Tag Archives: Bahrain

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region – Middle East & N. Africa Analysis

Current Situation

During the morning hours of June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced the cutting of all diplomatic ties with Qatar.  The Hadi-led government in Yemen, as well as Libya’s anti-Islamist House of Representatives (HoR) similarly announced the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar on the same day. The first four countries issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Qatari diplomats to evacuate their respective nations, while similarly issuing an ultimatum to all other Qatari citizens to leave within two weeks. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced that they had closed their airspace for Qatari aircrafts, and that all flights by airliners from these countries to Qatar were suspended. Qatari naval vessels will also not be allowed to use the countries’ seaports to anchor, while land travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be limited to non-Qatari nationals only.

Additional measures implemented against Qatar include the expelling of the country from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and its anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition in Syria. These measures were implemented based on accusations that Qatar is “supporting and financing extremist groups” across the region, as well as encouraging sectarianism and subversive elements operating in the abovementioned countries. Meanwhile, Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the accusations are “absolute fabrications” and “proves that there are premeditated intentions to cause damage to Qatar”.

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region - Middle East & N. Africa Analysis | MAX Security
Map of countries affected by travel restrictions on Qataris

Assessments & Forecast

Severing ties may hurt Qatar economically, push its policy towards more pro-Iranian approach; limited impact on regional conflicts

While the new development is unlikely to have any effect on Qatar’s and any of the other impacted countries’ security conditions in the short term, we assess that this measure may lead to multiple local and regional ramifications over the coming months. For instance, approximately 90 percent of Qatar’s imports of food products are transferred through land from Saudi Arabia. Thus, in light of the border closure between the two countries, Doha will likely be forced to divert a large amount of resources in developing its maritime trade, including in the form of improving its seaport infrastructure, as now its imports via sea are liable to be enhanced significantly. Moreover, given the high-profile nature of the event, there remains a possibility that the turn of events will impact global markets, and particularly the oil sector, as it may be perceived as a source of instability across this oil-rich region.

These new developments may also impact expatriates, including Westerners operating in Qatar and the GCC, particularly given the suspension of flights between the GCC countries and Qatar and the closure of the land border with Saudi Arabia. In light of the likely increase in logistical difficulties in traveling between Qatar and the above-mentioned countries, exacted upon expatriates by the measures, it is likely to damage Qatar’s national economy. Though the impact on GCC residents seeking to enter Qatar is yet to be determined, it cannot be ruled out that Qatar will implement punitive measures and ban GCC citizens and residents from entering the country.

The partial isolation of Qatar may affect several conflicts and political rivalries across the region. With regards to Iran, Doha is liable to improve its bilateral relations and economic ties with Tehran, as now Qatar would be compelled to compensate for its political and economic setback. Moreover, in Yemen, in the short-term, Qatar’s absence from the Saudi-led coalition may slightly reduce the latter’s on-the-ground capabilities in fighting against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis. However, given Qatar’s already limited role in the coalition, as well as the aforementioned arms deal with the US, in the medium to long-term the Saudi-led coalitions is unlikely to be significantly impacted by Qatar’s absence from the coalition.

In Syria, in light of the already heightened internal divisions between rebel factions, it remains possible that this new development will further exacerbate tensions between rebel groups supported by Qatar on one side, and factions backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Should the event indeed lead to an economic recession in Qatar, their supported factions on-the ground would suffer from a shortage of resources, thus forcing them to disband or merge into other factions. With this in mind, should scenarios eventually materialize, it would potentially tip the scale towards the pro-government forces in the Syrian conflict.

In Libya, the development may constitute a boost to the HoR and its allied Libyan National Army (LNA), given their conflict with the pro-Islamist General National Congress (GNC) and its affiliated militias, which are partially supported by Qatar. That said, Qatar’s direct involvement in this conflict has significantly waned in recent years, particularly since the March 2016 arrival of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to the designated capital of Tripoli, and therefore any implications on the conflict will remain limited.

Cutting ties with Qatar likely linked to global, regional developments involving Iran, new US administration

Today’s development comes amidst years of tensions between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt on one side, and Qatar on the other, surrounding multiple issues, chiefly the latter’s alleged direct involvement in the internal affairs of countries throughout the region. This is particularly relevant to Qatar’s long-standing support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked political elements across the Middle East and North Africa, as the countries in this Saudi-led alliance view the Islamist organization is a subversive element and a threat to their respective governments. Additional contentious issue include Qatar’s overall positive relations with Iran, as opposed to that of the other Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), with the exception of Oman, which remain strong adversaries of Tehran. This is highlighted by numerous past economic agreements between Tehran and Doha in recent years, such as the agreement from February 2014 to create a joint free trade and economic zones between the two countries. A further issue that contributed to the strained relations with Qatar throughout the years is the cooperation of the Qatari-based news outlet al-Jazeera, which had been accused by the aforementioned countries of attempting to undermine their, as well as their regional allies’, governments.

That said, despite these strained relations, Qatar and the other GCC countries’ relations can be characterized over the past several years by intermittent escalation and rapprochement between the sides. For instance, on December 9, 2014, Qatar agreed as part of a GCC summit, to establish a regional police force in order to improve coordination regarding drug trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime, as well as announced its “full support to al-Sisi-led government in Egypt”. This followed Saudi officials’ March 9, 2014 threats to impose sanctions against Qatar, including in the form of sea blockade, in light of Doha’s persistent support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements across the region. However, the complete cutting of diplomatic relations between the aforementioned Saudi-aligned countries is highly notable given its wide scale and scope, as it includes significant restrictions on Qatar and its citizens.

We assess that this escalation is linked to global and regional geo-political developments, largely with regards to Iran and the new Donald Trump administration in the US. With this in mind, in recent years, under the Obama administration, relations between Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side, and Washington on the other, were oftentimes strained due to the US’ perceived efforts to approach Tehran, which was likely viewed by Riyadh as coming at its expense. In light of the aforementioned normal relations between Qatar and Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries were likely felt compelled to prevent Qatar from approaching the Islamic Republic too much, as this would have significantly undermined their sense of security and regional interest.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, Washington increased its anti-Iranian rhetoric, while at the same time strengthened its ties with Saudi Arabia. This is highlighted by the May 15 UAE-US defense agreement, as well as the 350 Billion USD agreement between Riyadh and Washington involving an arms deal, and Saudi investments in the US. Thus, there remains a potential that the recent visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia in late May, as well as the US’ growing support for Saudi Arabia and its allies, motivated the Kingdom to implement these measures, as part of the shared interest with the US in tackling Iran and its allies’ influence throughout the region. With this in mind, given Saudi Arabia’s decreasing need for Qatar’s cooperation on security and political support amidst the ongoing rivalry with Shiite Iran, it is likely that Saudi Arabia assessed that it is no longer obligated to maintain positive bilateral relations with Qatar, prompting this development.

The development comes amidst a diminishing political influence of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization across the Middle East and North Africa over the past two years. In this context, it remains possible that Saudi Arabia no longer felt compelled to maintain good relations with Qatar, following the reduction of the threat stemming from the Muslim Brotherhood, as opposed to previous Saudi attempts to pressure Qatar to abandon their support for the Islamist organization in return for the improvement of relations with the other GCC countries.

Recommendations

Travel to Qatar may continue as normal while adhering to cultural norms and avoiding making any statements critical of the Qatari Emir and government officials, despite the aforementioned new restrictions. That being said, those operating in Qatar over the coming days and weeks are advised to stock up on food and basic products, due to the possibility that these will be in shortage due to the declared measures. Those operating throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and particularly in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar are advised to remain cognizant of developments and potential effects on travel and business continuity given the current lack of full information regarding the various restrictions that will be in effect. This is particularly relevant for the possibility of unexpected border closures between the relevant countries over the coming days and weeks.

 

This report was written by:
Asaf Day – MAX Security’s Senior Intelligence Manager, Middle East & North Africa

Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Lebanon
Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for a recent bombing attack near the Israeli border.

On the seven-year anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for an August 7 explosion in the Israeli-Lebanese border area, near the town of Labboune. That day, at least one explosive device injured four Israeli soldiers, who were accused by Lebanese parties and UNIFIL of crossing into Lebanese territory during a patrol in an un-demarcated area of the border.

Lebanese media outlets and politicians asserted that the IDF crossed both the technical fence and the international border, which do not coincide in some areas. Initial reports indicated that the troops were hit by a landmine which may have been a remnant from previous conflicts. The IDF has since declined to comment on the details of the incident, including whether or not troops entered Lebanese territory or whether the attack was intentional. Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had prior knowledge of an upcoming Israeli incursion, leading their operatives to plant explosive devices. He ended with what would some consider an ominous warning: “This operation will not be the last; we will not be lenient with those who violate our land. Whenever we feel that the Israelis have entered Lebanese soil, we will act.” The truth about what actually happened on August 7 may forever be disputed, but it remains clear that Hezbollah still seeks to avoid a conflict with Israel — despite Nasrallah’s seemingly confident claim of responsibility. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Lebanese-Israeli border tensions marked by erosion of UN resolution 1701

Bahrain: Expect an increase in the number and intensity of opposition rallies during the week of August 12 due to Kingdom’s Independence Day, International Jerusalem Day (August 11, 2012)

Current Situation
Multiple rallies are scheduled to take place across Bahrain in the coming days to mark the Kingdom’s Independence Day. In addition, activities are anticipated on August 17, to commemorate the International Jerusalem Day, which traditionally falls on the last Friday of Ramadan.

  • While Bahrain gained its independence on August 15, reports indicate that opposition rallies will take place from the evening hours of August 13 and throughout the following day.
  • The official holiday acknowledged by the government is celebrated on December 16, marking the day when Isa Bin Salman al-Khlifa was crowned.
  • On the night of August 13, a rally will commence in the Manama suburbs of Jidhafs and Karranah.
  • Additional marches are expected to take place on August 14 in various area  throughout the country, including: Manama and its southern suburbs; Muharraq Island; Sitra Island and its western suburbs; the villages along the Budaiya Highway; Central governorate (A’ali, Salmabad, Tubli); Northern governorate (Jidhafs, al-Diah, Sanabis); and the Southern Governorate (Dar Kulaieb, Malikiah, Karzakan).
  • The same day will also mark the trial of several prominent opposition figures, which is likely to increase the already heightened tensions.
  • Next Friday, August 17, will witness rallies in 25 locales throughout the kingdom, as part of the activities marking the International Day for Jerusalem.

Assessments and Recommendations

 

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Intelligence Analysis: Bahrain’s Most Volatile Villages

As Bahrain celebrated its “National Day” holiday on December 16, the frustrated efforts of the Shiite-led opposition to isolate the Khalifa monarchy for its allegedly repressive policies continued to be ever more apparent. Formula One races, international conventions, a record-setting year for cruise-ship dockings and Kim Kardashian’s newest milkshake franchise expansion all signal that despite nearly two years of civil unrest, Bahrain’s image as an international trade and business hub remains largely intact. The credit goes to the Khalifas, who have successfully exploited regional tensions to keep ties with the West warm and the Saudi military waiting across the King Fahd Causeway, ensuring this strategic piece of island real estate never becomes the southern doorstep of an Iranian-led Shiite Crescent.

Shiite activists from the February 14 movement stage a march.
Shiite activists from the February 14 movement stage a march.

Predictably, the rise in violence amongst Bahrain’s opposition has been widely attributed as a natural result of feelings of abandonment by the international community. When (or if) Bahrain’s opposition movement will take the form of a low-level insurgency remains anyone’s guess. But amidst brewing tensions nationwide, some Shiite villages stand out as particularly angry. If things do get uglier, here is a short list of Bahraini opposition hubs which may just earn themselves an Arab Spring household name along with Syria’s Homs or Libya’s Misrata.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Bahrain’s Most Volatile Villages

Intelligence Analysis: External influences in Bahrain’s opposition movement

On November 5, the morning calm in Bahrain’s capital was shattered when an unsuspecting foreign street sweeper was killed after erroneously kicking an crude homemade explosive device planted near a trash can. That morning, four other pipe bombs detonated almost simultaneously in Manama, killing another foreign worker and wounding several more.  The Bahraini government alleged that this amateurish attack bore the prints of Hezbollah, the world’s most capable militant group. In all likelihood, the attack was the product of an increasingly radicalized younger generation of Shiite activists, whose long-ignored anger threatens to boomerang back in the form of an intensifying wave of violent attacks. Indeed, these pipe bombs may have been unsophisticated, but their impact will ultimately be felt across the island, from King Hamad’s palace to the top floors of Manama’s glimmering financial towers.

Bahrain’s opposition demonstrates at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout.

In recent months, Bahrain’s activists have taken to burning tires in an effort to block major roads, particularly near Bahrain’s International Airport. On the Island of Sitra, which hosts Bahrain’s largest industrial centers, the local police station has become a fortress, falling under nightly attacks by Molotov-cocktail wielding youth. Just two weeks prior to the Manama bombings, a police officer was killed by another crude explosive device after an anti-government demonstration in the village of al-Eker. The opposition is clearly attempting to hit the government where it hurts by staining Bahrain’s hard-earned image as a safe, foreign-friendly hub for international commerce.

For its part, the government doesn’t seem deterred. The al-Eker bombing led security forces to impose an unprecedented security blockade on the village. On October 29, the government banned all demonstrations, while revoking the citizenship of 31 opposition activists weeks later. These moves have only resulted in further boiling the blood of Bahrain’s February 14 youth activist network, resulting in rioting, tire burning, and an increasingly worrying trend of bombing attacks.
Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: External influences in Bahrain’s opposition movement

The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?

By Danny B.

The “Arab Spring,” simplistically coined as a regional freedom and democracy movement, is leading to protracted periods of sectarian fighting and an accelerated breakdown of the Arab states.

The genesis of Arab states is in mandates maintained by European powers, Britain and France, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, with reluctant consent from Moscow, carved up zones of influence for the two colonial powers in the Middle East. As a result, newly independent Arab states were hastily crafted without much consideration for outstanding sectarian conflicts. Generally speaking, concepts of nation-states are rather foreign to the region, thus a lack of unifying narratives, combined with outstanding internal sectarian conflicts, and destined these Arab states to be plagued with a myriad of seemingly irreversible problems.

An Egyptian holds a sign in support of an An-Nour party member in Cairo (New York Times)

For decades, Arab states have attempted to establish a variety of political platforms to ensure economic growth, security, and increase sovereign power. Excluding the oil-rich GCC monarchs, the political concepts of Arab socialism (Baathism), pan-Arabism, and secular-nationalism have failed. Then the collective Arab defeat in the Six Day War against Israel, compelled many in the Muslim world to seek a new sociopolitical answer to the Jewish State and the West. Their defeat, in addition to other factors, was one catalyst for the Islamic awakening in those nations. That said, moderate political Islamic movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, endured decades of modest, yet solid beginnings as a result of suppressive secular dictatorships. But with the weakening or ousting of these leaders, the political Islamists have seized the initiative, thus set to rule many Arab states. Most surprising however, are the unprecedented gains by more radical Salafist sects throughout the region – at the expense of inept liberal parties – which has propelled them to lead the new opposition against their new rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to note that Salafist Islam comes in various degrees, but the their burgeoning influence results from the work of the most radical Salafists. Their surge has become one of the most important consequences of the “Arab Spring.” For these reasons, this Salafist stream now appears to be the primary obstacle for more moderate political Islam, embodied in parties such as the Freedom and Justice in Egypt, or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia.

Continue reading The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?

Bahrain’s Community Policing Challenge

By Daniel N.

Reforming much-hated security forces are the first step in resolving the Island nation’s sectarian conflict before it deteriorates further.

As Bahrain braces for the year anniversary of the outbreak of its protest movement, worrying trends are beginning to emerge in the activity of its Shia-led activist groups. Since February 14 2011, the opposition’s modus operandi consisted of mostly civil disobedience acts aimed at drawing the world’s attention to the inequality facing the Shia majority. In past months however, activists have stepped up acts of violence, mainly aimed at security forces, whose alleged brutality has come to symbolize their oppression at the hands of the Sunni monarchy.

An opposition activist runs from riot police in Bahrain.

On January 24, opposition groups launched a campaign dubbed “the Rebel’s grip” aimed at expelling the regime’s security forces from Shia villages in the central and northern parts of the Island. The campaign comes days after a prominent Shia cleric issued a particularly scathing sermon, calling for supporters to assault any security personnel suspected of attacking female protesters.  The opposition’s rage towards security forces comes after a year of high profile incidents involving protesters’ deaths as a result of police brutality. Many of these incidents were caught on video, spread through social media and ingrained in the minds of activists.

Continue reading Bahrain’s Community Policing Challenge

Bahrain’s Opposition: Business Continuity in the Crosshairs

By Max Security’s Intelligence Department

The Shia-led opposition does not aim to directly threaten foreigners doing business in the capital, they instead seek to make Manama a generally less attractive place to do business.

A protester displays his allegence to the “February 14” opposition movement. Roadblocks and tire burning are some of the tactics employed by the opposition to disrupt daily life in Bahrain.

This week, Bahrain’s Shia opposition groups are engaging in a multi-faceted campaign of civil disobedience dubbed “Week Promised To Martyrs,” in reference to activists killed in clashes with security forces which took place the previous week. On December 18, calls rang out through YouTube, twitter, and other social media networks for sympathizers to take to the streets across the small island. Their goal- disrupt day-to-day life in a non-violent manner in order to draw attention to the Shia majority’s struggle for equality.

The “Week Promised to Martyrs” employs many of the same tactics as similar demonstrations which have taken place week in and week out since the initial February uprising ended in the destruction of the iconic Pearl Square Roundabout. Mourning processions were to take place in Shia suburbs outside of Manama on December 20, while protesters were expected to block the Budaiya highway, a main traffic artery connecting the villages of the northern governorate with the capital of Manama.  In addition, calls were made to march to the former Pearl Square roundabout to stage a sit in.
Continue reading Bahrain’s Opposition: Business Continuity in the Crosshairs

The Saudi Confederacy Proposal: Have the lines been drawn?

By  Jay R.

The agreement of nearly every Arab gulf state to the Saudi’s confederacy proposal highlights their concerns over the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Gulf nation leaders meet at a GCC conference in Riyadh. (SPA)

When the Arab peoples aligned with the British against their Ottoman rulers during the First World War, they did so under British assurances given to King Faisal that in return, the Arabs would receive their independence in the form of their own sovereign kingdom. The kingdom was to span from Turkey’s southern border in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south, and bound by Persia in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. These Arab aspirations were dashed, however, when they discovered the Sykes-Pikot treaty, in which Britain and France had secretly agreed to divide the Arabian territorial spoils amongst themselves.

It is largely because of this British-French agreement that the borders of the greater Middle East are abundant with unnaturally straight lines. There have been previous attempts by these nations to break these perceived artificial boundaries, most notably by Egypt and Syria with their formation of the United Arab Republic, and the two’s confederation with North Yemen to form the United Arab States. Throughout these attempts, which took place from 1958 to 1961, there were even hopes of Iraq joining their ranks. However, the experiment was short lived as Gammal Abdul Nasser, the Egyptian leader over the confederation, failed to institute a fitting political system for the new administration, resulting in Syria’s secession through military coup, and the Republic’s ultimate demise. Continue reading The Saudi Confederacy Proposal: Have the lines been drawn?