Tag Archive: Bahrain


Upheaval in the Middle East is spreading and no one knows where it will stop. But everyone is clear about one thing; it will definitely spread into the rich industrialized world. It may stop somewhere in Europe because American continent is still out of reach. The turmoil in the Arab world is going to trigger worst-ever economic crisis for the world. And it is all about oil which, through still flows from Middle East, is getting dearer in the international market with worsening of crisis in North Africa and Arabian Peninsula. The focus of news after Egypt and Tunis is on Libya, Bahrain and Iran and by implication of Saudi Arabia. Libya is one of Africa’s largest holders of crude oil reserves, Algeria and Iran are major suppliers and Bahrain and Yemen both border Saudi Arabia on the peninsula that produces much of the world’s oil. Together, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran represent about 10 percent of global oil production.

According to a report in The New York Times, oil markets are famously skittish, especially when there is even the possibility of disruptions in the Middle East and North Africa, which account for some 35 percent of the world’s oil production and a greater percentage of the world’s known reserves. That nervousness is likely to spread elsewhere, with so many economies still fragile in the wake of the worldwide economic downturn and with the possibility that higher crude prices could lead to further increases in food prices. The high cost of food has already led to unrest in several countries, even before political revolts began in the Middle East. The increased price of energy is a “burden that can be a detriment to the global economic recovery.

Brent is a global benchmark crude oil that is produced in the North Sea and traded in London. It is typically the benchmark that is used to set the price for most of the oil from the Middle East. Another benchmark crude, West Texas Intermediate, closed at $86.20 a barrel on Friday. Each benchmark has an impact on gasoline prices in the United States, with the East Coast more affected by the Brent prices than other regions. The reserves in the Middle East and North Africa (known as the MENA countries), while long important, have grown even more critical as demand for oil increases. Prices have risen about 30 percent since September, reaching their highest level since September 2008.

Those who track oil prices are especially worried about the renewed turmoil in Iran and the possibility of unrest spreading from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, which could have a major impact on oil’s price and its availability. Richard H. Jones, the energy agency’s deputy executive director and a former American diplomat in the Middle East, said that about 17 million barrels of oil passed through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz every day. “So if that shuts down, we’re in big trouble,” he said.

But so far, Mr. Jones said, the effects of the regional turmoil have been small. Egyptian production and transportation of natural gas have continued despite an explosion at a pipeline in the Sinai as the demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak were under way. (An Egyptian investigator said four gunmen bombed the pipeline.) Although there have been labor protests among workers at the Suez Canal, so far analysts have said there is no danger of the vital waterway being affected by the country’s political upheaval.

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The wave of popular revolts has not stopped at Suez, it is spreading like bushfire. And the next destination of this fast-spreading upheaval ironically is again the place widely considered as an American base. Bahrain which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet patrolling the Gulf, is next in line after Tunis and Egypt. According to The Wall Street Journal, this revolt is the first to pit a Shiite Muslim majority against Sunni rulers—heightening the dilemma for the U.S. as it struggles to pursue its interests in the region. The developments came as security forces in Yemen, an important ally in U.S. antiterrorism efforts, fought back protesters for a fifth day. In Iran, the government threatened leaders of Monday’s protests there with execution and made a fresh wave of arrests. The parallel protests against key allies and enemies of the U.S. sharpened the difficulty for the Obama administration, as fast-moving uprisings have unseated regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and triggered opposition rallies in Algeria, Jordan and elsewhere.

The president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both offered encouragement to Iranian protesters and aimed tough words at Tehran on Tuesday, in marked contrast to their relative silence on Iran during the last wave of protests in Iran in 2009. Mr. Obama praised the courage of protesters and said the Iranian regime was “pretending” to celebrate Egypt’s revolt while “gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully” at home.

But anti-US Iran is also not immune to violent protests where protests started again despite government’s use of “iron hand” to suppress the previous post-election demonstrations of 2009. This time, dozens of protesters were arrested for participating in the banned rally, an opposition Web site reported. A similar demonstration, clashes and arrests were reported in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. The gathering in Tehran appeared to be the most significant anti-government protest here since security forces cracked down on a series of massive demonstrations in 2009. The size of the crowd was difficult to estimate. Some witnesses said they believed it exceeded 200,000. The Associated Press said tens of thousands of people demonstrated. The government which had been admiring Egyptian protests, has declared Iranians’ protests as illegal and threatened with severe punishments for violators.

According to a news report, Bahrain is a tiny, island kingdom in the oil-rich Gulf best known for its banking prowess, along with bars that cater to nationals from alcohol-free Saudi Arabia next door. It pumps little crude itself, but the protests here have brought home to neighboring oil-rich capitals—Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Riyadh—a taste of the turmoil that had largely been limited to much poorer corners of the Arab world. It’s also the first country experiencing the recent unrest in which the often-explosive sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has emerged in a meaningful way. Shiites make up small minorities in other recent hot spots, including Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, but religious tensions haven’t been a driving factor in unrest in those places. A sustained Shiite uprising in Bahrain would alarm Sunni rulers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all Gulf countries with sizable Shiite minorities. They worry about the unrest spilling across their borders, and the possibility Iran would have more opportunities to meddle in the region. Gulf rulers are often quick to blame Iran for instigating trouble among Shiite populations, though real Iranian influence in those communities has been limited.

Some U.S. officials believe if the current government fell in Yemen, U.S. operations in the country could be hamstrung. Those operations include training commandos and conducting counter-terrorism strikes. Yemen is the home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and officials say a collapse of the weak government could give the group free rein.

Likewise, the Obama administration fears unrest in Bahrain could undercut U.S. interests in a region where a significant chunk of the world’s oil is produced and transported each day. Although it lacks oil, Bahrain’s housing of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet make it a critical port for the Navy vessels deployed to counter Iran and protect the Persian Gulf. If Bahrain’s Sunni-led government were to be forced from power—something protesters haven’t yet made a focus of their demands—some fear a new government might seek closer ties to Iran and force the U.S. Navy to relocate. Another concern is that an uprising in Bahrain could spill into next-door Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, where even minor unrest might roil world-wide oil markets.

Please also read:

Wall Street Journal: Wave of Unrest Rolls into Gulf

The Washington Post: Anti-government protests spread to Iran