As of March 9th, oil prices were $104 per barrel and the “market sentiment [was] dominated by concern over unrest in the Middle East”. The financial industry is concerned about events in the Middle East, and market uncertainty has driven up prices up. How can investors and the public navigate this uncertainty? The answer is a combination of international relations logic and open source intelligence.
There is a recurring narrative to the protests in the Middle East, and one of the dominant factors in determining political outcomes is the relationship between the military and the people. On this blog, we’ve analyzed the relationship in Egypt, Libya, and Iran. However, knowledge of the international system alone is not enough to make reasonable predictions. OSINT tools like Recorded Future provide the “meat and potatoes” of the analysis that can support or refute a hypothesis.
In Egypt, intelligence suggested stability because of a fairly close relationship between the people and the military whereas civil war seemed likely in Libya because of clan rivalry. In Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei was likely to brutally oppress the opposition and face little resistance while March 9th, the Washington Post published an article outlining Saudi Arabia’s likely stability. Thus far, these hypotheses have largely held despite a rapidly changing security situation.
What is the process of open source intelligence gathering? How can one use Recorded Future to make reasonable predictions about political events?
The first step is to pick a topic of interest. In this scenario we will use the Kingdom of Bahrain. The tiny island nation has been in the news as King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa clings to power despite sizable democracy protests. The situation in Bahrain is important to the region for geopolitical, religious, and security reasons.
The Saudi government has been watching its neighbor particularly closely as the Shiite majority in Bahrain is demanding reforms similar to calls for protest in Saudi Arabia. Another fear is that hundreds of thousands fleeing Bahrain over the King Fahd Causeway could cause a refugee crisis.
The next step in our analysis is to gather some basic information about the relationship between the military and people in Bahrain. We will use this information to formulate a hypothesis about political outcomes.
News coverage suggests that the military is loyal to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and fired on protesters. Important to consider as recent events show continued stability for military-backed governments although there are complicating religious factors that make Bahrain harder to predict.
What news items support or refute the hypothesis of a stable Bahrain? Let’s gather some intelligence.
Above is a timeline of the protests in Bahrain, from when they first began to gain momentum in mid-February until now. Some items of note include the following:
- The Shiite opposition has effectively left the government. This establishes that opposition groups exist in Bahrain and were members of parliament. Even more substantial, the majority of the populace in Bahrain is Shiite although the ruling family is Sunni. This religious difference could stir sectarian conflict in Bahrain.
- The King decided to release some political prisoners. This shows that King Al Khalifa is at least aware of the protests and has been willing to make marginal concessions. He is certainly more responsive than Colonel Gaddafi.
- The momentum of the protests tanked after February 17th, around the time when several protesters were killed. It appears that the people did not continue mass protests in the face of a government crackdown. Protests may still be ongoing, but they are not nearly at the levels they were in mid-February.
The protests in Bahrain appeared to be vicious in mid-February. So where did they go? What did King Al Khalifa say during this period?
- Al Khalifa offered concessions that may have appeased at least some of the opposition. He expressed condolences on state TV for the two protesters that were killed and offered cash payouts of $2,500 to every local family. He also pledged an investigation into the killings.
- It seems that there is a stalemate in Bahrain. The opposition groups have pulled out, but the King stated that he would open a dialogue. The Shiite opposition groups have refused to talk until the government resigns.
One article that Recorded Future’s timeline tool uncovered was a New York Times article on the role of the military in Arab governments. It talks in detail about the relationship between the military and the people in Egypt and Bahrain. The author notes, “as in nearly all police states, the key to change lies with the military.” In contrast to Egypt, “the military [in Bahrain] seems to have concluded that adapting to change would do them no good — that the protesters were far too great a threat to their very command of society,”
The primary factor supporting the stability hypothesis is that the military in Bahrain firmly supports King Al Khalifa. The bedrock of stability in a police state is the military, and with control of this apparatus King Al Khalifa has the advantage. Another reason to support the stability hypothesis is that the momentum of the protests has largely faded. The opposition does not appear to be as strong as it was in mid-February.
However, the fact that the majority Shiite opposition has withdrawn from the government and is refusing to talk is troubling. The fact that the Al Khalifa government is minority Sunni and the people are majority Shiite could raise the specter of sectarian conflict. An influx of arms from another actor in the region could change the balance of power rather quickly.
Interested in conducting similar analysis or leveraging our news analytic data for OSINT? Contact our Federal Team today!