Bahrain hosts large war games amidst internal and external tensions

One hundred jet fighters from 10 countries screamed across the Bahrain’s skies yesterday as part of the “Initial Link” exercise 2012, organized by the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF).

The major military exercise is part of the Royal Bahraini Air Force’s (RBAF) training programme.  This year’s drill is the biggest since 1988.  Participating countries include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the USA and the host country Bahrain.

Bahrain is also host to the United States 5th Fleet.

The large war games come at a time of increased tensions between western countries and Iran over Iran’s nuclear programme and will send a message to Tehran’s of the resolve of Gulf countries and their allies to respond to any Iranian provocations.

The exercise is also taking place at a time of tension within Bahrain itself.  An opposition activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for more then 60 days and is said to be close to death. Mr Khawaja is protesting against a life sentence he received over protests by the Shia Muslim community.

Protesters clashed with police this week and human rights organisations have also called for the release of Mr Khawaja, who is being fed intravenously in a hospital clinic. A special security court convicted him last year of seeking to overthrow Bahrain’s royal family, who are Sunni Muslims, during the unrest by the Shia Muslim majority.

Khawaja holds dual Danish citizenship and the Danish government has asked that he be transferred to Danish jurisdiction. A Bahraini court however yesterday refused the request.

On Friday, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of supporters of Mr Khawaja. Human rights group Amnesty International says Mr Khawaja’s conviction in June was based on a confession made under duress, and no evidence was presented showing he had used, or advocated violence, during the mass protests early last year.

Fact Sheet

  • Bahrain – a chain of around 30 islands – is situated in the Gulf, off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It is a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council and has a relaxed social environment. 
  • The population in 2010 stood at 1,234,571, including 666,172 non-nationals
  • Nominal GDP in 2011 stood at $26.484 billion, equivalent to per capita GDP of $23,465
  • The country has been headed since 1783 by the Khalifah family, members of the Bani Utbah tribe, who expelled the Persians. From 1861, when a treaty was signed with Britain, until independence in 1971, Bahrain was virtually a British protectorate.
  •  The king is the supreme authority and members of the Sunni Muslim ruling family hold the main political and military posts. There are long-running tensions between Bahrain’s Sunnis and the Shia Muslim majority. On occasion, these have spilled over into civil unrest. In 2001 Bahrainis strongly backed proposals put by the emir – now the king – to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary.
  • Elections were duly held in 2002 for a 40-member parliament, the Council of Deputies. It was the first such poll in nearly 30 years. The new body included a dozen Shia MPs. Over the years the country enjoyed increasing freedom of expression, and monitors said the human rights situation had improved. However, in early 2011 the government called in the Saudi military to crush protests by demonstrators demanding a greater say in government and an end to what Shias say is systematic discrimination against them in jobs and services.Thousands of demonstrators had gathered for several days in the centre of Manama, inspired by the popular uprisings which toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. Several people were killed in clashes with security forces. Government supporters says that Iran is behind the unrest.

source: LINKS Analysis with Bahrain News Agency and BBC World

photo: Emblem of the “Initial Link” 2012 Military Exercises (picture courtesy of the BNA)