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Bahrain's demographic divisions on brink

A daily roundup of the region's news translated from Arabic newspapers

Bahrain suffers from a festering demographic division between a Sunni ruling minority and a Shiite grassroots majority, a schism that has serious implications for the region, commented Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Developments in the Arab island concern not only its neighbouring Gulf states - particularly Saudi Arabia which is linked to the island by a bridge highway - but also the United States.

After five people were killed in the protests, the US administration is in a tough bind trying to figure out again how to deal with a strategic Arab ally squaring off with its people, the writer said. Bahrain is the permanent base for the US Fifth Fleet, which protects oil routes and acts as a stand-by shield against a perceived Iranian threat.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has reason to be anxious because it has a significant Shiite minority itself. The situation in Manama is different this time: never before has anyone been killed in a protest, the writer said.

Nabil Rajab, an analyst with the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said the offer for national dialogue came too late. Those who called for reforms yesterday are now calling for regime change.

Israel once again trumps Arab rights

Long experience with Washington's diplomacy has taught us that US presidents pick up the phone to talk to their Arab counterparts only when they need to warn them against taking measures that hurt Israel, wrote Abdelbari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi.

The 50-minute-long call from the US president Barack Obama to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas days ago was no exception. The call was to dissuade Mr Abbas from tabling a draft resolution at the Security Council, denouncing Israeli settlements, including those in Jerusalem.

"This demand, coming from the White House, exposes the extent of ignorance and unjustified disregard of the serious turmoil that is now sweeping Arab streets and bringing down corrupt regimes that have been, for the past four decades, backed by the US in return for their unconditional subservience to Israeli arrogance."

Mr Obama, who kicked off his term in office by denouncing Israeli settlements, now puts pressure on the weaker side of the equation, given that the US can curb aid flows, kick out Palestinian representatives from Washington and wash its hands of the peace process.

"Without shame, Mr Obama, the head of the greatest nation in the world, has threatened a decrepit authority that relies on charity to pay the salaries of its civil servants."

Foreign forces create their own risks

"The protests that are taking place in Bahrain these days are not peaceful," stated the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Watan in its editorial.

"Underground slogans have now become public, proof that those who are inciting the protests and organising them are not seeking reform. They are in fact after regime change in order to seize power."

Without a doubt, there are "foreign hands" involved. "Thus, we call on all faithful Bahrainis, Sunnis and Shiites, not to be duped into thinking that this is a spontaneous, youth revolution like the one that happened in Tunisia. What we are witnessing here is rather a master plan that aims to shake Gulf stability," the newspaper added.

The natural wealth of GCC states and their strategic location, which includes the holiest of Muslim landmarks in Mecca and Medina, leave some with envy.

"We must be aware of such a threat and cluster together to counter it," the Kuwaiti paper said. "Unfortunately, Al Jazeera news channel in Qatar plays a unprofessional and unobjective role in backing the chaos, as if our Qatari brothers rejoice at what is happening."

Also, some Kuwaiti MPs are making unreasonable statements, suggesting that the Bahraini government start a dialogue with those who chant such slogans as "Down with Al Khalifa Family", which is unacceptable.

Sudan's referendum bodes well for peace

After the ratification of the results of the referendum in South Sudan and the approval of "The Republic of South Sudan" as the name of the fledgling state, a number of sticking points have not yet been resolved between Khartoum and Juba. Borders and the status of Abyei are still paramount, stated the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan in its editorial.

But observers agree that the way Khartoum behaved regarding the process and results of the referendum has helped a great deal in breaking ice between the now-separate north and south. The complete disengagement and the declaration of the Republic of South Sudan as a sovereign state are due mid-year.

"This is a new phase in the relationship between the north and the south, and it augurs well for stability," the newspaper said. In fact, considering the scope of mutual interests between the two, there is no other option but to work towards achieving permanent stability. South Sudan needs its neighbour's pipelines to export its oil via the northern ports just as much as the north needs the resultant revenue.

"These are factors that force the two to privilege their mutual interests over the bitter past and embrace the future with high spirits."

 

* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi

aelbahi@thenational.ae

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