In contrast with some of its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain cannot develop a more socially embedded military institution that would be the engine of an inclusive nation-building process. This is because of the peculiar nature of its state–society relations, which are plagued by mutual distrust between the ruling Al Khalifa family, who hail from the country’s Sunni minority, and a great part of the Shia majoritarian population. As a result, the security apparatus, and the army in particular, recruits almost exclusively from the ruling family, its Sunni tribal allies, and foreigners. Totally insulated from the Shia society, the militaries never participated, nor will ever participate, in mass politics, which have been mostly driven by Shia-dominated protests. The noncompromise option taken by the incumbents following the mass protest of 2011 has entailed a shift toward a hard form of authoritarianism in which the security apparatus has emerged as a key actor of political control. The regime is increasingly militarized as the Al Khalifa militaries have acquired a growing weight in the politics of dynastic factionalism, with the militaries now being in crucial positions to influence not only the kingdom’s policies but also the internal balances within the ruling dynasty.
Bahrain: The Army and the Dynamics of State-Society Relations
Arab Gulf States: Expanding Roles for the Military
Despite national differences, the military has usually presented a lack of political role and agency in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman. This development has occurred because state formation in these nations has been mainly driven by energy revenues and external security provision. The primary task of the armed forces, especially between the 1950s and the 1970s, was rulers’ protection and regime security; for the monarchies, keeping the armies small and detached from political power was a coup-proofing strategy. As a result, researchers used to stress the dependency linkage between tribal armies and royal families, underlining the prominence of kinship loyalties (for upper echelons) and foreign manpower (for lower ones) in political–military relations. But as in a prism, these militaries reveal three coexistent faces—praetorian, neopatrimonial, and performative—with one prevailing on the others depending on the time frame. In fact, starting from the 1990s, the gradual processes of state consolidation and modernization have fostered the expansion of the military sector in the Arab Gulf states, maximizing the neopatrimonial dimension of the military. Defense procurement burgeoned, with an emphasis on hard power, as the agreements with the United States and Western allies to establish defense pacts, troop stationing, and military facilities. In the context of state transformation, the 2010s represent a turning point for the militaries that showed a rising performative dimension, especially in the UAE, and, to a lesser extent, Qatar—performative because of greater operative performances and also because of the ability to influence nation-building. Arab Gulf states’ national strategies acquired a military shape, reflecting in some cases military-driven foreign policies. Autonomy and self-reliance became national guiding stars and military reform was no longer a taboo for Emirati, Qatari, and Kuwaiti rulers. In fact, this is now functional in the improvement of military capabilities through know-how transfer, local expertise, and forms of social mobilization (as conscription, parades, exhibitions, and official rhetoric). In this sense, Oman played a vanguard role in the 1970s as the first-ever example of a performative army in the Gulf monarchies. In the performative armies of the 2010s, soldiers embody a renewed model of post-oil citizenship, based on sacrifice, duty, and national pride. As a matter of fact, the 2015 unprecedented military intervention in Yemen has turned into a watershed for Gulf militaries’ tasks and capabilities (especially for the UAE). Therefore, the military has gradually become a tool of nation-building and governments have been betting on militarized nationalism to forge a sense of shared belonging, identity, and patriotism. In times of rising Middle Eastern arms races and multidimensional threats, the military dimension has been redrawing civil–military relations, especially in the UAE and Qatar, thus offering a new research agenda for future studies on the Arab Gulf states’ militaries.
Piracy and Maritime Security in Africa
In a seemingly virtual era, maritime commerce and shipping retain a central role in contemporary global capitalism. Approximately 90% of global imports and exports currently travel by sea on around 93,000 merchant vessels, carrying almost 6 billion tons of cargo. Oceanic mobility and long-distance networks of trade are made possible and sustained by the life and labor of over 1.25 million seafarers currently working at sea as well as regimes of global security and governance. Yet, this oceanic world and its role in shaping politics, sociality, and regulation remains, for the most part, obscured and hidden out of sight in everyday life. As one of the oldest perils at sea, maritime piracy is not only a daily threat to seafaring and global shipping but makes visible this oceanic world and the larger networks of security and regulation that govern maritime commerce. In recent years, coastal Africa, specifically the waters off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea, has seen an unprecedented rise in incidents of maritime piracy. The geopolitical and global trade importance of these areas has led to numerous national, regional, and international military and legal responses to combat this problem. While often seen as a seaborne symptom of failed states or criminality, maritime piracy has a more complex relationship with land- and sea-based governance. Occurring primarily in spaces that are politically fragmented but reasonably stable maritime piracy is better understood as a practice of extraction and claim making on mobility that emerges from deeper historical contexts and is linked to land-based economies and politics. Emphasizing maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea within these wider historical and geographic contexts highlights the imbrication of the political and economic in shaping the emergence and transformations of this practice. This is not to deny the violence that constitutes maritime piracy, but to locate piracy within larger processes of mobility, governance, and political economy on the African continent and beyond. In addition to impacting local communities, seafarers, and global shipping, maritime piracy is key to apprehending challenges to global governance from the vantage point of the world’s oceans.