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Bahrain Live Coverage: "Union" with Saudi Arabia?

Saudi King Abdullah and Bahraini King Hamad, 18 April 2010

See also Bahrain Live Coverage: Challenging the US Arms Sale

1652 GMT: The lawyer of detained Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, on Day 96 of a hunger strike, is reported that the human rights activist has been moved from military hospital back to Jau Prison.

Alkhawaja's wife reported, after a two-hour visit on Sunday, that Alkhawaja was taking water and juice.

1650 GMT: An interesting turn in the Saudi Arabia-Bahrain "union" story, as the Saudi Foreign Minister appears to quash the idea at today's Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in Riyadh --- from Andrew Hammond of Reuters:

0950 GMT: An EA correspondent writes about the US arms sales to Bahrain, confirmed this weekend by Washington after it was held up for months because of concern over human rights and reforms:

- The F16 parts are more than likely the surplus turbofans that P&W and Lockheed thought they could flog through the F16IQ ($4.2bn) deal with Iraq in 2010 --- and couldn't sell because the preferred engine is now the GE version used by the UAE's Block 60 Vipers.

- 12 export variant Seahawks were meant to go to Tunisia, before the 2011 regime change

- The gunship parts are likely overproduced surplus, since Israel is content with their A-variant Apaches, and Pakistan is likely to buy the Supercobra when the export variant is released in 2016, rather than spend any more of their "aid" money on refurbs.

- The Avenger SAM [anti-missile] system has been flogged to Bahrain since late 2003, after the Americans shipped 1000-2000 of the systems to Iraq, to be mounted on Humvees, only to discover there was nothing to shoot down.

0715 GMT: Claimed footage of police beating a boy, reportedly on his way to school, last Thursday:

0620 GMT: We begin with the chatter about a notable shift in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. From The Independent of London:

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are expected to announce a closer political union at a meeting of the six Gulf monarchies today. The move is being seen by Bahrain's Shia majority as an attempt by the Sunni al-Khalifa royal family to retain their monopoly of political power.

The unity proposal between the two kingdoms comes as the Bahraini opposition says arrests, beatings and police violence have increased since the Formula 1 Grand Prix was staged in the island kingdom last month amid pledges of reform from the government.

Saudi troops leading a 1,500-strong force from the Arab Gulf states entered Bahrain in March last year as the Bahraini government began a campaign of brutal repression against pro-democracy protesters. The authorities have claimed the protests were orchestrated by Iran although both the United States and the government's own commission of inquiry have said there is no evidence of this.


In fact, there's a bit of over-statement --- not about the situation inside Bahrain, but about the "union" --- in descriptions such as this. The six nations of the Gulf Co-operation Council, which also includes Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, and Qatar, have been considering measures for co-ordination of action in areas such as security and foreign affairs. Examples such as Libya, where Qatar led the effort for international intervention, and Syria --- where Qatar and Saudi Arabia are hoping to do the same --- have given an impetus to the effort.

Meanwhile, "political union" is still ill-defined in terms of what it would mean in the day-to-day structure and operations of the Bahraini regime. Talk at one extreme of a "merger" between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is unsupported, while more moderate steps such as joint councils have not been set out.

Still, Bahraini officials are stirring the pot. Sameera Rajab, the vocal Minister of State for Information, declared this weekend, "Sovereignty will remain with each of the countries and they would remain as UN members, but they would unite in decisions regarding foreign relations, security, military and economy." 

And, whatever happens in Riyadh today, the reality is that the Saudis do not need "political union" to make their presence felt. They have done so for decades with their oversight of Bahraini affairs, and they did so in March 2011 when they led the GCC military intervention to assist the regime's attempted crushing of protests. 

A better question might be about the symbolism, rather than the substance, behind this "union" talks. Is it in face a sign of the Bahraini regime's nerves that, 15 months after the start of the mass demonstrations, it has not still not put them down? Is Riyadh really needed to bolster some supposed notion of legitimacy or, alternatively, to rationalise an even more intense effort to put down the troublesome demands for change once and for all?

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