Gulf keeps close watch as Saudis hold union talks with Bahrain


Saudi Arabia and Bahrain discussed a political union at a meeting in Riyadh yesterday in a development that could see the tiny Gulf kingdom largely absorbed by its neighbour.

Critics of the deal, the details of which are yet to be made clear, say it might affect the line of succession in Bahrain where the Sunni al-Khalifa royal clan has been split on how to respond to demands for democratic reform from the Shia majority.

Saudi King Abdullah has previously called for unity of all six Gulf monarchies, but in practice, only Bahrain is likely to be affected. A Saudi-led force of 1,500 troops crossed the causeway from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain last year to help crush mostly Shia protesters demanding democratic change.

"Saudi leaders don't want the present crown prince to succeed the King," said Ali al-Aswad, a leading member of al-Wifaq, the main opposition party. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who has been the main advocate of political reform within the royal family, is in Washington where he has had talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and other senior officials.

The US and UK have been backing King Hamad and Prince Salman against hardliners in the royal family led by the Prime Minister for 40 years, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who is close to the Saudis. At the same time, they recognise that Bahrain falls within the Saudi sphere of influence.

Bahrain already depends on Saudi Arabia's Abu Safah oil field for 70 per cent of its government revenue. But two thirds of Bahrain's 600,000 citizens are Shia. Their long struggle for a fair share of political power is likely to be stifled by a closer union with Saudi Arabia. Despite mass arrests, torture and the sacking of Shia employees last year, the Bahraini security forces have been unable to stop protests in Shia villages and suburbs of the capital, Manama.

Saudi and Bahraini leaders have justified the need for closer links by citing the threat from Iran, and its support of fellow Shia in Bahrain, though there is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the protests. Mr Aswad believes a motive for the Prime Minister in seeking union with Saudi Arabia is to counter-balance the influence, not of Iran, but of the US, whose Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.

The Prime Minister, Prince Khalifa, described the Bahraini opposition as "a terrorist group" in an interview last month with Der Spiegel. He said: "This movement is supported by Iran and Hezbollah. What we are facing is exactly what the Americans are facing with terrorism."

Political union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is unlikely to be welcomed by other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh yesterday. They see their own independence as potentially jeopardized by greater Saudi influence. Saudi Arabia, for its part, has been shaken by the takeover of Iraq by Shia political parties after the US invasion in 2003 and the overthrow of its close ally President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in 2011.

Closer links between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are likely to heighten hostility between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk