[note: I saw this story and wanted to put up a quick post- I apologize for any typos in advance, didn’t get to edit it because I have to run to a meeting.]
Is this the sort of government reform the Obama administration has been lauding?
Clearly Bahrain’s talk of reform is BS and they seem emboldened by the fact that a) Saudi troops are stationed in the country in order to silence protesters, b) they know the U.S. will do and say nothing to put any pressure on them and c) the Obama administration has given its stamp of approval for Bahrain’s blaming pro-democracy protests on Iran. Apparently, when nations we don’t like are faced with protest movements, we completely pan the attempt by dictators to blame “outside interference” (Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iran) but when it’s an ally (Israel, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) we quickly reach the conclusion that the protesters are not motivated by a desire for economic justice, equal opportunity, democracy and human rights, but rather motivated by the desire to expand Iran’s Shia influence in the region. How convenient.
From the NYT today:
A Bahraini security court sentenced eight Shiite activists to life in prison Wednesday, triggering the first major protests in months by hundreds of anti-government demonstrators demanding political freedoms and equal rights from the Sunni monarchy.
Witnesses said police fired tear gas at marchers trying to reach a central square in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, that was once the hub of their campaign for greater freedoms, which began in February as the political tumult in the Arab world spread to the Gulf.
After the court ruling, Shiite crowds blocked roads with sand piles and called for the protest marches, which also took place in Shiite villages on the capital’s outskirts. It was the first serious unrest after months of a security lockdown by military and police units in Bahrain, a key American military ally that is home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The court handed down life sentences for eight Shiite activists and long jail terms for 13 others. They were convicted of trying to overthrow Bahrain’s 200-year-old monarchy and of having links to “a terrorist organization abroad.”
“It’s a political verdict,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “All those convicted today were targeted because of their activities to bring about change and democracy in Bahrain.”
Here is the obligatory bit about Iran:
The kingdom’s rulers fear that any gains by Bahrain’s Shiites could open new footholds for influence by Iran, a predominantly Shiite country that is a main regional rival of the Sunni Arab-led nations just across the Gulf. Bahrain also accuses Iranian-backed Hezbollah of having a role in the protests.
Shiite leaders in Bahrain have repeatedly denied any ties to Iran and accuse leaders of using the fears of Iranian string-pulling to wage crackdowns that have included hundreds of arrests and purges from jobs and universities.
As I’ve said before, it is very likely Iran will take advantage of any unrest in the region but there’s nothing really surprising about that because quite frankly, any country with geostrategic interests in the region, including the U.S., will want to do so. But as I said above, the notion that these protesters couldn’t possibly have any legitimate grievances with the Bahraini dictatorship is completely disingenuous and unfair. This is EXACTLY the same justification we used to continue supporting the corrupt, oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak- we reasoned that we had to continue to support him because he was a bulwark against the rising tide of Islamic radicalism (and because he played nice with Israel). Mubarak, of course, was primarily the one pushing the idea that he and only he could stem the tide of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood etc. Well, we all know how things worked out for Mr. Mubarak and now that he’s gone, we are viewed with suspicion and disgust by many in Egypt precisely because we spent decades propping him up and rationalizing his abuses.
On a related note, the other aspect of Obama’s foreign policy that is a tad hypocritical is the claim that when our allies are allegedly involved in repressive, possibly criminal actions, we insist that the only way to resolve the issue is by internal deliberations- action at the United Nations is verboten. For example, the Palestinians, per the administration, have no right to address any of their legal grievances at the UN, Bahrain’s problems can only be solved by internal deliberations and anything involving Israel must be negotiated according to terms approved by the Israeli government. However, when a country hostile to our interests is involved in alleged violations of international law, well, the United States literally runs to the U.N. to take action- with Syria, North Korea, Libya and Iran, for example.