12 May 2011
Welcome to Bahrain
In February 2011 there were a series of non-violent demonstrations staged mostly by the small kingdom’s Shi’i majority (approximately 70 per cent of the country’s Muslim citizens). These were held to protest against the discriminatory practices of the country’s Sunni monarchy.
The protests were soon violently suppressed by the Bahraini army and police, with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
However, it was what followed the crushing of the demonstrations that smacks of fascism. Here is how a report, dated 6 May 2011, by Roy Gutman of the McClatchy Newspapers, puts it:
Authorities have held secret trials where protesters have been sentenced to death, arrested prominent mainstream opposition politicians, jailed nurses and doctors who treated injured protesters, seized the health care system that had been run primarily by Shi’is, fired 1,000 Shi’I professionals and canceled their pensions, beat and arrested journalists, and forced the closure of the only opposition newspaper. Nothing, however, has struck harder at the fabric of this nation, where Shi’is outnumber Sunnis nearly 4 to1, than the destruction of Shi’i worship centres.
is a signatory to nearly every major international humanitarian and human rights law, including: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, among others.
Sunnis and Shi’is
I think there is little doubt that the prophet Mohammad would strongly disapprove of this aspect of Muslim history. In his last sermon to his followers, delivered during his final pilgrimage to Mecca in 632 CE, he said, "Oh ye men, listen to my words and take them to heart: every Muslim is a brother to every other Muslim and you are now one brotherhood." Over the years this message has been disregarded all too often.
So when it comes to Bahrain, you can forget about the fact that this is supposed to be a Muslim government. Islam has nothing to do with its rulers’ policies.
What you have is a minority regime which refuses to reform its indecent and inhumane ways. It is going to hold on to power by brute force and by doing so join the ranks of other regimes such as Pinochet’s Chile, the military dictatorship that once massacred its own people in Argentina, the death squad regimes of Central America, ad nauseam.
And what of the United States?
The US Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, is headquartered at in a small 100-acre naval base at Bahrain (the base is presently being enlarged). The US has also designated Bahrain a "major non-NATO ally" and has a "defence pact" with that country. Thus the United States is concerned about the fate of Bahrain.
It is reported that, at the time of the Egyptian protests, President Barack Obama told both the Bahraini and the Saudi regimes that they should carry out major political reforms so as to prevent similar unrest in their own countries.Both were aghast at this advice and furious that the Obama administration abandoned the Mubarak dictatorship. Obama has since been publicly silent on the issue of Bahrain.
This is what happens when you climb into bed with dictators. If you are not willing to walk away from them, you must turn a blind eye to their behaviour. Historically, this has not been a problem for most American administrations. Abandoning Egypt’s Mubarak seems to be an exception to the rule.
Ever since the Egyptian protests ousted Mubarak, Washington’s rhetoric has been confusing.
President Obama has often attempted to lay down what sounds like basic principles – ones reflecting "who we [Americans] are as a nation". That is the kind of language he invoked to justify intervention in Libya. We were going to "protect civilians" because that is who we are and that is what people like us do.
Well, if this is a basic principle, if we allegedly act in this humane way as a function of who we are, should we not be consistent in our behaviour? What about the unfortunate Bahraini Shi’is who are being trampled in a fascist manner by a dictatorship every bit as bad, if not worse, than the one in Libya? I could easily throw in a number of other friendly regimes which have equal fascist potential such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Syria and Iran don’t quite fit here because they are presently not our friends.
For one thing there is the issue of keeping Middle East oil in "friendly" hands. And just how big an issue is that? There is an old saying that has gone around Washington for decades and it is framed in the form of the question: "what are the Arab leaders who sit on a lot of oil going to do with it? Drink it?"
In other words, oil is a commercial product. It does not matter if the Saudis or the Bahrainis or the Iraqis or the Iranians, etc. agree with you or not. Whoever ends up in charge is going to sell their oil. So why support dictatorial regimes? Why not back the protesters? We are all for democracy, or so we claim.
Alas, this is about more than oil. The dictators we now back are accepting of Israel and turn blind eyes to the destruction of the Palestinian people. The democracies that might replace them are not likely to feel the same way. We already have intonations of this in post Mubarak Egypt.
This situation has actually made undeclared allies of Israel and bloody regimes such as that in Bahrain, where King Hamad has admitted cooperating with Israel.
Israel, in turn, has one of the strongest lobbies in Washington and, most of the time, shapes America’s Middle East foreign policy, particularly in Congress.
Then there is our shared, if exaggerated, fear of Shi’i Iran. Israel and its allied lobbies drive this fear forward in the US and our dictator friends, like the Saudis and the Bahrainis, are also obsessed by it. Remember, the protestors in Bahrain are overwhelmingly Shi’i. If they were successful, Bahrain would most likely be a place friendly toward Iran. That would never do.
There is no reason to believe that the suppression of the 2011 protests marks the end of Bahrain’s problems. As noted, most of the kingdom’s protests have been non-violent. However, with the fascist tactics now adopted by the regime, non-violence is probably not going to be the popular response next time around. It is simply the case that, over time, the violence of the oppressed rises to the level of the violence of the oppressor. The next time there will likely be civil war in Bahrain.