GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Back to basics: Assessing Bahrain’s foreign policy post-2011
Paper Proposal Text :
Bahrain was arguably the most affected Gulf state by the wave of Arab uprisings, which sparked in early 2011 and continues today. Although the February 14 movement failed to hold ground and was suppressed, its implications on the political, economic, and social structures will have an everlasting effect. One crucial aspect is the shift of Bahrain’s foreign policy on several axes, notably inwards, towards the GCC states, and away from the West.

The most avid supporter of the Bahraini regime is their Saudi counterpart, who supplies arms, troops, funds, and international backing. Calls for an ‘inevitable’ Gulf Union have caught headlines during the recent GCC summits without much detail on the mechanism. Saudi flags and pictures of King Abdulla carpet Bahraini streets, and a marriage between the son and daughter of the respective kings have cemented relations. Financial support through the Khaleeji Marshall initiative is empowering a new form of rentier state, one that is dependent on aid as much as oil revenues, even though the shared oil field with Saudi Arabia represents some 60% of the Bahraini budget.

Prior to 2011, Bahrain was attempted to drift away from Saudi influence. Economic liberalization by the Crown Prince’s Economic Development Board attempted to find new markets and sectors to reduce Bahrain’s dependence on Saudi Arabia. Signing a free trade agreement with the U.S. however led to the suspension of oil grants. A reversal of such trends can be witnessed now as calls for political and economic integration will increase Bahrain’s dependence on their neighbours and go back to being a recycling point for petro dollars and a trade hub for the GCC.

Relations with the U.S. have been turbulent as the Obama administration showed sympathy towards the uprisings and calls for democracy. The Bahraini government reacted aggressively to speeches, and public opinion called for the resignation of the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain for holding meetings with opposition figures. The flip side to this coin was the move towards closer ties with U.K. bringing back colonial ties. The Conservative government stood behind the Bahraini regime and provided public support which led the Crown Price to thank Britain specifically during the Manama dialogue and snub the United States.

Several visits between top management occurred with the Bahraini King mentioning 200 years of relations and how the decision by the British to retract from east of the Suez in the 1970s was not a sound policy. An arms deals involving the Typhoon fighter jet, a high profile business forum, British police officers in the Bahraini force, and offering citizenship to British residents in Bahrain have all contributed towards gains at the expense of the U.S. and other Western powers.
Other crucial players such as the UAE, Russia, and China have provided support to the Bahraini government as foreign policy is shifting east. The UAE provided a policy force and financial assistance, Russia was a supplier of tear gas, and China offers business opportunities with little concern for human rights.

The proposed paper will investigate foreign policy implications for Bahrain during and past 2011. Country specific case studies will be considered but an overall trend seems to the shift back to the GCC and Saudi Arabia in particular, along with reviving former links with Britain. The U.S. has been marginalized; especially with a deal now involving Iran, as the global shift to the East is now ever more attractive to the Bahraini regime which is reinventing itself in its quest for survival.