The Role of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain’s Brutal Crackdown

While the Obama administration has been busy telling us that the difference between Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Iran, Tunisia and Egypt is “a one-size fit all approach doesn’t work” in the Middle East, the glaring inconsistency has been duly noted in the Arab world. Most pragmatists realize that there are differences between different Middle Eastern countries and that, for example, part of the reason military force was used in Libya is because a) the Arab League was reluctantly willing to sign on, b) our relationship with Libya is not a key interest and c) we thought it would be logistically easier than, say, attacking Syria. Then of course there is this, about how Libya of late had been making it increasingly difficult for U.S. companies to access their oil.

In short, if a country is an enemy of the U.S. (such as Iran and to a lesser degree, Syria), we will condemn them harshly, but if the U.S. needs the particular country (economics, oil, defense, etc.), well, then a mild slap on the wrist will suffice.

The situation in Bahrain is worsening, while media coverage in the U.S. is virtually non-existent. In addition to parking the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, the situation is complicated by the fact that Saudi Arabia’s role in silencing protests and resistance in Bahrain seems to be more than originally thought:

Yesterday, the Bahraini royal family started an utterly fraudulent trial of 48 surgeons, doctors, paramedics and nurses, accusing them of trying to topple the tin-pot monarchy of this Sunni minority emirate. The defendants in this flagrantly unfair military court are, of course, members of the majority Shia people of Bahrain. And since I was a witness to their heroic efforts to save lives in February, I can say – let us speak with a frankness that the Bahraini rulers would normally demand – that the charges are a pack of lies.

Doctors I saw, drenched in their patients’ blood, desperately trying to staunch the bullet wounds of pro-democracy demonstrators shot in cold blood by Bahraini soldiers and police, are now on trial. I watched armed policemen refusing to allow ambulances to collect the wounded from the roads where they had been cut down.

These are the very same doctors and nurses I stood beside four months ago in the Sulaimaniya emergency room, some of them weeping as they tried to deal with gunshot wounds the like of which they had never seen before.

“How could they do this to these people?” one of them asked me. “We have never dealt with trauma wounds like these before.” Next to us lay a man with bullet wounds in the chest and thigh, coughing blood on to the floor.

The surgeons were frightened that they did not have the skills to save these victims of police violence. Now the police have accused the doctors and staff of killing the patients whom the police themselves shot.


The reality is clear for anyone to see in Bahrain. The Saudis are now running the country. They never received an invitation to send their own soldiers to support the Bahraini “security forces” from the Bahraini Crown Prince, who is a decent man. They simply invaded and received a post-dated invitation.

The subsequent destruction of ancient Shia mosques in Bahrain was a Saudi project, entirely in line with the kingdom’s Taliban-style hatred of all things Shia. Could the Bahraini prime minister be elected, I asked a member of the royal court last February? “The Saudis would not permit this,” he replied. Of course not. Because they now control Bahrain. Hence the Saudi-style doctors’ trial.

Bahrain is no longer the kingdom of the Khalifas. It has become a Saudi palatinate, a confederated province of Saudi Arabia, a pocket-size weasel state from which all journalists should in future use the dateline: Manama, Occupied Bahrain.

[emphasis added]

That a member of the Bahraini royal family, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, just received the red carpet treatment at the White House, is a disgrace. I understand that we can’t completely toss Bahrain under the bus, but we certainly don’t have to treat them like honored guests at a time when they are murdering, torturing and imprisoning their own people:

Officials said that Obama reaffirmed the strong US commitment to Bahrain and welcomed King Hamad’s plan to end a “state of national safety” and the announcement that the national dialogue on reform would begin in July.

“He also expressed strong support for the crown prince’s ongoing efforts to initiate the national dialogue and said that both the opposition and the government must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis,” a White House statement said.

“To create the conditions for a successful dialogue, the president emphasized the importance of following through on the government’s commitment to ensuring that those responsible for human rights abuses will be held accountable.”

Obama’s meeting with the crown prince came shortly after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran had a plan for Bahrain and said the main problem was the presence there of the US Fifth Fleet.

Predominantly Shiite Iran, which has vocally supported most of the uprisings across the Arab world, harshly condemned the crackdown in Bahrain, which in turn accused Tehran of meddling and fanning confessional unrest.

Earlier the Bahraini crown prince, viewed by US officials as a key player in efforts to mitigate the political crisis, met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss King Hamad’s plan for a national dialogue.

“It is very significant to have these discussions to hear directly from the crown prince (about) the plan that Bahrain is pursuing,” Clinton told reporters.

“Bahrain is a partner and a very important one to the United States and we are supportive of their national dialogue and the kinds of important work that the crown prince has been doing in his nation, and we look forward to it continuing.”

The crown prince said that it was a “great pleasure” to be in Washington during a “challenging time” for the kingdom.

While Iran will certainly take advantage of the unrest, the administration is over-playing that card. To claim that all of the protesters are merely tools of Ayatollah is unfair and tantamount to saying that while Egyptians and Tunisians (among others) have a legitimate right to seek democratic change, economic opportunity and human rights, the Bahrainis don’t have that same right.

Unfortunately, this is essentially the same argument the administration is using to ignore the brutal crackdown on Palestinians by Israel- the administration is blaming that exclusively on Syria in order to prevent having to criticize our special ally, Israel. Syria certainly didn’t do much to prevent the Palestinian refugees breaking past the Golan but Syria wasn’t responsible for shooting upwards of 20 people on Naksa day. [btw, that supposed Syrian document that Haaretz is reporting about today seems awfully fishy to me, considering the source of the alleged document].

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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