“The Saudi Cabinet has confirmed that it has answered a request by Bahrain for support,” said a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The Saudi government said that “any harm done to the security of a member state is considered a harm done to the security of all GCC members.” As reports of GCC troops arriving into Bahrain was broadcast on television, hundreds of highly emotional Bahrainis called up Bahrain TV and radio stations to express their gratitude to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and other GCC heads for their timely help.
A senior Bahraini journalist told Arab News that Bahrain TV received dozens of calls during its phone-in program in which Bahraini citizens thanked King Abdullah and expressed full support to their king and his policies.
“These are trying times for us,” said banker Tawfeeq Al-Mahmoud. “We hope and pray that Saudi and GCC forces will restore order in our beautiful country.”
According to Al-Mahmoud, their mere presence will send a strong signal to troublemakers that hooliganism will not be tolerated. “These are not mere protesters, they have a hidden agenda to wreck this country,” he added.
The UAE also confirmed that it was joining the Gulf contingent being sent to Bahrain to help restore security. “The UAE has decided to send a security force … in response to a request by Bahrain to help and participate in strengthening security and internal stability,” Emirati Minister Anwar Gargash told WAM news agency. Gargash said that the UAE decision reflects the determination of GCC member states to “close ranks in face of any danger,” stressing that the measure was to demonstrate “full commitment toward brothers in the GCC.” The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Earlier in the day, the Bahraini government said it had asked the Gulf troops for support in line with a GCC defense pact.
Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Khalifa, in comments posted on Twitter, accused the opposition of shifting their demands and likened the protesters to gangsters.
“All goodwill gestures were not reciprocated by (protesters) … look where we are now,” he said, adding that demonstrations amounted to “wanton, gangster-style takeover of people’s lives.”
Meanwhile, Bahraini opposition groups including the largest party Al-Wefaq denounced the move to invite GCC forces.
“We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,” they said in a statement.
The White House said on Monday, the United States does not consider the entry into Bahrain of Saudi Arabian security forces an invasion, according to Reuters. Washington, however, urged Bahrain to exercise restraint. “We urge our GCC partners to show restraint and respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
At around 3 p.m., police closed the entrance to the 25-km causeway. Hundreds of cars were parked at the Saudi side of the bridge with many foreigners, mostly Westerners, wanting to get across.
Craig Elison, who works for a multinational company in Jubail but stays with his family in Manama, said: “I’ve been stranded near the bridge since 3 p.m. today. I don’t know what is happening. All I can see is a fleet of military convoy going across the bridge.”
Craig said he spoke to one of the officials on the bridge, who said it would reopen once the military convoy passes. Till late in the evening, the Causeway remained shut. “These protesters have turned their country upside down. They have harmed themselves. They keep threatening the expatriates. They think we have taken away their jobs.”
John Roy, who works in Bahrain and is on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said: “I came in the morning over the Causeway and there was no problem. Of course, the number of people commuting on this bridge has dropped significantly since the trouble began in Bahrain three weeks ago.”
He said if the bridge did not reopen then he would lodge himself in one of the hotels. Roy was making frantic calls to his wife in Manama and was assuring her that he will be home soon.
People have been regularly commuting between the two countries despite the trouble in Bahrain, but Monday was the first time the Causeway had been closed.
Air traffic to Bahrain, however, continued normally. Gulf Air, which ferries passengers to Manama airport over the bridge, canceled its regular coach service and instead made flight arrangements from King Fahd International Airport in Dammam.
“Since the Causeway is closed we are taking our passengers to Manama airport by air,” said Mathew Joseph at the Gulf Air main office in Alkhobar. “We have reports from Bahrain that there is no trouble at the airport,” he said.
Hundreds of expatriates based in Saudi Arabia fly out of Manama to various destinations across the globe.
Bahrain sought GCC forces’ help after police clashed on Sunday with anti-government demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month.
After trying to push back demonstrators for several hours, police backed off and youths built barricades across the highway to the main financial district of the Gulf banking hub. Those barricades were still up on Monday, with protesters checking cars at the entrance to the Pearl roundabout, the focal point of weeks of protests. On the other side of the same highway, police set up a roadblock preventing any cars moving from the airport towards the financial area.
The Bahraini government has made a series of concessions but the opposition remained adamant. Bahraini Crown Prince Salman said he supported the creation of a Parliament with full powers and pledged to tackle corruption and sectarian tensions.
But he warned that “legitimate demands should not be carried out at the price of security and stability.”
The opposition has refused to negotiate until the government resigns, a condition the country’s rulers have deemed unacceptable.