US Complicity in Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain

originally posted Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In 2011's Arab Spring, the only Gulf monarchy in the Middle East to undergo an uprising comparable to those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen was the small kingdom of Bahrain. Thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets and led largely peaceful protests during this period, demanding a shift in methods of governance and clearly defined avenues for political engagement. During this time, the government treated peaceful protesters as violent revolutionaries; even in recent months, peaceful political dissidents have been stripped of their Bahraini citizenship and given harsh sentences. Still, Bahrain’s grim human rights record, which includes allegations of torture against its citizens, has not precluded the nation from being an important ally to the west.

Husain Abdulla writes of the “manufactured instability” of Bahrain:

“By punishing those who speak out non-violently to life sentences alongside those who plot and carry out bombings, Bahrain has effectively obliterated the deterrent for violence in protest.”

In other words, the regime suggests firmly and undoubtedly that its citizens’ voices will not be heard, eventually serving as an impetus for more violent uprisings. The crushing of these violent protests lends more legitimacy to the state’s actions in the international community. This pre-inclination towards violence- the cultural fact that the government is immovable and static- breeds what Abdulla refers to as the potential for “home-brewed extremism.” Organizations such as ISIS do not assemble themselves in a vacuum; political repression and frustration can be radicalizing agents. A tentative case could be made that in the US’s support for the Bahraini regime, in which complicity in state-fueled human rights violations is a give-in, is also sustenance for the radicalization of the politically marginalized.

In the past week, details regarding the state-perpetrated kidnapping of one political dissident in particular, Hussain Jawad, have emerged. Jawad has long been a defender of human rights in Bahrain, and was recently charged with insulting the king; when he was kidnapped in the middle of the night by a group of masked Bahraini policemen, it’s likely there wasn’t much confusion as to the motivations of his kidnappers. The Al-Jazeera article that depicts this set of circumstances compares the tactics of the Bahraini regime to those of the militant group, ISIS, and elucidates the inconsistencies in the pattern of whom the UK and the United States condemn for similar acts of terror. And he’s far from wrong: the US has a track record of supporting repressive regimes whenever their cooperation is in their international interests. Suffice it to say that the US is correct in its condemnation of ISIS. But it’s hardly surprising that people in the Middle East doubt the legitimacy of the United State’s alleged human rights concerns in the region.