Which Islamic countries are supporting the Bahrain deal and why?
Kingdom of Bahrain flag
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Overall the Bahrain normalization deal appears to have been received with less media coverage in the region than the previous UAE deal.
The Bahrain-Israel deal announced Friday was greeted across the region by different reactions. These reactions are similar to those that greeted the UAE-Israel deal last month. They illustrate how the region is now divided into two camps. One links Iran and Turkey as well as their allies such as Hamas, and the other is anchored in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the countries that they are allied with.
Overall the Bahrain normalization deal appears to have been received with less media coverage in the region than the previous UAE deal. This is because it was widely expected and the only question was when it would happen. A review of statements and coverage reveals some details on how it was received.
Al-Jarida in Kuwait covered the deal in two stories, one highlighting Egypt’s support and the other quoting a very short statement from Bahrain. Kuwait is a Gulf state but it has traditionally been more hostile to Israel than the UAE and Bahrain. This could change but the realities for Kuwait are more complex because it neighbors Iran and Iraq. It has suffered before for being too prominent during the Iraqi invasion of 1990. Since then it tries to be more neutral and not play a major role in the region, unlike Qatar and the UAE that seek a regional role.
Al-Jazeera in Qatar is focusing on Doha talks today that are supposed help bring a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Qatar tends to play a duplicitous role in the region, hosting extremist groups like Hamas over the years while also pretending to be a responsible player. In Afghanistan this has resulted in Qatar helping to improve the image of the Taliban because Qatar and Iran want to manage Afghanistan after the US leaves the country. The US is currently drawing down forces to several thousand. As Qatar plays a role in the Afghan peace process it has less time for Israel. Its main goal is to play both sides, working with Turkey and Iran which are hostile to Israel, while also seeking to keep the calm in Gaza.
Qatar seeks to make itself indispensable to all conflicts, hosting extremists so it can claim to be the only place that people have to go to in order to meet the extremists and keep quiet in places like Kabul and Gaza. In this sense it poses as a neutral state with its hand on the scales supporting groups like Hamas. It has also been accused recently of putting out feelers to Hezbollah and the Houthis. When it comes to the Bahrain deal it will want to embarrass Bahrain using its powerful media like Al-Jazeera while telling Washington that it supports moderation. Qatar is holding its third round of strategic dialogue with the US this week even as it is cold on the US push for peace with Israel.
Unsurprisingly, Iran slammed the Bahrain deal. Iran and its allies are all angry that Bahrain and the UAE are normalizing relations with Israel. The Iranian proxy group Palestinian Islamic Jihad slammed the deal, accusing Bahrain of being a puppet of the US. Iran also activated groups such as the Houthis in Yemen to condemn the deal. Al-Mayadeen news which is sympathetic to Iran published numerous articles slamming the deal. They quoted Iranian regime members as saying that the deal was part of the betrayal that is the “deal of the century.”
They quoted the Houthi leaders in Yemen as saying Bahrain and others will “pay a price” for normalization. This hints at increased attacks by Houthi missiles or drones. This media portrays the increased normalization with Israel as a “stab in the back.”
The Palestinian Authority reportedly withdrew their ambassador from Manama in the wake of the deal as well. They said that normalization was treason. This is part of the overall talking point that peace with Israel is a “betrayal” of the Palestinians. However the Palestinians have failed to get the Arab League to support them on this matter. Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya highlighted how the Palestinians have joined with Iran and Turkey to condemn the deal. Hamas also put out a statement condemning the deal.
Turkey has been one of the main opponents of Israeli peace deals or normalization. It is becoming the most hostile country in the region to Israel. After news of the Bahrain deal broke its foreign ministry condemned the deal. Turkey’s Anadolu media claimed that Bahrain’s “opposition” condemned the deal as well.
This could be part of an attempt by Iran, Turkey and Qatar to increase support for opposition groups in Bahrain. In 2017 Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia broke relations with Qatar so Doha has a reason to push to destabilize Gulf states that seek to isolate it.
In contrast to Turkey, Egypt has welcomed the deal. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi welcomed the deal as an important step. Egypt has quietly played an important role in the regional strategic setup that now ties Israel to the UAE and Egypt. This is part of a larger framework that links Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and a consensus that they have on Libya and other issues. Greece an the UAE are working for Egypt, for instance, to confront Turkey’s increased aggression in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey has illegally sent weapons to Tripoli to back one side of the civil war in Libya. Thus the Egyptian support for Bahrain in the deal is also linked to the wider regional contest with Turkey. Turkey supports the Muslim Brotherhood, which is linked to the former ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, who Sisi replaced in 2013 when he came to power.
The overall breakdown in support and coverage of the Bahrain-Israel deal illustrates a growing consensus in the region. On the one side is recognition that Israel and normalization with Israel can be a positive step. On the other is Iran and Turkey and their allies who work to isolate Israel and the Gulf. Because most of the media from Ankara to Tehran and Riyadh is either controlled by the various states or pro-government, the coverage breaks down clearly either for or against the normalization, with little debate or nuance.
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