Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bahrain Implements Martial Law

Given the current situation in the Middle East, I'll come back to At War With Asia later.  There are two prominent types of governments in the Middle East: monarchies and republics.  The monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, etc) tend to be richer oil producing states.  The republics (Egypt and Tunisia, formerly secular republics, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, etc) tend to be poorer states, usually with larger populations, and not oil producing states.  The only theocracy in the Middle East is Iran, though Saudi Arabia is close.  To give an idea of fiscal differentiation, a week or so ago Kuwait paid each of its citizens $3,000… a roundabout stimulus package type way of saying "please don't follow suit and protest the monarchy, we don't want our country to go to hell in a handbasket like every other country in the region."  Could Egypt afford to do this? Could Tunisia afford to do this?  Could Yemen afford to do this?

Here in the last day or so Bahrain went on military lockdown, its leaders banned public gatherings and sent tanks to the streets killing some anti-government protestors.  Thousands across the region defied authorities and marched to the streets in Libya and Yemen, in the same fashion of political unrest that we saw succeed in toppling regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.  

Some of this revolt in the Arab world is, for the most part, inconsequential to the U.S., however, Egypt and Bahrain are hardly inconsequential.  The United States' Fifth Fleet naval force for the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea, is located in Bahrain… a vital component of the U.S. Navy.  In fact, because of this, Bahrain is a key part of U.S. counterbalance to Iran.

The unrest is jeopardizing the future of a vital U.S. ally.  The base isn't the most important U.S. base in the Middle East, but it does oversee all the naval operations.  Due to a Sunni conflict (as I understand it), Bahrain is susceptible to become subdue to Iranian influence, which could be disastrous to both the U.S. and the world's oil markets (Bahrain is an oil state).  Initial U.S. reactions to the deaths of the anti-government protestors, as caused by Bahrain's implementation of marshall law, have been relatively quiet.  But recently the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, expressed deep concern over the event.  A U.S. State Department spokesman said "this is something that the Bahrain government needs to address in greater fashion" and "the U.S. is expressing full support for the rights of these people to express themselves."

This wake of unrest in the Middle East was immediately predictable after the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and especially when protests started in Egypt.  These next few months in Egypt, and in the region as a whole, are going to be most interesting.  This might be the most substantial amount of revolution the region has seen since the fall of the Ottoman empire.  

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