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.

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice