Press TV has conducted an interview with Alan Hart, author and journalist, about the Bahraini regime reportedly wanting to buy 1.6 million tear gas canisters and 145,000 stun grenades in order to curb undying demands for democracy from the population.
The following is an approximate transcript of the interview.
The UN has come, it’s described the regime’s use (of tear gas) as indiscriminate, lethal and unnecessary, it has highlights this. At the same time our guest Richard Millett uses the word ‘crowd control’ for these tear gas canisters. They’re being fired into homes at night, I don’t see that as a crowd control measure. This (number of canisters) is more than the entire population of Bahrain... were this purchase to take place ..What can be done?
I think what’s happening in Bahrain is the consequence of demonstrators of the Shia majority not being willing to bow to the wishes and dictates of Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian Sunni rulers who have become as paranoid as Israel’s leaders with whom they cooperate with to try to prevent President Obama reaching an accommodation with Iran. Now, that’s my headline statement as it were.
The context for complete understanding is in the history of the 33 islands of the Persian Gulf, which make up the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
Let me summarize that in a very few sentences: The Shia majority sees itself as a victim of repression and discrimination including high unemployment and poor housing.
In 2011 inspired by what was called the Arab Spring - which has become an Arab winter - peaceful demonstrators mainly but not exclusively Bahraini Shia called for reform and democracy. Their gathering point at Tahrir Square was the iconic landmark, the Pearl roundabout.
The peaceful demonstrations were forcibly cleared leaving three dead and hundreds wounded. But the demonstrators were not intimidated, they re-occupied the Pearl Roundabout.
The ruling Al Khalifa family actually did not want to used more violence for fear of damaging Bahrain’s name so the Saudi army tanks and all came in and did the killing.
It was a humiliation for Bahrain’s Sunni rulers. Effectively the Saudis were saying to them, if you can’t or won’t prevent demonstrations for reform and democracy, they will.
And let me add this thought... In passing it’s interesting to note that tomorrow some women in Saudi Arabia are going to demonstrate the ban on cars, by driving them. The Saudi authorities have warned they will be punished. That ought not to be happening anywhere in the 21st century.
Talking about dialogue and all sides coming together, how much of a possibility is that given the fact that we’re looking at the most intense crackdown that has happened in the past, I would say, 30 days with so many court sentences that were handed down; with so many activists that were jailed - I think the figure was more than 95 at last count?
It’s very easy to talk about let’s have a national dialogue. It’s like saying let’s have a national dialogue in Syria, which is clearly not going anywhere.
I think the guiding light is that Saudi Arabia, like Israel, is beginning to feel itself isolated and vulnerable. And the thing it fears most, wherever it’s happening in the Arab world, is demonstrations for reform and democracy.
Saudi Arabia wants to put the lid on reform and democracy and that is the overriding consideration behind what is happening. You see, I think the Saudis have a hand in more than people know. I suspect, for example, that in Egypt we have the guiding hand of the Saudis on General al-Sisi, probably there is some advice assistance from Israel’s Mossad. The Saudis are really getting engaged behind the scenes.
I’m looking at how many countries are providing arms to Bahrain and the UK comes to mind. Isn’t that in a way capitalizing on the regime there, giving them a green light to go ahead?
We could talk about arms sales from the UK; prior to that we could talk about the US providing arms - which it has decreased quite a bit recently. But overall they’re still enjoying that by going to trade shows and of course using their PR companies to spread the propaganda, in Western media outlets as an example.
It’s important I think to understand this part of the background - In a sense, Richard Millet is sort of half right, this dialogue, there is a theoretical case for saying it could work in Bahrain because throughout the 1990s the Shia majority was brutally suppressed.
Then a new king came to power - Hamed; and a very enlightened crown prince also with him. They gave hope to the Shia majority and the Shia majority thought that with this new ruling set up that they might get reform.
So, in theory there is a case for saying the regime in charge is mindful of the need for reform, but I think that they are now having to act according to Saudi dictates.
If we want to look at the US stance we could talk about the Fifth Fleet. Isn’t it kind of odd that they go around - what was it recently, ten billion dollars that they sold to the two countries that our guest Richard Millet said that sent troops into Bahrain - Dubai and Saudi Arabia. And yet at the same time Saudi Arabia is pivoting away from the US. How do you read that?
Can I just say I don’t think the Saudis are frightened of the government of Bahrain falling. I think what they’re worried about most is that there might be real progress in Bahrain to reform and democracy. I think that’s the bottom line for the Saudis.
I don’t know quite what to make of the Saudis stance vis-a-vis the UN and America at the moment.
I think the Saudis probably know that behind closed doors Obama and people that really matter are getting as fed up with the Saudis as they are with the Israelis. And I honestly think that the new alliance that is emerging in the Middle East is actually Israel and Saudi Arabia because they think that together they can still oblige an American president to do their bidding.