Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bush due in Bahrain today amid protests

"MANAMA • Visiting US President George W Bush can expect a royal welcome from the ruling dynasty and a loyal one from American sailors in Bahrain today but the Shia majority there are less impressed. "The nation does not share in welcoming this visit, which will do nothing but perpetuate the accomplished fact of (US) tyranny and arrogant hegemony" in the region, said the Islamic Ulema Council, the highest Shia cleric body.

"The official interest in this visit does not show respect for the feelings of the people of this country, who see in the United States nothing but the chief of evil and tyranny," it added in a statement.

Bush will be in Bahrain as part of a Gulf tour partly aimed at mobilising Sunni Arab monarchies against Shia Iran, the arch-foe of Washington main Middle East ally, Israel.

H M King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, whose house belongs to the Sunni minority, has hailed as historic the first visit by a US president to the tiny archipelago - a "major non-NATO ally" of Washington and home to the US Fifth Fleet, whose warships were involved in a dangerous standoff with the Iranian navy last Sunday.

Although the Shia council avoided referring to US pressure on Iran, with whom Bahraini Shia have been historically accused of taking sides, it charged that US attempts to revive the stalled Middle East peace process will only serve Israel. "There is nothing in this visit that would serve the Muslim and Arab nations. Moreover, all indications are that this visit will aggravate the situation and contribute to squandering Islamic and Arab rights in venerated Palestine and Jerusalem," it said.

One Shia man, in a view echoed by others, said the Bush trip would not help bring peace to the Middle East. "He will not do anything useful during his tour. How can there be any peace with Israel while it kills Palestinian people on a daily basis," he commented, adding the almost universal Arab perception that "America supports Israel." "Not only the Shias are not interested in this visit. Even Sunnis in Bahrain find it useless," he said, as a leftist association grouping Sunnis and Shias planned an anti-visit sit-in on Friday.

A Shia taxi driver cruising the streets of Manama listening to the Arabic service of Radio Iran said Washington wants to scare the Arabs from Iran. "Arabs are powerless. America controls them. It tells them that Iran is a threat," he said......

Bahrain continues to ban political parties but allows political associations to act as de facto parties. The main Shia opposition formation, the Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), won 42 percent of the seats of the elected chamber in 2006 after having boycotted a 2002 landmark vote.

Meanwhile, the mainly-Shia opposition group, HAQ (Right), which boycotted the 2006 elections, tries to take a pragmatic position. "It is said that the US president is coming to the region to bless the American project for democracy... We want to tell him that there is no democracy in Bahrain," HAQ spokesman Abduljalil Alsingace said......"

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