Political observers in Bahrain were divided about the arrival of Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) troops in the country. Some believe it is a positive step to restore security and political stability in Bahrain while others strongly condemned it.
A Saudi force of about 1,000 troops from the Gulf Peninsula Shield force arrived in Bahrain Sunday (March 13th) after unprecedented violence erupted between protesters and government forces.
Bahrain requested that the GCC provide support by sending a Peninsula Shield force, according to a posting on Twitter by Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohamed Al Khalifa Monday.
An estimated 100 people were injured Sunday when protesters clashed with security forces on a highway leading to Manama's financial district. Security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. Large protests also occurred Friday when demonstrators approached government buildings and fought with security forces, causing injuries to hundreds of people.
According to a statement from the Bahrain News Agency and Bahrain official television, GCC armed forces were called "because of the tragic events in the Kingdom of Bahrain, which undermine security and terrify peaceful citizens and residents. Based on the principle of unity of fate and security interdependence among GCC states, it is the joint responsibility of the GCC in maintaining security and stability."
The Peninsula Shield is composed of joint military forces that the GCC established in 1986. Its mission is to protect the security of member states from any external aggression. The United Arab Emirates also sent 500 police officers to Bahrain, according to Al Jazeera.
MP Khamis al-Rumaihi, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security for the Bahrain House of Representatives, told Al-Shorfa the arrival of Peninsula Shield forces is within the scope of joint GCC security and defence agreements.
He stressed the importance of the forces entering Bahrain to maintain security and restore order.
Al-Rumaihi added, "The Peninsula Shield forces' arrival comes at an important time to prevent the situation from getting worse and preventing the imposition of any foreign agenda or any foreign threat against Bahrain, which is considered a key member of GCC. The joint Gulf forces sent a strong message to the effect that Bahrain is not alone here."
Asked about the objection of opposition political societies to the Peninsula Shield forces, al-Rumaihi said, "No political society has the right to criticise after the lawlessness that took place, and describe what happened with whatever terms it pleases. What happened recently is a coup in every sense of the word and an impediment to the national dialogue."
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa invited the opposition to participate in a national dialogue last month and renewed the call again Sunday. Opposition groups have several demands for political reform including giving more power to parliament.
Regarding the chances of success of the national dialogue, al-Rumaihi said the dialogue "is in the recovery room, and opportunities to revive it are weak so long as one of its parties is wreaking havoc in the Kingdom’s streets and squares."
The Bahraini opposition, represented by its political associations (al-Wefaq, Waad, al-Menbar al-Taqadumi, al-Ikhaa, Islamic Action, National Assembly and Nationalist Rally), called any outside military intervention a "flagrant occupation".
MP Jawad Fayrouz, a member of the Shia al-Wefaq bloc who resigned recently, denounced the intervention of Gulf forces in Bahrain's affairs under the pretext of security.
"The presence of foreign forces in Bahrain is a conspiracy and an assault on the people," Fayrouz told Al-Shorfa.
Fayrouz said the opposition groups appealed to international organisations, including the United Nations, in a formal statement to protest the arrival of GCC troops. Bahrainis have the right to engage in peaceful demonstrations and protesters in the Pearl Roundabout should be protected from any aggression, he added.
"We expect a formal response from the Crown Prince to the viewpoints we raised. We got positive [feedback], but we want more clarification. The response must be official for reassurance," he added.
He said the presence of troops further complicated internal affairs.
Addressing concerns that the Peninsula Shield forces might confront crowds in the Pearl Roundabout, Fayrouz said, "We will defend the Roundabout with the people we have peacefully, and we will defend the right to be in this square, which is considered one of the opposition’s main sites."
Political Analyst Moussa Assaf said the primary mission of the Peninsula Shield forces is to protect sensitive government buildings, including ministries and strategic sites.
"The Peninsula Shield is part and parcel of the Gulf historic and geographic unity. Bahrain views it a friendly force to help the country resolve its crisis and relieve political tension", Assaf told Al-Shorfa.
Assaf rejected the opposition's labelling of these forces as "occupation", noting that the opposition never doubted any unification efforts taking place between GCC countries in political, economic, social and security fields.
"Everyone welcomed the GCC step to grant Bahrain $10 billion, including the opposition. Why object to one aspect of this Gulf joint co-operation? You can't object to the security aspect and accept all others," he said.