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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 03/23/2011

Bahrain cracks down

The Wall Street Journal reported:

After suppressing an uprising that threatened to topple its monarchy, Bahrain appeared to be returning to its time-tested formula for stifling dissent from its Shiite majority and rallying support from international partners.

The strategy, which in part relies on raising the specter that Iran is manipulating events to expand its reach in the region, could backfire, analysts and opposition politicians say.
The Sunni monarchy that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, these people say, is trying to win over moderate opposition figures with promises of reform, while arresting activists and cracking down on protests. The Bahraini government has said the crackdown was aimed at restoring law and order, a stance supported by many of the Kingdom’s Sunni community as a necessary step. Human-rights groups say the government’s strategy represents a throwback to previous crackdowns that would preserve grievances and heighten the chance of further clashes.

King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa beckoned in Saudi troops and cleared the protesters out of the square they had occupied. The regime has apparently decided that brute force is the only way to survive:

In an echo of prior moves to suppress dissent, Bahraini security services have fanned out across the island, marshalling a heavy presence in Shiite villages on the outskirts of Manama, imposing a curfew and banning all public gatherings and marches. Scores of opposition sympathizers have been arrested, as have seven senior opposition leaders, some of whom were jailed in the 1990s for opposition political activity.

The Bahraini government has said the crackdown was aimed at restoring law and order, a stance supported by many of the Kingdom’s Sunni community as a necessary step. Human-rights groups say the government’s strategy represents a throwback to previous crackdowns that would preserve grievances and heighten the chance of further clashes.

Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mailed me to say that the king is not alone in eschewing negotiations. “The Royals have made substantive offers of reform to the opposition and asked the opposition to sit down and negotiate. The opposition has refused.”

The opposition claims the king’s offer is just a replay of past schemes to quell protest:

The government has also stressed that it is still open to dialogue, an offer first extended by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa in February when Bahraini troops were withdrawn from the streets and peaceful protests were allowed to go on.

Lawmakers from largest opposition bloc, the moderate Al-Wefaq party, say the ruling family is attempting a replay of 2001, when the king pledged to moderate opposition parties that he would devolve power into a constitutional monarchy. He pulled back a year later, leaving control in the hands of the ruling family. . . .

“The government is using the same play book it uses every time — they want to break the political unity of the opposition and destroy its momentum. But this time, they will struggle because we can’t accept a compromise political solution. Too many people have been killed,” said Jawad Fairooz, a senior member of Al-Wefaq.

And so Bahrain seems headed toward continued violence, a problematic result, to say the least, for the United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet there. It seems that President Obama’s effort to make the United States invisible is “working,” but the result is increased chaos.

Moreover, whether Iran has instigated the revolt, as the king claims, or is merely seeking to benefit from it, the prospect of growing Iranian influence in a Sunni, pro-U.S. country should be cause for worry.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 03/23/2011

Categories:  foreign policy

 
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