Saudi Arabia is warning that its move to strengthen unity ties with its smaller Gulf neighbor, Bahrain, is a sovereign affair between the two countries, according to the Kuwait News Agency. The Saudis are hoping to counter the growing influence of Iran in the region through a proposal for greater unity with five other Persian Gulf monarchies – Bahrain among them.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has welcomed the proposal, but many of his population -- the majority of which is comprised of Shi'ite Muslims -- have not. A number of other Gulf states also have expressed reservations.
As a result, Gulf leaders decided last week to delay a decision on the matter for the time being.
The proposal by the two nations to establish a union is one that others should not interfere with, noted Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Araby. In a statement issued Monday, al-Araby said pointedly that the decision is “a sovereign affair” of the two countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and “no other country has the right to interfere.”
The remark appeared to aimed specifically at Iran, who was told to reconsider its position on Bahrain. The Islamic Republic was also warned to stop its media campaigns and “provocative statements” and refrain from interfering in Bahrain's internal affairs.
Tens of thousands of Shi'ite protesters last week lined the main highway of Manama, the capital of Bahrain to denounce the proposal. The Shi'ites have long been stirred up against their Sunni rulers, and egged on by Shi'ite Iran.
Bahrain's government has been working to integrate its defense and foreign affairs with Saudi Arabia, which provided strong assistance to its smaller neighbor during the violent 15-month Arab Spring uprising that began last year. Those protests and clashes have continued
to rock the country, creating a destabilized environment that has required an ongoing infusion of troops and funds from the island nation's neighboring benefactor.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is also a member of the six-nation GCC.
The island was once a part of Iran, prior to its capture in 1861 by Great Britain, when it became a British protectorate, although for hundreds of years under the rule of the Al Khalifa monarchy. The UK placed the issue of Bahrain's status before the United Nations in 1960, requesting international arbitration, and in 1971, the island gained its independence as a sovereign nation.