Squashing Uprisings, Mercenaries Could Create a New Wave of Control

Eric Prince, the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater, is making headlines again, this time with his training of a mercenary unit in the United Arab Emirates. This new assignment for Prince is much more sinister than his work at Blackwater, as it raises fears that Middle Eastern governments are about to introduce a new wave of suppression and control, using private security forces to quell future uprisings.

As part of his case for the need for a private 800-member foreign-born security force in the UAE, Prince reportedly suggested that Muslim soldiers are incapable of killing fellow Muslims.

Perhaps this is in reference to the reports from Syria, where members of the country’s military were executed for refusing to shoot protesters; or the countless reports from Egypt where the military did nothing while clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak protesters escalated. It is impossible, though, to compare these two events. First because Syria’s military has consistently been carrying out the brutal attacks against its citizens. Second because, arguably, Egypt’s military intentionally didn’t fire against the protesters as part of a larger strategy.

However, there should be no mistaking militaries' very violent response to the ongoing protests in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Egypt since Mubarak's ousting.

These events definitely call the validity of Prince’s statement into question. However, as tensions continue to rise domestically throughout the Middle East, the call for foreign military support is also hitting the news. Bahrain recently enlisted the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to squash its uprising. But, this was part of a larger Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) defense pact. Is this the same thing? Arguably, it’s not.

This would be similar to one NATO country being attacked and other NATO forces coming to its aid. It's problematic that, in a region so finely divided between Shi’a and Sunni Islam, these small acts could insight more friction. Though, it is easy to see how Saudi Arabia was acting in its own best interest to prevent a similar uprising by the Kingdom’s own Shi’a population.

The timing of the revelation of Prince's new role can be read as a subtle warning, telling the world there is a new form of military just waiting to take control of the ‘uncontrollable’ protests sweeping the region.

As protests for reforms continue to rage throughout the region, the precedent that could be set by the UAE’s actions is daunting. Several of my colleagues have discussed the broader elements of shadow militaries, including the most recent PolicyMic article by Jonathan Dowdall, which calls for United Nations’ oversight on such activities. While this is one potential way to curb abuses of power, I fear that by the time any resolutions are passed, it may be too late to prevent their use in the current regional climate. Furthermore, as the UN and NATO continue to appear impotent in bringing a halt to the violence throughout the region, any resolution passed may be ignored just as easily.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Kathleen O'Neill

Kathleen O'Neill is interested in migration and refugee issues as well as international politics, with a particular interest in the Middle East. She has a double BA in economics and international studies with a concentration in Middle East studies from Washington College in Maryland. She has an MA in Middle East studies and a graduate diploma in migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Kathleen has co-authored two short articles published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and London Middle East Institute at SOAS. She has lived in the MENA region for more than seven years.

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