On the night of March 13, Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops marched into the small Gulf kingdom of Bahrain in a bid to help local security forces quash weeks of violent anti-government protests. More than three months later, they have successfully completed their mission, and while their arrival in the country caused great fanfare, the Saudis’ quiet exit has gone almost completely unnoticed.
Before Saudi-led troops arrived in the country, thousands of people occupied the main square in Bahrain’s capital Manama on February 14, after heeding a Facebook call to rally for social and political reforms. Although more than 70 percent Shiite, Bahrain is controlled by a Sunni monarchy, which has been criticised for discrimination against its majority population. The protests, which were inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, dragged on for weeks.
As Bahrain’s government struggled to get the unrest under control, the GCC’s armed forces launched operation “Peninsula Shield”, which they claimed was intended to “maintain Bahrain’s security”. The intervention immediately provoked local and international condemnation, in particular from Iran, who called the move “unacceptable”.
Three months after entering Bahrain, the Saudi-led forces have now silently slipped out of the country after having successfully stifled Bahrain’s anti-government protests, thus reestablishing the monarchy’s grip on power.
Since the Saudi’s departure, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has endeavored to sweep this period of unrest under the carpet. However, one of our Observers on the ground describes what life was like in Bahrain before the Saudi tanks rolled out.
Saudi troops withdraw from Bahrain. Video published on You Tube by ShbabShahrakan on June 28.
“Since the Saudi Arabian operation in Bahrain, it feels like our country has become a protectorate”.
Younes M. (not his real name) is an activist from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
On Monday, I spoke with a number of people who had watched as “Peninsula Shield” as they pulled out of the country to return to Saudi Arabia [see map here]. So on Tuesday evening I went to the highway that leads to Saudi Arabia where I saw military trucks transporting tanks as they headed down the road toward our neighbouring Wahhabite kingdom, Saudi Arabia.
It is very weird how different the withdrawal of the Saudi troops is from the way they arrived. When the ‘Peninsula Shield’ forces entered Bahrain in mid-March, it was in the middle of the day and there were waving flags and even Bahrain’s state television broadcasted the story. Now they are slinking out under the cover of night, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia’s official stance is that their troops are just repositioning. They have definitely completed their unstated mission, which was to ruthlessly silence the voices of Bahrain’s protesters – the day we were forced out of Pearl Square [Manama’s main square], we counted at least 20 dead. But I think that their secretive departure is indicative of a moral failing, it’s almost as if they are ashamed of what theydid tothe people ofour country.
The ‘Peninsula Shield’ forces made life difficultforBahrainisfor three months. I witnessed humiliating scenes at checkpoints all over the country, especially in Shiite villages and flashpoints for protests against the regime. The troops would stop people, ask them their names and for them to show their identity papers. They wanted to know where people were going, where they were coming from and what they believed in [whether they are Shiite or Sunni]. They would then ask whether or not someone had participated in the demonstrations, search their cars and even check their mobile phones in case there were any incriminating photos or videos. I also know some doctors suspected of being against the monarchy were arrested.
Since the Saudi Arabian operation in Bahrain, it feels like our country has become a protectorate. Obviously, everyone knows that the Wahhabite kingdom [Saudi Arabia] is very influential in our country, but after the militarised intervention, we feel as though we have totally lost our sovereignty”.
Billet rédigé en collaboration avec Sarra Grira, journaliste à FRANCE 24.