As I wrote yesterday, Bahrain is headed for deep trouble if the king does not see the need for real reform. Steve Sotloff from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mails me:
The situation in Bahrain is quickly spiraling out of control. The regime has demonstrated no desire to negotatiate with the opposition which is well placed to diffuse tensions. The opposition, led by the al-Wifaq party, is asking for the regime to embrace real democratic reform by empowering parliament and end gerrymandering of districts which dilutes the Shi’i majority. It is also demading an end to the regime policy of importing foreigners to staff the security services. Instead, the regime has placed ads in Pakistani papers, seeking additional manpower.
The regime has chosen force over negotiations. And with Saudi Arabia fearful of any democratic openings in the region and given its historic loathing of the Shi’a, it has been happy to oblige the Bahraini monarchy and send in troops.
But Bahrain is not the only country that has failed to learn something over the past couple of months. It seems the Obama administration is just as dense. Sotloff observes, “With Secretary Gates’s recent visit to the island, the Obama administration has demonstrated that it prefers the false perception of stability rather than real democratic change. It has refrained from making the same calls for immediate reform that it did with Egypt.”
Without that prodding, the king feels free to use brute force:
Protesters had been calm and used exclusively peaceful methods for weeks, even in the face of force by the security services. But after the regime sent out thugs — looking much like the ones Hosni Mubarak sent out in Egypt — to rough up protesters with sticks and knives, the Shi’i protesters understand that the regime will pull out all the stops to quell their voices of dissent. The regime is also seeking to portray the unrest as a Sunni-Shi’i conflict when in fact in its early stages, most of the population across the sectarian divide voiced its displeasure with the regime and lack of political freedoms. By sending out these thugs and riling the Shi’a, the regime is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The collapse of Bahrain, a key strategic ally, would be a blow to the United States and a boon to Iran, which no doubt will exploit the chaos. It seems Obama’s policy of passivity is taking its toll.