Republican Marco Rubio wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, asking her to turn a planned arms sale to Bahrain into a pressure point on that country's human rights record.
Bahrain is a particularly vivid illustration of the balance between U.S. interests -- they're a staunch and vital ally, hosting the U.S. naval headquarters for the Persian Gulf and South Asia; and values -- they're undemocratic and have killed some 34 protesters....
"I appreciate Bahrain's concern about Iranian ambitions in the region and the potential threat to the country's stability, but I believe the government's response to the disturbances actually threatens the country's long-term stability, jeopardizes the United States' standing in Bahrain and the Middle East, and plays into the hands of Iran," he writes in the letter, which you can see in full here.
Beirut—Kuwait and Bahrain are the most recent additions to the list of Gulf Cooperation Council states that have withdrawn their ambassadors to Syria. First Qatar yanked its diplomat, after a regime-led mob attacked Doha’s embassy in Damascus. Now, with the ruler in Damascus laying siege to Deir al-Zour, and murdering Sunni Muslims in the middle of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia has been compelled to act, withdrawing its ambassador yesterday, shortly before Kuwait and Bahrain made their announcements.
Yesterday, Matar Ibrahim Matar, a former member of parliament from the main opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, was released from detention after more than three months in a Bahraini jail, where, he told the BBC, he was tortured. Matar was pulled out of his home by Bahraini security forces on May 2.
In his speech at the State Department on May 19, President Obama called Egypt essential to the future of democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa. As the largest and most influential Arab country, Egypt could in large part determine the course of the regional uprisings and the prospect of liberal democracy in the Islamic world. Yet violence against Copts, rising crime, and attacks on Israel’s Gaza border and its Cairo embassy are causing alarm about where “democracy” in Egypt is leading. And for good reason.
Ahmed Benchemsi would probably have held on to his job as editor of Morocco’s top newsmagazine, TelQuel, had he known a wave of democratic uprisings was about to engulf the Middle East and North Africa. Last October, he had been forced to shutter TelQuel’s Arabic-language sister publication, Nichane, after the Moroccan regime mounted an advertising boycott that drove down revenues by almost 80 percent.
Bahrain is so small that there doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the island one can’t reach within fifteen minutes by car. One local wag told me that it takes no more than two hours on foot to cover the entire perimeter of the country—if you exclude the Manama-based U.S. Fifth Fleet, an island by itself. Bahrain means “two seas” but actually refers to the ancient freshwater springs in the briny waters of the Persian Gulf.
Bahrain’s royal family has managed to paint the country’s opposition movement as a sectarian affair, involving only Shia and entirely manipulated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The opposition says that it is not a sectarian uprising, but a political reform movement, and points to members of the country’s Sunni minority (roughly 35 percent of the population) who support their demands.
Last week, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain, sent Saudi soldiers and UAE police across the causeway from Saudi territory into Bahrain, as supporters of a Sunni Muslim monarchy, against massive protests by the Shia Muslim majority on the island.
In his opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, Senator John McCain expressed his support for the protesters across the Middle East. “[T]he historic changes now reshaping the broader Middle East are a direct repudiation of al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies,” McCain said.