Bahrain masses attend funeral for person killed in the attacks on demonstrators on Feb. 14, 2011. The government has been deadlocked with large numbers of parliamentarians refusing to attend the legislative sessions., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
'Arab media ignore Bahrain revolution'
Interview with Middle East expert Christopher Walker from London, and political observer Mohsen Saleh from Beirut
Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:16PM
Peaceful anti-government protests continue in Bahrain
People in Bahrain continue the anti-government protests despite the regime's brutal crackdown and unfair Arab media coverage over the revolution.
In an interview with Press TV, Middle East expert Christopher Walker from London, and political observer Mohsen Saleh from Beirut commented on the current situation in Bahrain.
Press TV: Mr. Walker, before the Saudi invasion of Bahrain there was talk of negotiation and dialog. But with the current Saudi invasion and the attempt of the government to break up the opposition groups, it seems now that hopes for dialog have totally been dashed. What is your comment?
Walker: I would totally agree with you. In a couple of days' time, American government official (Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs) Jeffrey Feltman is due to return (to Bahrain) to try and put in place some negotiations between the government and the protesters. Mr. Feltman was there last month, but he got nowhere, and reportedly the Bahraini government officials even refused to talk to him when they launched their crackdown. The United States' tacit support for the Bahraini government and its refusal to speak out very toughly against them is one reason why they feel able -- as you so graphically reported -- to step up the measures against the mainly Shia Muslim opposition scattered in villages around the capital Manama.
Press TV: Why has the United States remained silent on Saudi Arabia's invasion of Bahrain? We are still having a war in Libya. Why do we see such double-standard policies?
Walker: I do not think it is a very difficult question to answer. The fact is that Bahrain is the regional base of the US Fifth Fleet, and the US Fifth Fleet is its major strategic arm in the Middle East. Although it is based in Bahrain, it is crucial to the current Washington policy in the region. So they are very worried that if something was to happen in Bahrain of deep instability, that Fleet would lose its base. That is really the guiding force.
Press TV: As you said, Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet of the United States' Navy. What is the likelihood of seeing US troops playing an active and direct military role on the ground in Bahrain against the protesters?
Walker: I do not think that is likely. Why do they need to when they have got the Saudis and the UAE -- that large invasion force that came across the causeway, driving largely the British-made armored personnel carriers -- to do the job for them? There is also the fact that the Bahraini authorities have a large mercenary, paramilitary police force. I do not think there is much danger of them being overwhelmed and I do not think the Americans would go so far as to be seen on the ground defending the despot.
Press TV: Mr. Saleh, how do you see the situation in Bahrain, and the US role in this country?
Saleh: The US role is of course the main factor in this dilemma; this problem in Bahrain, because they give the orientations. They might not intervene militarily, but they give the orientations to the Saudis to intervene in Bahrain, and they give the orders to Bahraini security to shoot people and destroy the mosques and give momentum and lay off workers from certain parties of al-Wefaq and all kinds of associations that might work on a revolution in order to reform the country. I guess you always have to find the United States in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. They are intervening everywhere in order to put down these revolutions; especially in Bahrain, which -- as you have mentioned -- is the home of the US Fifth Fleet, and it is a strategic place.
Press TV: How unified do you see the opposition in Bahrain Mr. Walker?
Walker: It is not particularly strong in that it has not been allowed to be particularly strong by the ruling Sunni minority. But it has obviously worried them (the rulers) to the extent that they announced that the main party al-Wefaq -- the main opposition party; the small opposition faction -- was going to be dissolved. They now appear to have put a slight hold on that. I believe that is probably connected with the arrival of Mr. Jeffrey Feltman who is due in Manama in the next few days to hold discussions. I think the opposition knows that when it raises its head, it will be struck down very hard, but there has been a lot of bravery on the streets.
And the fact that the authorities have even tried to stop the hospitals treating the wounded protesters is a sign that they are running quite frightened. They are certainly worried about the fact that basically 60 to 70 percent of their population is made up of Shia Muslims, while the ruling Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled for over 200 hundred years, is a Sunni Muslim minority. So wherever you have such a small minority imposing its views on a majority, you have got a recipe for trouble. Anybody could have predicted once the Arab spring broke out in Tunisia that Bahrain would be an early place.
Press TV: The government was attempting to break up different opposition groups. Mr. Saleh, do you think such an act would take place, and do you think the ground would be paved for forming perhaps a single, more unified and stronger opposition bloc against the government?
Saleh: Absolutely; The reform will go to Saudi Arabia and all the (Persian) Gulf. That is what the (Persian) Gulf emirates need. Most of the people in the (Persian) Gulf have been oppressed for a long time, whether in Bahrain or in Saudi Arabia etc. I guess this new dawn started in Bahrain, and it will go to Saudi Arabia and other places. I guess the oppressors [are] led by the United States. And Jeffrey Feltman coming to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in order to give orders to the Bahrainis and Saudis how to deal with these revolutions; and of course not to go into dialog or try to respond to the demands of the people. We know the United States goes to these sheikhs and emirs and gives them dictations; gives them orders to put down these revolutions, because [the revolutions] will influence their interests in the region. They have of course supported these regimes for a long time -- which goes back to the British colonization.
Now we see that people in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will have a consensus that they have to continue their revolution, and they will not think that they should go back or retreat or stop. Of course they are going to deal with the situation because oppression is very high. They (the rulers) are dealing with the teachers, the students, the women, and the charity associations in a very harsh manner -- a barbarian manner I should say. These rulers have no mercy on their people. That is why they do not deserve to be their rulers. And I guess the Saudis and the Bahrainis (the regimes) are ordered by America to protect the Persian Gulf from what they call Shia and Sunni. I guess Shia and Sunni are oppressed in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia. And I guess because these rulers work as agents for the American interests, that is why they deal with their people as if they are not their people, but foreigners in their country. That is why these people have to continue and they will continue the revolution.
Press TV: Mr. Walker, with all this crackdown going on in Bahrain against the peaceful protest; with all the destruction of religious sites and mosques happening there by the Saudi-backed troops, how likely do you think it is that the demonstrations in Bahrain will turn violent?
Walker: I think it is very possible. They already are violent in some respects. Do not forget that the authorities have already bulldozed the Pearl roundabout, which was the original center of the protests -- a rather small equivalent of Tahrir Square in Cairo. It has been reduced to rubble. The famous iconic monument is no longer there. So there have been violent protests, but I think we should probably emphasize that while [in] Libya [there] is virtually a civil war and huge heavy armor has been used by the rebels who operate from Benghazi, in Bahrain the protesters have not really gotten access to that sort of weaponry. So there is not going to be a civil war in that way, because they are hopelessly outgunned by the authorities, and they largely depend on traditional riot equipment with the occasional small weapons.
Press TV: Mr. Saleh what do you think? How possible is it that people in Bahrain will take up arms to voice their demands?
Saleh: They are going to continue, because their demands are just and they are not bringing something new. The government and the rulers confess that these people have the right to go and revolt. The people in Bahrain have been agonized for a long time and I do not think there will be any kind of civil war whether in Libya or in Bahrain. People go marching and revolting against the rulers, and these rulers are bringing whether mercenaries or some other countries' forces -- Saudi Arabia or Emirates etc. -- in order to try to kill these people and torture them and prevent them from continuing their revolution.
That will not of course influence the spirit of the revolution, because these revolutions started from pains; from tears; from all kinds of oppression by the people in the Khalifa family. People (the Bahrainis) are now more insistent on their right to march again and to continue by not going to work, and by whatever kind of pattern to really try to bring the rulers into executing and responding to their demands. Of course there are many conspiracies against the people, whether from the Americans or from these rulers. It is not easy to give the people their rights. They (the authorities) have for a long time been enjoying the privileges of the royal family. They divided the wealth of the country among them and prevented the people from their preliminary or principal rights, and this will influence the people. I guess this revolution started because these people are convinced that they will continue, and that is why I think the revolution will continue in many ways or styles.
Press TV: Mr. Walker you are in London. What kind of media coverage are you getting on the recent Arab uprisings, especially the case of Bahrain?
Walker: Bahrain has been far overshadowed in recent media coverage by Libya. Libya is by far the main news area from the Arab world, because there is virtually a war taking place there and [there has been] dramatic TV footage, whereas in Bahrain journalists are firstly very restricted. And secondly, Bahrain has not frankly been of the Western media's interest. You can see a conspiracy behind it if you want. It was the West's interest not to encourage the downfall of the ruling Khalifa family in Bahrain. Bahrain is also a much easier place for the authorities to restrict press coverage. In Libya, for instance, when journalists could not get in, because Gaddafi did not at that time allow them, they just drove into the East or got there another way. But in Bahrain, they have to go via the airport and they are just not given visas. There was quite a large article in one of our Saturday papers -- occasionally such articles do appear. It was in the Manchester Guardian under the headline “Bahrain protest will go nowhere while the US supports its government.” I would say that is about the line that most of the British media are taking.
Press TV: Mr. Saleh how do you assess the media blackout on Bahrain?
Saleh: Most of the channels, especially the Arab channels, try to ignore or try to darken the area of Bahrain. They do not mention Bahrain as much as they do with the Libyan revolution, the Tunisian revolution or the Egyptian revolution. Now there is a big question about this media objectivity in order to cover the revolutions in Bahrain. These people are especially oppressed, and if the media claim they are objective, they have to cover the events in Bahrain. Main channels, like Al Jazeera, do not really pay attention to this great revolution in Bahrain, although they know the people in Bahrain are more oppressed than those in Libya or Tunisia or Egypt. They have this double standard like the United States and I have pity on these channels to behave in this manner, because they really think that the media should cover all these events and they should transfer these events to the people in other parts of the world, but I guess they do not do anything. This is a great example of the double standard of the Arab media.
Press TV: How much do you see traces of Israel in Bahrain?
Saleh: According to the WikiLeaks, the king of Bahrain confessed to the American ambassador that he is ready to do [anything,] because he is always having special relations with Israel; of course secret relations. Most of the (Persian) Gulf states have this kind of relation. He appointed one of the Israelis [as ambassador to the United States.] This shows to what extent this royal family is ready to go into so-called peace with Israel against the Palestinians and against the resistance in the region.
Press TV: Mr. Walker how do you see traces of Israel in Bahrain?
Walker: The fact that a Bahraini Jew was appointed the ambassador in the US is a sign that there are secret strings there. And of course the Fifth Fleet has its own close connections intelligence-wise with the Mossad -- the Israeli Secret Service. So they are behind the scenes, but there is no doubt their interests are very much in common -- the ruling Khalifa family, the Americans and the Israelis.