Yet again, Bahrain’s government has initiated a brutal crackdown on demonstrators — and this time the army is reported to be firing live rounds. A doctor has been killed and paramedics injured while trying to help injured protesters. Ambulances are being denied access to the scene of the massacre.
The BBC reports:
Thousands of people have been voicing anger against Bahrain’s authorities at the funerals of victims of Thursday’s clashes which left four dead.
Crowds attending Friday prayers joined the funeral processions, calling for the overthrow of the ruling family.
At the prayers a Shia cleric described the clashes as a “massacre”, saying the government had shut the door to talks.
The Washington Post reports:
The United States last year provided Bahrain about $20.8 million in military assistance, a substantial amount for such a small country and almost double what it received in 2009. The vast majority of the funds went to pay for improvements to Bahrain’s F-16 fighter fleet and to its navy’s flagship frigate, supplied by the United States in 1996.
In the past, Bahrain has sent more than 100 police to Afghanistan to help build up that country’s force. Overall U.S. counterterrorism aid to Bahrain doubled last year to almost $1.1 million.
Much of that assistance likely went to police and military forces that are suppressing the current protests.
Mark Levine writes:
If the US is Egypt’s primary patron, in Bahrain it is among the ruling family’s biggest tenants, as the country is home to the Fifth Fleet, one of the US military’s most important naval armadas, crucial to protecting Persian Gulf shipping and projecting US power against Iran.
But while Bahrain has long been depicted as relatively moderate compared with its Salafi neighbor, Saudi Arabia, the reality is that the country is repressive and far from free, as citizens have almost no ability to transform their government, which according to the State Department “restricts civil liberties, freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices.”
In the wake of Egypt, where many people harbor resentment against the Administration for its lack of early support for the democracy movement what can Obama do now? Can he in good conscience acquiesce to the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters so soon after his eloquent words and late coming to supporting the Egyptian revolution?
The larger question is: What is more essential to American security today, convenient bases for its ships, planes and troops across the Middle East, or a full transition to democracy throughout the region?
The answer is clearly the latter, as evidenced by the fact that America’s two primary antagonists in the Middle East, al-Qaeda and the Iranian government, have seen their standing sink in proportion to the rise of the pro-democracy movements.
In any war, cold or hot, propaganda is crucial, and here it is impossible to lose sight of the fact that al-Qaeda has had little if anything to say about the Egyptian revolution precisely because it was a massive non-violent jihad that succeeded miraculously where a decade of al-Qaeda blood and vitriol have miserably failed.
As for Iran, the government’s rhetorical support for the Egyptian revolution while it continues to suppress its own democracy movement is clearly emptying the Iranian regime of any remaining credibility as an alternative to the US-dominated order.
In this sense the success-so far-of the Egyptian revolution has presented Obama with a unique window of opportunity to forcefully advocate and press for the same kind of democratic transition across the Middle East and North Africa.
The signs on Tuesday were somewhat optimistic, as the President warned all regional leaders that they should “get ahead of the wave of protest” by moving towards democracy as quickly as possible. Yet Obama refused to mention Bahrain by name in his press conference, even as the government was cracking down on the protesters.
Instead, the US president argued that “each country is different, each country has its own traditions; America can’t dictate how they run their societies,” an utterly meaningless declaration since it contradicts the very advocacy of democracy that the President has made out of the other side of his mouth.
And now, once again, in the wake of government violence against peaceful citizens, the Obama administration stands silent, refusing to openly condemn the Bahraini government. Is the administration incapable of learning from mistakes in the immediate past?