The images of wave after wave of demonstrators in the Bahraini capital Manama hurling themselves at the serried ranks of armed riot police on 13 March, their courage undiminished by the spectacular brutality dished out at close quarters by these hired thugs of the US-backed Khalifa regime, served notice to the world that this Arab revolution is not to be faced down by any amount of armed force, however sophisticated the weaponry with which the repressive forces have been so liberally supplied by the US (in 2008) and the UK (in 2010).
The long-predicted response of these vile kleptocrats – calling in the aid of over a thousand Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) mercenaries and their tanks – will fare no better, serving only to deepen the anger of the people of Bahrain and spread the revolt right back into Saudi Arabia itself.
The desperation of the monarchy was already on stark display a month earlier. On 14 February, police killed one protester and injured another 25. Three days later, the police invaded the Pearl Roundabout, where many thousands of demonstrators had established a peaceful tent city to protest against unemployment, hunger and political repression.
Without warning, the police opened fire on the sleeping protesters. In the space of a few short days, at least six died and hundreds more suffered horrific injuries, with police in some cases preventing ambulances from ferrying the wounded to hospital. Doctors reported that many had been wounded by shotgun blasts. One of the young men killed had 200 birdshot pellets in his chest and arms, and others were black and blue from beatings with police clubs or from the impact of rubber bullets.
Others had their skulls cracked. Yet this accelerating brutality, rather than subduing the wildfire spread of Arab revolt, in fact served to fan its flames. The massacre on 17 February ratcheted tension up yet further, sending alarm bells jangling in Washington.
It has been the prolonged suppression of Arab national-economic and political development across the Middle East and North Africa by imperialism, a suppression carried out by local stooge regimes on behalf of the West, that has for so long prepared the combustible materials currently igniting in social revolt.
Now the threatened loss of that network of comprador rule, a network laboriously stitched together by US imperialism when its prestige in the world was far higher than it is today, marks a sickening downward lurch in the spiral of imperialist crisis. With the failure of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan compounding its economic woes, the US is desperate to claw back some advantage from the turmoil in the Arab world.
One sign of this desperation is the frenzied effort to capitalise on the civil war in Libya, where imperialists are hoping to bury the truth of that country’s anti-imperialism beneath an ignorant flood of anti-Gaddafi hysteria whilst hurrying to secure access to the mineral wealth of the eastern region. Having initially suffered a set-back when their proxy forces in Libya were fought back, the imperialists are now brazenly attempting to seize and occupy the entire country by means of outright aggression.
Imperialism is by no means assured of a victory in Libya. Nor would any move against Iran at this juncture, however much such an attack might gratify the king of Bahrain (see WikiLeaks ), serve to extricate it from the deepening crisis of its own making.
And it is a certainty that imperialist agents are doing their damnedest to worm their way into the revolutions gripping the Arab world and steer them away from the path of national democracy and anti-imperialism.
Such efforts to limit the damage to US hegemonic interests may here and there succeed in blunting for a time the progressive thrust of the social revolt in the Arab world, but that is exactly what they are: a defensive exercise in damage limitation. No amount of huffing and puffing can hide what a massive humiliation the Arab revolt is for imperialism in general, and for Washington, London and Tel Aviv in particular, and what immensely cheering news it is for all of progressive humanity.
Imperialism now finds itself in a position of trying to fight a thousand liberation fires at the same time.
In its efforts to stamp out the fire in Bahrain, imperialism is discovering to its dismay that, here as elsewhere, it is ‘damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t’. That is to say, if it backs the king’s murderous assault upon his own people, it will pour oil on the flames of revolution; if it distances itself from the barbaric repression, it imperils the tottering thrones of all the other feudal relics upon which it relies to safeguard its stranglehold on the mineral wealth of the region and its suppression of Arab national development.
This impossible dilemma is being played out as a struggle between different lines within the ruling class, if we are to believe an account in the Wall Street Journal. According to this report, the White House “watched the developments with alarm, especially reports that Bahraini forces had fired on the crowd from helicopters … the next day … the Bahraini army fired on protesters again. In a call to the king, Mr Obama condemned the violence used against ‘peaceful protesters’, and urged the king to direct his security forces to punish those responsible for the bloodshed.” (‘US wavers on “regime change”’ by Adam Entous and Julian E Barnes, 5 March 2011)
We can discount the notion that Obama’s “alarm” sprang from any humanitarian sentiment. It was triggered rather by the mortal fear that such ham-fisted repression doled out by imperialism’s gendarmes would only spread the revolt wider and deeper, further blackening the name of the puppet-masters in Washington.
Against this White House view, say the journalists, was ranged the hawkish view of Robert Gates at the Pentagon, backed up by Hillary Clinton. “Arab diplomats reacted with alarm to the US condemnation. They believed the administration might be returning to the Egyptian playbook, according to officials and diplomats. Inside the Pentagon, Mr Gates and his team were quick to point out that Bahrain represented a very different situation than Egypt’s. Bahrain has a restive shiite majority that has long felt cut off from the opportunities available to the country’s sunni royal family and social elite. The country is the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Some at the Pentagon feared that shiite-led Iran might try to hijack the protest movement in Bahrain and back installation of an anti-American government.”
Bahrain indeed has a sizable disadvantaged shia majority, many of whom, side by side with sunni demonstrators, have played a prominent role in the protests, though it should be noted that, aside from the tiny minority of obscenely wealthy parasites who have licence to loot the national exchequer in exchange for handing control of the country’s oil to the monopoly capitalists, there is nobody in the population who would not greatly benefit from the establishment of a government dedicated to the nation’s welfare and independent development, with or without the assistance of Iran.
Need we add that any such government could not but appear as ‘anti-American’ in the eyes of imperialists for whom, by definition, any practical exercise of national independence in the region is a dagger aimed at their heart?
Even before Saudi mercenaries swarmed across the causeway that joins the two countries, it was clear that the Gates/Clinton line was in the ascendant, with a reluctant White House drawn into propping up the butcher king and his joke ‘National Dialogue’, conducted with a gun aimed at the people’s head.
Losing Bahrain to revolution would in itself be enough of a disaster for imperialism, not least as it is the home of the strategically crucial US Fifth Fleet. An even bigger nightmare, though, would be the knock-on effect of such a loss upon Saudi Arabia, Washington’s trusted stooge.
If Saudi Arabia’s invasion and occupation of Bahrain, making war on the people of that country on behalf of the Khalifa monarchy, fails to suppress the revolt in its island neighbour, the House of Saud could rapidly fall prey to the same contagion, thanks to the widespread unemployment, oppression of minorities and political repression afflicting Saudi Arabia itself.
Any who are tempted to water down their opposition to western military intervention in Libya with the caveat that ‘it would be okay if neighbouring countries did it’ should note the odd inconsistency with which the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, every one of them an absolutist monarchy, addresses such matters.
When the king of Bahrain decided to massacre his own subjects, the GCC from the start gave him its unstinting support, darkly hinting at a hidden Iranian hand and declaring grandly that “it will not allow any external interference in the kingdom’s affairs”. However, when the government in Libya was confronted with a civil war egged on by the West, the GCC abandoned its non-interventionist pose without a blush, calling on the Arab League to establish relations with the rebel leadership in Benghazi, supporting the occupation of Libyan airspace (‘no-fly zone’) and telling the UN Security Council to “shoulder its responsibility”.
Nor is the GCC going to be making any complaints about Saudi tanks rolling into Bahrain. Such ‘Arab solutions’ may fool some in the West, but will cut no ice with the revolutionary Arab masses.
With the whole network of comprador states in the Arab world now so badly compromised, the ability of the increasingly isolated and vulnerable House of Saud to come to Uncle Sam’s rescue is ever more in question. Saudi Arabia is even failing to shield its imperialist masters from the effects of rocketing oil prices. Despite pumping out as much oil as is physically possible it still cannot put a dampener on oil prices pushed into the stratosphere by the social explosion to which imperialist economic crisis lit the fuse.
End the Saudi occupation of Bahrain!
Long live the Arab revolution!