We are so caught up with events in our own little backyard that we tend to forget that the rest of the Middle East is roiling in upheaval. The Egyptian spring is turning into a long dry summer; in Syria the “spring” was nipped cruelly in the bud; in Libya the rebels look like they’re starting to seize power but it remains rather nebulous and for the moment the NATO Allies are still fighting there.
Meanwhile, in the background Bahrain is being wracked by sectarian violence.
The confrontation between the ruling Sunni minority led by the al-Khalifa royal family and the Shia majority is not entirely new. There have been crises in relations between the two in the past. But the ferocity and cruelty of what has transpired on this small island in the Gulf over the last five months has shocked and surprised its 1.2 million people, half of whom are Arabs.
Among those puzzled is Cherif Bassiouni, the highly distinguished Egyptian-American legal scholar, who has been asked by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to lead an inquiry into the events which followed the start of the Arab Awakening on 14 February. Compared to Iraq or Libya, Bassiouni notes that the casualties were light – about 33 dead – “but this relatively small number has had a traumatic effect on society”. He describes the two sides as producing wholly different accounts of what happened. He says “it is like a murder scene where you have the dead body, but nobody can agree if the bullet came from the right or the left”.
The Telegraph has an interesting article on the benefits of stability in the Middle East, even though that has been decried of late.
Things are not exactly quiet in Yemen either, with President Ali Saleh being released from hospital after the assassination attempt on him. It had been hoped that he would stay away but apparently that might not happen:
The president’s enforced departure had given rise to hopes that a US-backed plan to end months of protests would finally reach fruition. Under the proposal, Mr Saleh was to hand over power to his vice president until new elections could be held.
With hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for his resignation from the streets, Mr Saleh agreed to the plan three times before he was wounded, only to renege at the last moment on each occasion.
Mr Saleh’s fate now lies in the hands of the Saudi royal family, which has wavered in its long-standing support for the Yemeni president. It has given no public indication whether or not it would prevent Mr Saleh from returning to Sana’a.
Saudi Arabia has also stepped into the fray in Syria, picking up where the UN left off, and recalling their ambassador in protest at the ongoing violence.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has demanded an end to the bloodshed in Syria and recalled his country’s ambassador from Damascus, in a rare case of one of the Arab world’s most powerful leaders intervening against another.
It was the sharpest criticism the oil giant – a monarchy who bans political opposition – has directed against any Arab state since a wave of protests roiled the Middle East and toppled autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.
“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia,” he said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television.
Events in Syria had “nothing to do with religion, or values, or ethics”, the king said.
Of course it would be nice if Saudi Arabia practised what it preaches, and allowed political opposition in the country, but I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies.
Just remember all this turmoil and violence next time anyone says that Israel and the eevil occupation is the root of all evil in the Middle East.