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  • The Obama Administration: Ill-Informed on Bahrain

    Last Friday, Bahrainis held a peaceful, though spirited, rally in front of the United Nations headquarters in Manama to protest what they consider to be misguided foreign efforts to pressure Bahrain’s government to make dangerous concessions to uncompromising opposition leaders, some of whom are linked to Iran.

    Bahrainis, particularly those loyal to the ruling Al-Khalifa family, are outraged by what they consider the Obama Administration’s favoritism for an increasingly violent opposition movement. Dubbed “Hands off Bahrain,” demonstrators delivered a clear message to the United State government: “Back off.”

    Since the crisis began last February, sparked by the “Arab Spring,” Bahrain’s government has grappled with the restoration of order. Initiated by a youth movement demanding government reform, demonstrations were quickly hijacked by the opposition party, al-Wefaq, and other actors, including Shia cleric Isa Qassim. Iran, as it has done repeatedly in the past, has also played a significant—though covert—role in inspiring unrest. In response, Bahrain’s security forces quickly issued a brutal crackdown that was later assessed in detail by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

    Despite the government’s attempts to implement the recommendations of the BICI and political reforms created through the National Dialogue, the opposition demands more. However, these demands are often vague and inconsistent. While al-Wefaq and four other opposition groups have outlined their demands—which include drastic political reforms—its supporters are throwing Molotov cocktails at police and calling for the downfall of the royal family.

    The Obama Administration has mistakenly treated Bahrain, which is governed by one of the most liberal governments in the Gulf, the same way it has treated other countries dominated by much more oppressive authoritarian regimes that have been affected by the “Arab Spring.” The Administration has hedged its bets in favor of the opposition. Such moves reveal how uninformed the Administration is to the events on the ground.

    Last September, in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama effectively legitimized al-Wefaq’s influence when he urged Bahrain’s government to make additional reforms to appease al-Wefaq. Last October, the State Department also blocked a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, claiming that the sale wouldn’t go through until Washington’s demands for reform were met.

    While the sale of some military equipment was announced last week, some Members of Congress are furious at what they perceive as rewarding Bahrain’s government for too little progress, despite the fact that the arms sale is for Bahrain’s external military use and in support of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The U.S. embassy in Bahrain has also come under heavy criticism after it was revealed that State Department officials met with al-Wefaq leaders.

    Giving such credence to al-Wefaq, the Administration fails to consider what would happen to Bahrain if the monarchy falls to the opposition. Al-Wefaq has made no secret that, if it comes to power, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, a major bulwark in containing Iran, would have a limited future. Iran, which considers Bahrain its lost 14th province, would also expand its influence and destabilize the region.

    Bahrain’s government is far from perfect, and some of the opposition’s claims are legitimate. However, considering that Bahrain achieved independence from Britain in 1970, the small island kingdom has made remarkable progress in building a pluralistic and open society that respects freedom of religion, women’s rights, and economic freedom. The Obama Administration should not sacrifice an important ally in the Gulf region in a misguided effort to appease opposition leaders with dubious democratic credentials who are backed by Iran.

    Pushing Bahrain to surrender to Islamist political parties intent on building a tyranny of the majority would not create a genuine democracy but would only strengthen Iranian influence, enhance its growing threat to other Persian Gulf states, and damage U.S. efforts to contain Iran, a major threat to freedom in the Middle East.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    28 Responses to The Obama Administration: Ill-Informed on Bahrain

    1. Mads says:

      I hate to say it but "We told you so!"

    2. Khalid says:

      Dear Morgan,

      Thank you so much for your fair analysis. We hope from US administration to stop its support to Hezbollah in Bahrain "Alwefaq" and listen to other parts represents 70% of population in Bahrain.

      Regards,

      @ecokha

    3. Ahmed says:

      Ultimately some truths about whats going on In Bahrain

    4. Marquesa says:

      Ridiculous. Did the Independent Commission not establish that Iran has no role? And is it really so hard to google Alwefaqs bulletins and see how many are against molotov throwing and other acts? The last speech by Issa Quassim directly states that only peaceful means are legitimate. If you cannot see the difference between Alwefaq and the Feb 14th movement who are not affiliated with any political movement then I question your integrity.
      Intent on building a tyranny of a majority? Well, that could be called democracy. And no mention of Wa'ad's role? A secular party. No mention of the struggles faced by the worker's union? Or the despicable case against the doctors? No mention of the children as young as ten in jail?
      Very poorly researched. So poorly that bias is clear. Protestors came in many shades of gray, lumping everyone with the molotov cocktail throwers may ease your conscience, but it doesn't make the article factual.

    5. Kinan says:

      What an absurd article. The response of the government of Bahrain to the protestors was savage and unrepentenant. Being the "most liberal" government in the Gulf is sort of like being the slimmest person at fat camp. Congratulations – you still have a lot of work to do. And I'm at a loss to explain how it is that Obama has now apparently thrown this ally under the proverbial bus. The arms sale went through eventually, through a neat little accounting trick used by the adminstration to shepard it through Congress. Apparently, even suggesting that an autocratic monarch try and meet popular demands deserves condemnation. If you want to know why people in the middle east despise American policies in the region – all you have to do is look at this article. Celebrate one group of nasty autocrats but not others, depending on who lets us use their countries for our war games.

    6. Reader says:

      This article is so clearly part of the Bahraini government's PR campaign that it would be laughable if it was not so sad that the it supports a government who rapes peaceful protesters, imprisons doctors, and tortures dissidents.

      Repeating the bullet points from the Bahraini government's version of events without even pretending to back them up with facts is not journalism, or even opinion, it is propaganda.

      Shame on you, Morgan.

      • NS4 says:

        I always find it amazing how difficult it is for people to hear, or read, someone else's point of view. i.e., they miss the fundamental concept of democracy, yet that is what they cry for. You have to hear every one out, and just because you do not agree with them, does not automatically make them part of a government conspiracy theory.

    7. Reader says:

      This article is so clearly part of the Bahraini government's PR campaign that it would be laughable if it was not so sad that the it supports a government who rapes peaceful protesters, imprisons doctors, and tortures dissidents.

    8. Liberty says:

      Advocates of the tyranny of the minority are hypocritical if they do not espouse oligarchy in their own countries. Like it or not, the world's population matters and its views will increasingly be taken into account in all countries. Bahrain is no exception. Anti-democratic oligarchs in other countries cannot stop this.

    9. janiceryan says:

      This week woman was jailed for 18 months for having a CD with a revolutionary song. A 5 week old baby, along with many others, died at home as a result of the nightly teargassing of suburbs. Police (who are mostly from other countries and don't speak English or Arabic) break into homes and steal, destroy, sexually assault and rape with impunity. The king's son buys a 1 million dinar horse while 20% of the population lives in poverty.

      And finally, these are Arabs, not Persians. Around 60% of the population is protesting, not just youths. Get your facts straight.

      • BintAlfarooq says:

        Stop the lies please , the minority ProIran protestors are only kids who were paid to burn tires and throw moltoves on police men , the majority Sunni , Shitts , Hindu , Christian and Jews Citizens are proud of the progress and development that is very obvious in Bahrain , we are very lucky to have such a wise king , no body is above the law , if you don't want to be teargassed then stick to the law and stop the terrorism,stop throwing moltoves on innocent Bahraini police men regardless of their origin , they are Bahraini now and they are human beings after all and they too have rights . By the way, All of Alwefaq leaders became Bahraini citizens only recently in the 1980s and 1990s incase you didn't know !!

        • John says:

          Hahahahhahahaha um… no

          The Shia hate you because you actively discriminate against them
          The Hindus hate you because you treat them like dogs
          The Jews (are there any?) keep their mouths shut because thats what you do when you Jewish and in a Muslim country

          The Sunnis love you because well they benefit from everything the others don't get.

          And your King is not the worst, but he is definitely not Mahatma Gandhi either.

    10. janiceryan says:

      The Bahrain government commissioned an independent review. This commission found no evidence of Iranian involvement with the protest movement in Bahrain. The US government also found no evidence. If you have evidence, can you please share it. Thank you.

    11. Mohammad says:

      Interesting article and very enlightening to see how a few chosen words and premises can go a long way to form a lopsided picture of the situation in the eyes of the average reader.

      " Iran, as it has done repeatedly in the past, has also played a significant—though covert—role in inspiring unrest. In response, Bahrain’s security forces quickly issued a brutal crackdown that was later assessed in detail by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)."

      It would be more fair to mention how the BICI (an independent report) reports that the commission could find no evidence of links between the unrest and Tehran's involvement.

      You also mention how the demands by the protesters are "often vague and inconsistent" Whilst this is terribly true and make the process of dialogue more difficult, it would also point to the grass-root level of involvement of the protectors rather an organized revolt by the opposition party. This is very much akin to similar issues being faced when dealing with the "Occupy Wall Street" movement (there is no clear agenda on that side either, precisely because the protests are more grass-roots).

      You also mention
      "the small island kingdom has made remarkable progress in building a pluralistic and open society that respects freedom of religion, women’s rights, and economic freedom"

      DO you truly believe this light of the opposition claims that government jobs are often handed over Muslims of one sect at the expense of other sects (to the extent of even importing and granting citizenship people from other states).

      Your last paragraph is very illuminating. It places the entire premise of US foreign policy on an Anti-Iran position, even at the expense of human rights and democracy. A very justified and non-hypocritical position (hint of sarcasm there)

    12. janiceryan says:

      Everything you have written here is the opposite of the truth. I would love to know why. Is this a second rate media outlet that doesn't check their sources? Are you trying to create anti-Iran sentiment? What, exactly, is the reason for write a page of tripe?

    13. Nasser says:

      Finally , the truth. All the protestors want is iran to takeover Bahrain.

    14. John says:

      Wow, this is so chock full of disingenuous if not outright dishonest statements I don't know where to start. Look, we all know Iran is a terrible illiberal place where peoples' rights are summarily trampled upon. But so is Bahrain if you dare to disagree with the political status quo. It's not one of the most liberal places in the Arab world. Lebanon is.

      You have absolutely no evidence to support the claim that Iran is involved covertly. The BICI commission stated that there is no evidence to support this claim, yet US conservatives and the Bahrain government continue to stoke tensions by making this claim. Got some evidence? Let's see it then. Otherwise it's a statement with no substance.

      Bahrain has not progressed since independence. The constitution of 1973 guaranteed more freedoms than exist now. Bahrain has become one of the top 10 most repressive governments in the world according to Reporters Without Borders, and it has slipped down to the bottom of Freedom House's rankings of political freedom. I sugggest US Republicans stop sabre rattling for yet another stupid war and using Bahrain as a pawn in its geopolitical game.

    15. Mohamed says:

      Thank u for a well balanced report, yes US embassy in Bahrain is supporting opposition & other NGOs which are not serving civil liberties or democracy

    16. elmothehobo says:

      Khalid,

      You mean the nearly 55% of Bahrainis that voted for al-Wefaq in free and open parliamentary elections in October of 2010? Emir Issa and King Hamad have been saying the same thing for three decades about the supposed link between Bahrain's Shi'a and Hezbollah, and short of confessions extracted under duress, there is no proof of such a link.

      It's a shame the Heritage Foundation has lowered itself to toeing the Saudi party line.

    17. Mohammad says:

      Proud to be a Bahrani!

    18. Ali says:

      Finally some truth in the western media,
      Look at the opposition leader ISA qasim's account getting lots of money from Iran to pay the rioters and cause havoc. Just a couple of weeks ago he was ordering his followers to "crush" the police.
      The government we have is amongst the most liberal in the gulf states, and certainly way more than Iran would ever be.
      Before the so called revolution, ministries of health, labour, and electricity and water, to name a few, were all controlled by the Shia, not to mention some of the major companies in the county as well.
      People must realise that there is no perfect government, ther are always new things that must be done in every country to keep up with the rest of the world.and having a government that understands that is a blessing for the people of bahrain, that was clearly evident when his highness the crown prince came live on national tv at the begining of the protests to offer a genuine open dialoge with the opposition,, but the opposition declined because Iran would not agree!

    19. Liberty says:

      If it comes down to it, better Iranian than Saudi involvement. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran has not sent its forces into to support an elitist dictatorship. Bahrain is not majority Salafist, something just to keep in mind for those that believe it should be an extension of Saudi Arabia.

    20. its too late now US media have done the damage and mislead the western audience

      thank god our friends in the middle east didn't fall for this BS

    21. Mohammed A says:

      In all of my time reading about the unrest in my country, this is the first fair and balanced analysis I see from a Western journalist.

      Morgan, thank you so very much.

    22. Ali says:

      Long live the king, long live our king hamad

    23. jefry says:

      first of all, iran has nothing to do with this movement which is an entirely internal conflict. when u have a population consisting of 70% of one sect while 80% of the major postions and resources go the minor 30%, then something is seriously wrong and there comes a time when the volcano blows up. when u have a government that grants bahraini citizinship to people from other countries just because they are from the other sect, and then it grants them with wealth and ample opporunity while the locals ( from the major sect) are deprived, then that is hardly a policy to sustain let alone glorify and equate to a democracy. just have alook at the parlimant, the number of minister, and big position in ministery of interior, security and bahrain defecnce forces… there is hardly a presence of the majority local in all of these authoritarian and highly paid jobs… what would u feel if u as a true american were not allowed to serve ur country in the army, while an arab ( who was granted american nationlatiy by ilegitimate means) is allowed to do so?
      all in all, u need more than a week to stay in bahrain to know whats going on, so please stop talking about a topic u know absolutely nothing about, even if it means grabing fast and big cash…

    24. John says:

      This article is beyond absurd.

      As someone who has many expat friends in Bahrain – who I sent this article to for comments – not one of them think is article is even slightly grounded in fact – just a collection of all the rumors and hearsay that floated about at the start of the uprising collated into one piece.

      Bahrain is not as bad in its repression as say Syria, or even SCAF right now, and yes Bahrain is strategically important to the US and the 5th fleet but why are you shilling the Saudi line?

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