Monday, February 25, 2013

"Hussein didn't have any weapons, just a flag"

Hussein didn't have any weapons, just a flag: The Current state of Bahrain and the Possibility of Intrastate Conflict

Protest and subsequent repression doesn't appear to be slowing down in Bahrain. Last month Bahrain’s “highest appeal court upheld life sentences for seven men accused of calling for anti-government demonstrations”1. During protests earlier this month marking the 2-year anniversary of the 14th February protest, a 16-year-old boy, Hussein Al-Jaziri, was killed with shotgun fire from regime forces2. The opposition in Bahrain has shown a surprising amount of robustness by maintaining a nearly constant state of protest for the last two years, but during this time, Bahrain has become an example of the limits of non-violent movements.

Fatima Haji holds up a photo of the fatal chest wound of Hussein Al-Jaziri

A Regional Buildup

Recent reports suggest a massive buildup of military technology in the Gulf region. The primary customers appear to be members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Of these members, Saudi Arabia has been the biggest consumer; buying up some $52.1 billion worth of military hardware including transport aircraft, patrol boats and observation drones3. What this regional armament means however is unclear. Some purchases point to a possible regional missile defense shield in the future, but as Patrick Dewar, senior vice-president for corporate strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin says, the counties of the GCC are “Keenly interested in their own sovereignty”4. While Saudi Arabia cites a fear of Iran, the smaller members of the GCC could potentially be acting based on the 2011 protests and the eventual insertion of GCC forces into Bahrain. How much desire or ability the regime in Bahrain has to keep the forces of the GCC from again intervening is uncertain, but the buildup highlights the issue of capacity. Does the regime in Bahrain have the capacity to defy its powerful neighbors if it decides to take a reformist route?

A Nation Under Occupation

Whether the regime in Bahrain can defy its neighbors is a moot point however if it does not intend to change course. Bahrain’s government has shown signs of seeking to please the international community, but actual reform seems far from its current goals. The one saving grace of the regime currently seems to be the fact that the opposition is not armed. All other ingredients for a potential civil war in the tiny island country appear to be present: the government is a principal combatant and is organized politically and militarily, the main opposition group recruits locally and is politically organized. The possibility of civil war should the opposition gain military organization is further suggested by protesters’ willingness to stand up to police and face imprisonment, torture and possible death. Where such military capacity will come from, if it ever does, is unknown. This is especially true if, as the opposition claims, international actors are turning a blind eye to events in Bahrain. 

Young residents gather tear gas canisters fired in the village of Daih, Bahrain

Works Cited

1.   “A mirage of rights: Royal rulers are increasingly twitchy.” The Economist 19 Jan. 2013. Online. <>.
2.   “Teenager dies during Bahrain uprising anniversary protest.” Deutsche Welle 14 Feb. 2013. Online <>.
3.   Peel, Michael and Hall, Camilla. “Gulf states buying up military hardware.” The Financial Times 19 Feb. 2013. Online. <>.
4.   ibid.

5.   Photos and Title: Kouddous, Sharif Abdel. “Scenes From a Bahraini Burial.” The Nation 20 Feb. 2013. Online. <>.


  1. Always interesting to see a massive purchase in arms. It makes sense that Saudi Arabia would make that purchase in a means of defense. “Keenly interested in their own sovereignty”. Wishing the best for Saudi Arabia. R.I.P. Hussein Al-Jaziri. Misunderstanding how a non-violent protest can end up with a 16-year old dead. WOW!

  2. I agree, a large purchase of arms like this is always interesting to see. It is also somewhat interesting to see that Saudi Arabia is somehow funneling these weapons to antigovernment fighters in Syria in attempts to end the stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to gain power. I think this type of activist help from Saudi Arabia to Syria is undoubtedly in part of a counter effort to oppose the shipments of weapons from Iran to Assad's forces. It will be interesting to see how this arms race plays out and if it turns in to intrastate conflict or it if dissolves.

  3. I would not go as far as to say that it is a moot point if Bahrain can defy its neighbors because it does not want to change course now. It is a serious issue for the future. Although the current regime is well backed-up (by Saudi Arabia actively, and in a passive, wishing-to-maintain-its-strategic-military-base-way by the U.S.) the issue of what will happen in the future when the regime falls is important. This may not be until current leaders die off, but there is continued opposition which is not going away even with serious repression. The choice for Bahrain as a country to reform--and to be a sovereign state--is an important one, and I am glad that we are looking at these issues, and you are writing on them.