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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick