Gulf anschluss

Curious goings-on in the Gulf. Watch this space.
Saudi and Bahrain expected to seek union-minister | Reuters

"Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are expected to announce closer political union at a meeting of Gulf Arab leaders on Monday, a Bahraini minister said, a move dismissed by the opposition as a ruse to avoid political reform.

The decision is part of a strategy to increase integration within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as the organisation's six nations fret about Iran's power in the region and the presence of al Qaeda after the Arab uprisings.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might initially seek closer union, local media have said, as both share a concern about discontent among Shi'ite Muslims against their ruling Sunni dynasties, and accuse Shi'ite Iran of fomenting it - a charge Iran denies.

Saudi security forces entered Bahrain in March 2011 ahead of a crackdown on pro-democracy protests which had been led mainly by majority Shi'ite Muslims against the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy, a U.S. ally.

"I expect there will be an announcement of two or three countries. We can't be sure but I have a strong expectation," Samira Rajab, Bahrain's minister of state for information affairs, told Reuters on Sunday. Two of the countries mentioned were Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; Rajab did not name the third.

"Sovereignty will remain with each of the countries and they would remain as U.N. members but they would unite in decisions regarding foreign relations, security, military and the economy."

Despite appearances of unity, there are deep divisions within the GCC, which also includes Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, as its officials meet in Riyadh on Monday for day-long talks.

Saudi Arabia fears that Bahrain's pro-democracy movement has the potential to spill over into its own Shi'ite-populated Eastern Province region, home to major oilfields.


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a surprise visit to an island claimed by the UAE last month, stoking fears among Gulf rulers of growing Iranian influence since the 2003 invasion of Iraq brought Iran's allies and fellow Shi'ites to power there.

With its Fifth Fleet in Manama, the United States sees Bahrain's Al Khalifa family as an ally in stemming Iranian influence in the Gulf, even though Washington has not said it believes that Iran is behind unrest in the kingdom.

Last week, Washington said it would resume arms sales to Manama, drawing condemnation from international rights groups.

Iranian media attacked the plan. "Saudi Arabia's aim in legally occupying Bahrain is to stop the influence of Shi'ites - the majority of the island - on the Shi'ite residents in the eastern regions of Saudi," the semi-official Mehr news agency said.

"The aim of the Saudi regime in the future is the exclusion of Shi'ites in Bahrain."

Bahrain's leading opposition party Wefaq said Saudi intervention was aimed at stopping democratic change.

"The issues facing Bahrain are local, not regional. There is little the Saudis can do: they sent troops but failed because the crisis is still going on, and that's because it requires a political solution," said senior Wefaq official Jasim Husain.

"Any agreement must get the people's approval, not least in Saudi Arabia. I suspect this supposed union is just rhetoric."

Pro-democracy protesters burned tyres and clashed with police in Bahrain on Saturday, demanding the release of opposition leaders and rights activists.

Opposition activists say the death toll in the unrest has risen from 35 when martial law ended last June to 81, as police make heavy use of teargas and birdshot pellets. The government says many of the deaths were caused by the protesters' or bystanders' pre-existing poor health.


Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Bahrain's hardline prime minister, is believed to oppose concessions to the Shi'ite opposition. He backs the idea of a union.

"The great dream of the peoples of the region is to see the day when borders disappear with a union that creates one Gulf," the official Bahrain News Agency quoted him as saying on Sunday.

Speaking after foreign ministers met in Riyadh, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, told Reuters on Sunday the plans for a union were ambitious.

"All aspects of union are on the table, between all members," he said.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are already joined at the hip, though the island's social liberalism could come under threat if a merger took place.

Saudi Arabia allows Bahrain access to an oilfield it owns, providing 70 percent of its budget, while Saudis have traditionally flocked to Bahrain for weekend relief from Islamic restrictions on gender mixing, female driving and drinking alcohol.

Justin Gengler, a researcher based in Qatar, said hardliners including the prime minister, army chief and royal court minister see a union as a way of stopping the empowerment of Shi'ites and preserving the privileges of the ruling family.

A monetary union project has faltered, and other differences also run deep however.

The Arab Spring uprisings have been a challenge for Gulf rulers. Saudi Arabia took action to stop the spread of unrest to Bahrain after being shocked to see Hosni Mubarak fall in Egypt without American intervention to save him.

Rajab said there were "reservations" among some GCC members over the union, while the deputy head of Bahrain's appointed upper house of parliament said he was sceptical.

"I have my doubts," said Jamal Fakhro. "It will not be an easy achievement to have one foreign policy between six countries, unless it's limited to specific issues."
Does that mean the Saudis can finally lash in Bahrain?

Look around the world. The only time political unions work is when they are A) New states; B) Fully willing parties.

Let's see the Crown Pince of Bahrain kow-tow to the Saudis.
Will they close down the Brit club and 49ers?
A bit more from the Beeb
BBC News - Arab Gulf leaders meet for talks on further union

The Al Jazeera take, (being local) is decidedly lukewarm.Gulf leaders to discuss ‘GCC Union’ - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

"Leaders of the six Gulf Arab countries forming the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) are due to meet in Riyadh to discuss progress in their overall co-operation since their summit in December, when the Saudi monarch urged for a "transition from the stage of co-operation to the Union."

The summit on Monday is expected to discuss the Saudi proposal to develop their six-nation council into a union, possibly starting with a merger between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The exact nature of this union remains unclear but Bahrain's state minister for information, Samira Rajab, said it could follow the "European Union model".

"The summit will discuss all the points, including the points of union," said Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after preparatory talks in Riyadh on Sunday.

A committee made up of three representatives from each of the six member states - the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman - will submit its findings on the proposed union to Monday's summit.

The discussions will be closely watched on the streets of Bahrain where the main opposition has denounced the idea of greater union.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of Bahrain's main opposition formation, Al-Wefaq, has criticised the project which he said must first be subjected to a referendum that should take place in all GCC states.

"Bahrain gained its independence [in 1971] following a referendum" overseen by the United Nations, said Salman in a speech on Sunday.

"The people of Bahrain alone have the right to" decide, he said, adding the kingdom's ruling "Al-Khalifa (dynasty) has no right to decide a union or confederation with any country".

Bahrain has been wracked by unrest for more than 15 months that activists say has killed 81 people. Bahrain's government says demonstrators were responsible for many of the killings."

So, yes. If the Blackshorts of the Saudi religious police get in, expect all fun to be STOPPED. RIGHT NOW. YES, WE MEAN YOU, INFIDEL!
That's the devil in the detail. The Saudis are 'offering' their protection to their nervous little neighbours. What do the little neighbours get in return?
Apparently turning into a Bahrain-Iran diplomatic incident. Even the suggestion of a Gulf union seems to have set the Iranians off. Which is rather ironic, as it appears that the Gulf States weren't actually that keen on the idea.
BBC News - Bahrain and Iran in diplomatic row over union proposal

"Bahrain's foreign ministry has summoned Iran's charge d'affaires in Manama to protest at what it described a "gross violation of its sovereignty".

It follows official Iranian calls for demonstrations against a proposed union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

A summit of the Gulf states discussed the proposal on Monday but did not reach any decision on the matter.

Bahrain's Sunni royal family has accused Iran of supporting mass protests by the nation's Shia majority.

The proposed union was presented as a first step in a larger integration between all six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members.

It calls for economic, political and military co-ordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh, replacing the current GCC Secretariat.

After no agreement was reached, the Saudi foreign minister said the discussions were being postponed.

But the mere suggestion of the union sparked strong criticism from the opposition in Bahrain.

The tiny Gulf island has seen intermittent protests for more than a year demanding political reforms.

The conflict reached a turning point when Saudi Arabia led a military force into Bahrain as part of what was known the "Peninsula Shield Forces" to support the authorities.

The withdrawal of the troops became a constant demand by the opposition.

Iran tensions

Earlier this week, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was quoted by the official Irna news agency as saying: "If Bahrain is supposed to be integrated into another country, it must be Iran and not Saudi Arabia."

The Islamic Propagation Co-ordination Council, which organises state-backed protests, has called for rallies after Friday prayers against what it described as a US plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned that "any kind of foreign intervention or non-normative plans without respecting people's vote will only deepen the already existing wounds".

Bahrain's foreign ministry condemned the comments, saying they "represent a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom, and gross violation of its sovereignty and independence, and they constitute a completely unacceptable conduct".

The GCC was formed in 1981 as the Sunni-dominated monarchies of the Gulf aimed to bolster security after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and to counter the ambitions of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein."
This idea seems to be going down like a bacon bagel with the locals as well.
BBC News - Thousands of Shia Muslims protest over Gulf union plans

Thousands of mainly Shia Bahrainis have protested outside the capital against a plan to create a union of Gulf Arab countries.

In Manama, the demonstration stretched for some three miles (5km), blocking a motorway.

The Saudi king's proposal to unite the six members of the Gulf Co-Operation Council was discussed this week.

The six members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

There were also protests against the move in Dubai and Iran, where Bahrain's ambassador was rebuked.

The planned union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia - the first part of a broader union of the Gulf's six Arab monarchies - has triggered discord between Shia-dominated Iran and the Sunni rulers of Shia-majority Bahrain.

'Not for sale'

Iran has called the proposal "the American plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia".

In Tehran, demonstrators took to the streets, many brandishing the Bahraini flag.

The Iranian authorities also reportedly summoned Bahrain's ambassador after the country's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled warned Iran to stop meddling in its internal affairs.

Reports quoting an Iranian foreign ministry official said that Iran "rejects comments made by the Bahraini foreign minister and hopes that the Bahraini government finds a suitable solution towards the developments there".

Meanwhile, in Dubai, thousands protested, chanting: "No to union. Bahrain is not for sale!" as they marched along a main road linking a number of Shia villages around the capital.

After holding a meeting on the proposal earlier during the week, Gulf leaders have decided to delay any decision on the unity plans.

Dozens of people, mainly Shia, have been killed in pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, since February 2011.

Tensions between Iran and Bahrain were further stoked when a Saudi-led Gulf force entered the country in March 2011 to bolster the kingdom's security forces and crushed the uprising.
Let's see the Crown Pince of Bahrain kow-tow to the Saudis.
That's practically his job description.

Last time it looked like there might be an outbreak of democracy in largely Shia Bahrain, a large column of Saudi armor came over the causeway double quick and saved the place for sectarian despotism.
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