The King of Bahrain has declared a state of emergency for three months following weeks of pro-democracy protests. The King’s announcement comes one day after about 1,000 Saudi troops crossed into Bahrain to help defend Bahrain’s ruling family. Pro-democracy protesters have described the Saudi presence on the island as a declaration of war. We speak to journalist Yana Trakhtenberg, reporting from Manama, and to Husain Abdulla of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. “For the White House not to condemn such an invasion makes a clear statement that the United States knew very well this is going to happen,” Adbulla says.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We turn now to Bahrain, where the nation’s king has declared a three-month state of emergency and given the army authorization to, quote, "take all measures to stamp out protests." On Monday, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent more than 1,000 troops into Bahrain to defend the embattled Sunni royal family. The soldiers arrived less than 24 hours after one of the most violent protests to date. More than 100 people were injured when police fired tear gas and hit demonstrators with batons after thousands cut off Bahrain’s financial center. Shiite-led groups have denounced the Gulf military force as an occupation.
The move comes just one day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the country. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to condemn the Gulf troop deployment or to call for a withdrawal. Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are key U.S. government allies in the Middle East.
As the situation in Bahrain intensifies, we go right now to Husain Abdulla, director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. He’s in Mobile, Alabama. But first we’re going to go directly to Bahrain, where we’re joined by Yana Trakhtenberg, assistant director at Truth-out.org. She is blocks away from Pearl Square, where protesters have camped out for more than a month. She’s on a rooftop overlooking Pearl Square.
Can you describe to us what you’re seeing right now?
YANA TRAKHTENBERG: Yeah, hi. So, right now there is — there are about a couple thousand people in a huge procession heading from the Pearl roundabout to the financial district, and they’re walking along the main highway, which meets the airport and which has been blocked off by protesters for about two days now. I’m not actually seeing any military around, but there are helicopters flying over the protest.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What have people told you about what’s happening in the streets?
YANA TRAKHTENBERG: The people that I spoke to after the protest on Sunday, you know, said that they feel very much that they’re worried that the Saudi military will attack them. I think that there is a general sense that the Saudi military coming to Bahrain is sort of an uptake in the level of repression that they’re afraid of. But there also doesn’t seem to be — don’t seem to be any plans to stop the protests, from the people that I’ve spoken to, from what I’ve seen just driving around the city. There are more streets in the area that are barricaded. There seems to be, you know, a plan to continue.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what are protesters calling for right now?
YANA TRAKHTENBERG: Well, I think the protests originally started with a call for a constitutional monarchy, a release of political prisoners. But some of the more common chants have actually come to call for the King to step down. The common one is “Down, down, Khalifa!" And Khalifa is the last name of the royal family. "Down, down, Hamad!" who is the King. So, that’s becoming ever more common as the protests continue.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to bring in Husain Abdulla, director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. He’s joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Mobile, Alabama. Talk about what’s happening right now. The Bahrain — the King has declared a three-month state of emergency. One thousand Saudi troops have crossed into the border. What is happening, unfolding right now in Bahrain?
HUSAIN ABDULLA: Since yesterday, my — the Kingdom of Bahrain no longer is an independent country. It is occupied by Saudi forces, which basically were brought from neighboring countries, led by Saudi Arabia, to crush the peaceful protests that had been going on for almost a month.
Before this interview, I was on the phone with youth activists from Bahrain, and they are basically telling me this martial law, or state of emergency, mean that we’re going to hear so many people basically losing their life, that will been seen as an attack from the military, whether it’s Bahraini military or military that came under the leadership of Saudi Arabia. There are reports, unconfirmed report, that there are already two people who were killed in the clashes in an island in Bahrain called Sitra.
And as we speak right now, there are protests going from the Pearl Square to the Saudi embassy to condemn their invasion of Bahrain. For the White House not to condemn such invasion makes a clear statement that the United States knew very well this is going happen. We have 6,000 American troops in Bahrain. I urge the U.S. government to use those troops to protect the people of Bahrain, to be a peaceful soldiers, to be a peaceful force in the country, before the people of Bahrain are slaughtered and massacred by these invaded troops.
Also, they tell us that the ruling family in the country are willing to use every measure they can use to basically survive this political protest, to — they basically don’t care whether the people of Bahrain there or not there. They are willing to let go the people of Bahrain just to secure their ruling of the country.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What is the significance of Robert Gates’s visit coming one day before the Saudi troops entered Bahrain?
HUSAIN ABDULLA: The people of Bahrain strongly believe that these troops were not allowed in the country without a green light from us here. These dictators are our strong ally. They don’t take such move unless we approve it, unless we know about it. So, for the Pentagon or the Defense Department saying that they did not know about it or they were not informed, I don’t believe that for a second.
Robert Gates was there to assess the situation, to hear from the historical ally, the Al Khalifa ruling family. They probably bugged him that they need to use force to suppress this. They can use it quickly. They can kill as many as possible. Then the rest will be afraid, and they can control the situation. He probably, from the pressure of Saudi Arabia, from other neighboring countries, because of the oil wealth that we receive from that region, agreed for a quick and swift response. And next day, immediately after he left, the Saudi troops came to Bahrain. This is no coincidence. This is all planned.
Add to that, today, the American embassy in Bahrain announced that all American citizens living in Bahrain are advised to leave the country. What does that mean? That means they knew very well that martial law is going to be announced, and American lives might be in danger if they are caught in the middle of these protests and attack by the police. So, as we speak right now, peaceful protests in Sitra and different parts of the country are being attacked by police and military forces.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Husain Abdulla, these protests began on February 14th. Talk about how this started and who the protesters are.
HUSAIN ABDULLA: Of course, after the successful revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Bahrain seen that there is an awakening in the region. The struggle for democracy and human rights and justice in Bahrain has been going on for a long time, since the ’50s, early ’50s. So this is nothing new. What’s new about this, it is not led by political opposition. It is led by youth group, by people, by young people, who are less than 30 years old, who are internet-savvy, use the tools of the internet revolution to create and to come up with this revolution.
The reason they chose February 14th, because this is the day where the King came up with his own constitution and forced it upon the people of Bahrain. The demands initially were constitutional reform, a constitutional monarchy, releasing the political prisoners. But as days progressed and the government were brutal dealing with the people, and seven Bahrainis lost their lives, the demands have escalated to basically a complete removal of Al Khalifa and Bahrain to be ruled by the people of Bahrain.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Finally, Husain Abdulla, what is most important for people to understand here in the United States about what’s happening in Bahrain right now?
HUSAIN ABDULLA: It is very important for them to understand one — a couple of things. And those things are that we are — we have a strong relationship with the government of Bahrain. We can stop this, if we want it. We can stop this bloodshed that’s going on in the country. And if we do not, the American government are going to have Bahraini blood on their hand, because those weapons that are being used against the people of Bahrain, majority of them are our weapon. The security forces are trained by us. We have 6,000 soldiers stationed in Bahrain. And if they do not move them or encourage the Bahraini government that we will use them to protect the people of Bahrain, then basically we are partnering in such violations of human rights. Also, we are opening the door wide for Iran to interfere in Bahrain under the banner that they’re going to protect Shia of Bahrain. So, it is in the best interest of us to protect the peaceful people of Bahrain and to ask Saudi Arabia to end its occupation to Bahraini lands.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Husain Abdulla is the director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Yana Trakhtenberg is an assistant editor at Truthout. She reported to us from Manama in Bahrain. We’ll continue to follow this story in the coming days.
Yana Trakhtenberg’s name has been updated.