses the club.