America’s ‘Humiliating Grip of Corruption and Tyranny’ in Bahrain

Bahrainis continue to rise up against their dictatorship, as they have been doing virtually on a daily basis. This week Bahrainis orchestrated a massive demonstration, blocking traffic “in an attempt to step up pressure on the government ahead of by-elections this weekend.” In addition to the terrible repression the Bahraini government has directed towards the peaceful protesters, they have also responded recently with massive hand-outs in an attempt to rectify their international image as something other than savage and to pacify the population into stupid acquiescence. A “National Victims’ Compensation Fund” is designed to pay anyone who was “materially, morally or physically harmed” by the uprising and wage increases have been imposed. Apart from being simply bad economics, these efforts fortunately have had no pacifying effect on the population.

And unjustified government violence continues:

Bahraini security forces have fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse thousands of mourners at the funeral of a man who died after he himself was tear-gassed, a Shia politician said.

“Security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators while the majority of them were trying to leave at the end of the funeral,” said Matar Matar, a senior member of Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition formation, on Friday.

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis, he said, were at the funeral of Jawad Marhun, a 36-year-old who died late on Wednesday from what Al-Wefaq said was “excessive exposure to tear gas from a canister tossed into his parents home on September 10”.

The government of Bahrain, which crushed a month of protests in mid-March, said Marhun had died from “acute respiratory” problems as a result of sickle cell disease. His family denies that he had the disease, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).

Let’s contrast this news and these images with what Barack Obama said at the UN earlier this week on the Arab Spring:

The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open. Technology is putting power in the hands of the people. The youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and rejecting the lie that some races, religions and ethnicities do not desire democracy. The promise written down on paper – “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – is closer at hand.

Obama praised the Arab Spring as a wonderful transition. But that some of its potential was being held back. “In Iran,” he said “we have seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people.” And in Syria, “men, women and children are being tortured, detained and murdered” by the regime as “the Syrian people have shown dignity and courage in their pursuit of justice – protesting peacefully, standing silently in the streets, dying for the same values that this institution is supposed to stand for.” But for Bahrain, Obama puts it down to “sectarian forces” tearing Bahrainis apart, as he pursues a dialogue with the government and hopes that “patriotism” [code for government worship] fixes everything.

In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability, but more are required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc – the Wifaq – to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. And we believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart.

The Obama administration’s support for the Bahraini dictatorship remains assertive, with over $92 million in aid since Obama’s inauguration and another $26.2 million slated for next year. The Pentagon has also cut deals with Bahrain in arms trade, sending dozens of American tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, thousands of .38 caliber pistols and millions of rounds of ammunition, from .50 caliber rounds used in sniper rifles and machine guns to bullets for handguns, some of which were undoubtedly used against protesters.

Of primary interest to US national security planners is the maintenance of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, which oversees the flow of oil, and also to prevent a slide towards Iran if the majority Shiites gain their rights.

“The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open,” Obama said. He’s right. It is humiliating.