Analyst Kamran Bokhari explains why the outcome of government-opposition negotiations in Bahrain is geopolitically more significant than the turmoil in Libya.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
While the world is focusing on the fighting in Libya, there is a much more profound development taking place in the Persian Gulf, particularly in the country of Bahrain, where the government is negotiating with the opposition. And the outcome of those negotiations will be far more geopolitically relevant and significant than the fighting that is taking place in Libya.
The reason why Bahrain is very important is because in any negotiation you have to have some give-and-take, and it’s likely that the Bahraini monarchy will have to give some concession to the opposition. And once that happens, it will lead to an empowerment of the opposition, 70 percent of which is Shia — 70 percent of the population of the country is Shia— and that has very large-scale implications for the region, particularly for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In Kuwait, the royal family and the legislature have been engaged in a tug of war for many years, and if the opposition forces within the Bahraini parliament achieve some sort of a concession from the government, that will embolden the Kuwaiti opposition forces to seek the same. And there is also the sectarian dynamic there in Kuwait, where some 30 percent of all Kuwaiti nationals — roughly about a million people — are of Shia sectarian background. And therefore, this development that is taking place or unfolding in Bahrain will have implications for Kuwait. Mind you, Kuwait is very important for the U.S. military operations in Iraq.
From the point of view of Saudi Arabia, an empowerment of the Shia in Bahrain will likely energize their own Shia population, which is concentrated in the eastern province, which is an oil-rich area not too far from the border with Bahrain. And this is coming at a time for the Saudis when they’re already in the process of impending succession because of theadvanced ages of the top four leaders of the country, namely King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan, Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Naif, and the governor of Riyadh, PrinceSalman. And so, this couldn’t come at a worse time, and that’s why we see the Saudis engaged in announcing additional social spending packages; the latest one is in the range of $11 billion spending on housing, social benefits, trying to improve employment opportunities. In essence, the Saudis do not want to see anything that can happen inBahrain spill over into their own country.And it is for these reasons why this slow simmering situation in Bahrain is far more consequential than the outbreak of fighting between opposition and government forces inLibya