SHAFAQNA- On Saturday December 7, the British Government announced that it would re-open its first naval base in the Gulf since it withdrew from the region in 1971. The base will be in Bahrain, a country that that has been in turmoil since February 2011 when popular protests were harshly suppressed by the regime.
The timing of the construction of this base, as well as the fact that Britain remains close to Bahrain’s government in spite of myriad human rights abuses during the protests, lead to obvious suspicions of an ulterior motive.
Indeed, the fact that General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Britain’s Defence Chief of Staff, told BBC Radio 4 that the base is “symbolic”, is perhaps even more surprising. This is because in this case both Britain and Bahrain seem to be readily inviting references to their colonial past.
Bahrain has been ruled by King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa since 1999. In the first half of the last decade, King Hamad introduced major political changes, including moves to establish a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary elections and votes for women.
In 2001 the possibility of a full constitutional monarchy – the National Action Charter – won the support of 98.4 per cent of voters in a referendum, though it has not been carried out. Officially the lower national assembly chamber, the Majlis Al-Nuwab, is elected, however it is widely accepted to be gerrymandered and weak.
However, real power in the Kingdom lies somewhere between the King and his uncle, Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa – the longest serving premier in the world – who took office in 1970, before the country became independent.
Since February 2011, Bahrain has been ravaged by a crisis which has effectively reshaped the political landscape within the Kingdom. The initial wave of Bahrain’s uprising was largely crushed, yet protests have continued on a smaller scale and since then political demands on both sides have hardened. Nonetheless, Bahrain’s revolution has become known as the longest running uprising of the “Arab Spring”.
Early attempts by Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa to negotiate a settlement with the main opposition party, Al-Wefaq, were undermined by the prime minister and the government followed a ferocious crackdown on its opponents. According to a US State Department report, “In 2011, 52 persons died in incidents linked to the unrest, and hundreds more were injured or arrested”, though the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, which often represents the opposition, claims that the number has risen to 96.
Moreover, the methods undertaken by the regime to suppress protests have been grim. Patrick Coburn explained in the Independent:
The government also reached out in more conventional ways. Bahrain – like all Gulf Arab states – depends on the US for its security and has historically sought to deepen ties with Washington historically by making prominent, albeit symbolic, concessions in relations with Israel and efforts to improve the treatment of its own Jewish community.
In 2012 Bahrain donated £3 million to Sandhurst in order to build a new sports centre and has had ongoing high-level meetings with UK officials and, along with other royals from across the world, joined the Queen for her jubilee dinner in the same year.
Of ‘civilised behaviour’ and the ‘established order’
Hammond’s speech explained the justification for British expansion in the Gulf directly in terms of combating terrorism both in the region and beyond:
“In Benghazi and in Mosul, in Yemen and in northern Nigeria, we face a common but shadowy enemy, extremists who seek to hijack Islam to impose their own perverted agenda by fear and by the sword, who reject all norms of civilised behaviour, who challenge all structures of established order.“
Of course there should be no doubt that the kinds of enemies that are shared by Britain, Bahrain, and many other states – the likes of Al-Qaeda and ISIS – are truly dangerous foes. But this is not true of everyone who “challenges the structures of the established order”. Indeed, protesters who have faced Bahrain’s oppressive regime, campaigning for their own rights, will see a very different side to what the foreign secretary describes as “civilised behavior”.
Those protesters who are still in the streets of Bahrain’s cities clearly do not want the kind of regime that sits down to dinner with Queen Elizabeth one day while using British and American-made tear gas the next. They don’t want British Navy Bases. They don’t want to build sport centres for British soldiers and they don’t want Kim Kardashian’s milkshakes.
If Philip Hammond and the rest of the British government really understood this they would be seeking to exert their influence on promoting the kinds of “human rights reforms” in their Gulf allies, rather than rewarding those regimes for bad behaviour with a telling silence or symbolic military commitments.
https://en.shafaqna.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/new-logo-s-2.png00adminhttps://en.shafaqna.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/new-logo-s-2.pngadmin2014-12-08 22:29:002014-12-08 22:29:00"Britain's new base in Bahrain" by Dr Philip Leech