What to make of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain

So it seems that while the West sit here twiddling our thumbs on Libya, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have decided to intervene militarily in Bahrain.

Sending troops into Bahrain, Saudis break new ground

For the first time since the eruption of popular protests in the Middle East last December, Arab military forces are being deployed in a neighboring state, as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces entered Bahrain on Monday at the invitation of the government.

But analysts and activists said the 1,200 Saudi troops and 800 police personnel from the UAE are being used not to stabilize Bahrain but to reverse the drive for reform and democracy. The move came two days after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain and pressed its rulers to implement political reforms to defuse tensions with the Shi’ite Muslim majority.

Bahrain may be tiny and poor, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s a Sunni-ruled Shiite-majority country, it sits on the Saudi side of the Persian Gulf, right next to Saudi’s oil-rich region, which also has a Shiite majority. Saudi is terrified that unrest in Bahrain could spread to this region, as you should be, because that would cause petrol prices to soar higher than you have ever seen.

Of course, this puts it right across the water from Iran – the centre of the Shiite world, amongst other (less savoury) things. There has been speculation that Iran is secretly behind the Bahraini protests, but regardless of the truth of this, the toppling of the Bahraini regime would almost definitely see Iran gaining a foothold right next to Saudi Arabia.

Naturally, Iran has strongly been denouncing any intervention in the situation (and I feel like reform and democracy are not its top priorities):

Iran Denounces Saudi Intervention in Bahrain – Global – The Atlantic Wire

Iran, which has forecfully cracked down on anti-regime protesters in its own county in recent weeks, denounced the arrival of Saudi troops in Bahrain on Tuesday, arguing, in the words of an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, that foreign “interference and increasing suppression and violent confrontation is not the solution to the legitimate demands of the [Bahraini] people.

Of course they care more about the legitimate demands of the Bahraini people than the legitimate demands of the Iranian people, when they are more than happy to endorse increasing suppression and violent confrontation in order to hold onto their power.

This Saudi intervention, therefore, may be more likely to save Bahrain from becoming a theocracy/Iranian puppet with a worse human rights situation than currently exists. Then again, the Bahraini rebels could be resistant to the Iranian influence and their proximity to Saudi Arabia may help them establish an anti-Iran Shiite country, with a little support and shielding.

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