US must Pressure Bahrain on Human Rights (Strindberg)

Anders Strindberg writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

All is not what it seems: Bahrain and U.S. strategic interests

On the last Friday night of September, Bahraini police shot seventeen-year old Ali Ne’amah in the back with bird shot, in the village of Sadad. He died on site. Ali’s family insists that he was engaged in peaceful pro-democracy protest – the now almost daily demonstrations in the Shi’a villages surrounding the capital Manama. The Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, claimed that he had been part of a “domestic terror attack” and that the “policemen defended themselves according to legal procedure.” During the massive protests that followed, crowds blamed Ali’s death on King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifah personally, and on the political system over which he presides. The slogan “may God burn your heart, oh Hamad, as you have burned the heart of a martyr’s family” gave a sense of the frustration and desperation.

Indeed, Ali Ne’amah was only one of over eighty individuals who have been killed as a result of the ongoing repression of Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement, which began with the assault on peaceful demonstrators at Pearl Roundabout in mid-February 2011. The government’s abuses of human rights and civil liberties in the course of these nineteen months have been carefully documented by foreign governments, journalists, and human rights watchdogs. Arbitrary arrests, false charges, torture, forced confessions, draconian jail sentences, denial of medical care to prisoners, intimidation, use of live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators, tear gas “flooding” of entire villages, collective punishment and individual harassment – the use of these practices is beyond empirical dispute. “The problem is not that no one knows about this,” I was told by one grassroots activist during a visit to Bahrain in July, “the problem is that Al Khalifah excel at stalling and making excuses.”

Indeed, the Al Khalifah government has been masterful in its implementation of a reformist “bait-and-switch” aimed at maintaining the status quo at any cost. Holding out the prospect of reform while repressing critics and tarnishing them as malcontents, foreign agents, or even terrorists, the Bahraini government has shown no signs of serious intent to implement reform. The purpose is to buy time in the international arena while systematically and decisively breaking the back of the pro-democracy movement on the ground.

Since the beginning of September, Bahraini courts have upheld lengthy prison sentences against nine medics whose crime had been to treat wounded protestors, and against thirteen leading opposition activists, who had simply called for democratic reform; seventeen-year old Ali Ne’amah was killed, Muhammad Mushaima (age 23) died due to denial of appropriate care in prison, and Hassan Abdul Ali (age 59), Haj Mahdi Ali Marhoun (age 65 plus) and baby Huda Sayyed Nima Sayyed Hassan (age 11 months) died from inhaling tear gas; Sadiq Rabe’a, a member of the Central Municipal Council, was one of at least a dozen individuals injured by police firing birdshot at unarmed demonstrators, and human rights activist Zeinab al-Khawaja was sentenced to two months in prison – for tearing up a picture of the king. This in addition to the several dozen peaceful demonstrators, including children, who have been attacked or detained by security forces for merely chanting slogans in the street. All within the past month and a half.

On October 14, at an open meeting in Ma’ameer, Shaykh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Bahrain’s largest legally chartered opposition party, the National Islamic Society (al-Wefaq), stated plainly what has been obvious for quite some time: “The national struggle in Bahrain has gone beyond the phase where it is possible to stop or retreat. The situation in Bahrain will not be restored to the pre-revolution situation. The choice to subjugate the people is no longer available.” In this he is absolutely right, and there is an urgent need for Washington to understand the relationship between the abuses of the Al Khalifah government, on the one hand, and the strategic value of Bahrain to the United States, on the other. If the abrupt end to U.S. relationships with Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and Saleh in Yemen taught us anything, it was that reliance on repressive regimes for political tranquility is not only morally deficient, but strategically unwise. By opting for sustained repression rather than reform and dialogue, the Al Khalifah government is actively and systematically undermining the country’s stability, which constitutes a direct threat to U.S. strategic interests. This state of affairs has reached a point where Washington needs to put its foot down, informing Al Khalifah that Bahrain may no longer meet the standards for a safe port for the U.S. navy.

Bahrain has hosted an ever-expanding U.S. naval presence for over six decades, and is currently the site of Naval Support Activity Bahrain (NSA Bahrain), a naval base in Juffair, Manama, that is home to the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) as well as the U.S. Navy’s Fifth fleet. The strategic importance of the naval facilities hosted by Bahrain cannot be exaggerated. For Bahrain’s rulers, the U.S. naval presence brings investments, status and, above all, political protection. However, it cannot be enough to simply lease out fortified realty: there have to be guarantees that the neighborhood is sustainably safe – which Bahrain no longer is.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, noted that “Bahrain is at a crossroads” and that “a stable, democratic healthy Bahrain, one where human rights issues are dealt with appropriately, is a country that’s going to be a strong ally and we need that.” Indeed. It is the historic stability and tranquility of Bahrain, not the bloodline of its rulers, that has been the island’s primary selling point as the host of the U.S. Navy. “The Bahrainis give us anything we want” is a phrase that has been heard on more than one occasion off the record, from U.S. diplomats and military personnel. True enough, but they are not giving the United States what is actually needed, and repeatedly (if all too gingerly) requested: sustainable domestic stability through robust political reform.

Conversely, there is nothing threatening to the United States, either in terms of geopolitics or domestic stability, about the clearly stated demands of Bahrain’s legally chartered opposition parties. Their demands center on a representative elected parliament under an Al Khalifah constitutional monarchy. In fact, in a show of extraordinary steadfastness and patience, this has been the opposition demand ever since the current ruler’s father, Amir ‘Issa, abolished the country’s fledgling, yet functioning and democratic National Assembly in 1975. Moreover, Bahrain’s legal opposition parties, including the Islamists, are known democratic entities. Their leaders (some of whom are currently in prison) are known to be among the most long-standing and consistent pro-democracy activists in the region – including the Islamists.

The only thing threatened by the opposition agenda is the privilege of unaccountability and impunity currently enjoyed by the ruling elite in all areas of public life. In the struggle to cling on to that privilege, the Al Khalifah rulers depend entirely on the alignment with Washington, and this is well understood at all levels of opposition politics in Bahrain. This is why the legal opposition parties, as well as human rights groups, have repeatedly reached out to the United States for help only to be gently rebuffed.

A democratic Bahrain will certainly be more complex to deal with, for the purposes of long-term security arrangements, than a king who guarantees security by riding roughshod over political rights. There are two things to say about this. First, anyone who paid even the slightest attention to last year’s popular uprisings in the region would know that the supposed stability of Arab dictatorships has already been exposed as utter fiction. For the United States to continue to rely on such relationships is strategic folly (in addition to being profoundly unethical). Second, even if there was something defensible about such arrangements, the Al Khalifah regime specifically is pursuing policies that are actively undermining Bahrain’s stability rather than guaranteeing it, and negatively impacting U.S. strategic interests rather than safeguarding them.

The tenor of the popular protest movement has changed rapidly over the past year. Frustration with the absolute lack of progress in the opposition parties’ negotiations with the government, coupled with the burden of state repressive measures, is fueling frustration and fury on the grass-roots level. As the legal opposition parties continue unsuccessfully to demand constitutional reform in line with the so-called Manama Document , some of the underground activists – the groups within the February 14 Movement – are growing increasingly vocal in their calls for revolution and regime change. Demonstrations in the villages are now a daily occurrence, leading to a spiral of tear gas versus molotov cocktails that is repeated almost every night. Some voices, although still isolated, have begun to call for the removal of the Fifth fleet. As more activists connect the dots of culpability, that demand is likely to spread. Absent an imminent shift in policy, the United States must expect to pay the price for inaction.

It has been absolutely clear from my conversations with leaders and activists from across the opposition spectrum, that robust political reform is the only thing that can prevent the country’s descent into bloody chaos. “It is a race against time” said Radhi al-Musawi, Deputy Secretary General of the secular al-Wa’id Party, when we met in July. Similarly, Jalil Abdulkhalil, head of the parliamentary group of al-Wefaq, argued that “we need to produce results in our negotiations with the government, or the people will stop listening to our calls for patience.” When I spoke with Radhi al-Musawi a few days after the death of Ali Ne’amah, he stated unequivocally that, “the situation is very bad now… if there is no real hard talk from the Americans and the British, the friends of the government, the ones who are able to influence them, there will be a very dangerous situation ahead. Not just in Bahrain but in the entire region. You see it already in the East Bank of Saudi Arabia with the uprising there. The entire region is affected by what happens here.” No one from the legal opposition groups believes that, absent real and robust reform, the “final showdown” lies more than two years into the future. Some underground activists claim that it is more likely a matter of months.

Why is the United States sitting on its hands? A common view in Washington is that the Saudi rulers will not allow for any change in Bahrain, and U.S. deference toward Al Khalifah is based in large measure on a fear of angering Saudi Arabia. On the face of it, this seems to make sense: Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies deployed its Peninsula Shield Force to help the Bahraini regime quell the pro-democracy movement in mid-March 2011 (its first deployment ever since it was stood up in 1984). The Saudis were instrumental in removing Bahrain’s reform-minded crown prince, Salman bin Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifah, from his duties in March 2011, and bringing the king’s stalwart anti-reformist uncle, Prime Minister Khalifah bin Salman Al Khalifah back into active politics after several years of relative inactivity. More subtly, since the military intervention, an increasing number of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi missionaries have turned up in Bahrain, injecting that particular Riyadh-approved brand of religious bigotry into an already volatile Sunni-Shi’a dynamic.

The Saudis have spoken, the case is closed. But they have spoken against regime change, not reform. The Saudis have made clear that no gulf monarchy will be allowed to fall due to popular pro-democracy sentiments, but that does not mean that they do not understand the need for reform in Bahrain. The very public repression of a Shi’a majority uprising in Bahrain, with Saudi complicity, has directly fueled a somewhat less publicized Shi’a uprising also in Saudi Arabia. It is inviting unwelcome global attention to the true cost of maintaining the peninsula’s monarchical status quo. It is handing archenemy Tehran an open invitation to point fingers and condemn – with accuracy, if also hypocrisy – the abuses that underpin these monarchies. It is quite simply in the Saudi interest that the Bahraini problem is resolved – which can only be accomplished by implementation of political and human rights reform.

The legal opposition parties demand precisely that: reform of the existing regime, not its downfall. According to al-Wefaq’s leadership, which is not naturally inclined to put any stock in the good offices of the Saudi regime, Riyadh is prepared to countenance such reform, and could be a constructive party to charting the road ahead. That would require U.S. involvement. There is a real possibility that U.S. policy makers are toeing a non-existent Saudi red line when instead they could be working with the Saudis to put pressure on Al Khalifah.

The fact that Iran is Bahrain’s other next-door neighbor seems to complicate matters, but simply calls for some discernment. For the past three decades, the Bahraini government and the public relations firms it employs have repeatedly suggested that oppositionists are doing the bidding of Iran, that there is evidence connecting leading dissidents to the regime in Tehran, and that the Lebanese Hezbollah has infiltrated the island. Yet in all that time, they have failed to supply a single shred of evidence to support these claims. The singular exception is an “Iranian-inspired coup” in 1982 by the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, but it is worth mentioning that the Islamic Front (reconstituted since 2001 as the Islamic Action Society–Amal) were followers of Ayatollah Muhammed al-Husayni al-Shirazi, who not only refused government positions in the Islamic Republic, but openly rejected Khomeinist doctrine and was eventually placed under house arrest in Qom, while his followers in Iran have experienced systematic repression. The reality is that Khomeinism has never enjoyed politically significant support in Bahrain, while clerics who have opposed Khomeini’s political theories – such as the late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadhlallah in Lebanon and Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani – have enjoyed widespread popularity. Moreover, no known opposition party – neither the legally chartered, nor those that have been outlawed – supports Iranian territorial claims to Bahrain or the Iranian system of theocratic government.

As for the Lebanese Hezbollah, they are not only absent from the island, but have made clear that they would consider an attempted revolution in Bahrain as foolhardy and futile. Hassan Mushaima, who broke with al-Wefaq in 2005 in order found al-Haq Movement, which promotes a regime change agenda, met with Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon in February 2012, hoping for an endorsement. Mushaima was told – as Hezbollah leaders have told other Bahraini leaders – that they do not support regime change activism in Bahrain. “They told Mushaima that the geopolitics of Bahrain is very different from Lebanon, and that being located between Iran and Saudi Arabia makes calls for a republic virtual suicide,” I was told by a friend of Mushaima. “They reiterated their support for the mainstream opposition’s demands for democratization of the current system.” So much for the Iranian and Hezbollah threat. Still, the Al Khalifah rulers know that almost nothing causes such severe and immediate fits of judgment clouding paranoia in Washington as the Iranian specter – and they have used this insight deftly.

The Al Khalifa rulers have been brazen in abusing their ties to the United States in ways that directly undermine their utility as an ally and their value as a friend. In the process, they are making the United States an object of increasing popular resentment in a country where none of the political parties, including the Islamist groups, have been “anti-American” – quite the contrary. This makes the Bahraini government unfit as a strategic partner – and Washington needs to make this clear. A mere whisper from the White House that it might consider relocating NSA Bahrain to some other Persian Gulf port due to the detrimental effects of Al Khalifah’s domestic policies would send shivers down their spine. This is not playing politics with U.S. strategic assets: it is simply not sound policy to maintain an alignment that is used by the other party to destabilize the very foundation of the alignment. Without NSA Bahrain, the associated infrastructure, investment, expat presence, and most importantly the U.S. guarantee of regime stability would go away. Bahrain would find itself entirely dependent on its suffocating neighbor Saudi Arabia. Nor would the Saudis wish to weaken the Al Khalifah monarchy given that the preservation of the Arabian Peninsula as an “Arab Spring Free Zone” remains a primary objective in Riyadh.

What can be done? The United States needs to put pressure on the Bahraini government to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, which included an extensive list of political and human rights abuses, as well as recommendations for action. King Hamad solicited the report, attended the presentation of its findings, and then accepted those findings. Pressure to implement the BICI recommendations is nothing more than ensuring that the Bahraini government actually embark on a path of reform that it has already committed itself to, and is in no way subversive. It does not violate Saudi interests by threatening regime continuity in Bahrain. Importantly, it would mean sorely needed progress for the legally chartered opposition’s work for peaceful reform, giving them an opportunity to stave off the underground activists’ increasingly vocal demands for revolution. In fact, it may be the only remaining way of ensuring the legitimacy of the legal opposition, the continuity of the Al Khalifah monarchy, and the preservation of U.S. strategic interests in the Persian Gulf – but the window of opportunity is closing rapidly.
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“Anders Strindberg teaches at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS), Naval Postgraduate School, and is the author, with Mats Warn, of Islamism: Religion, Radicalization, Resistance. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of CHDS or any other institution with which he is affiliated.”

17 Responses

  1. Thank you, Anders Strindberg, for an excellent overview of the dirty details of America’s imperial adventures in just one particular case, and a very sensitive case given a particular country’s multi-year project to demand a war of the US against Iran.

    It is important in this time to have sound minds and stout hearts to re-elect President Obama — he is by far the most progressive Presidential choice Americans have, who has a possibility of being elected.

    Yes, he is inadequate in many ways stemming from his acceptance of so many retrograde facets of the American Empire, yet we the progressives have notably failed to support him as he needed to produce any real change — there were over 120 million voters in 2008 to get him in, but less than 80 million in 2010 to allow a toxic Republican party to take Congress hostage. And today, where are the 30 million who understand why we need to make peace with Iran, where are the 50 million who understand the cancer of the national security state? We’re out there, however we haven’t organized effectively to demand the change to imperial policies that will become ever more necessary — ever more promptly — as the atmosphere continues to heat up with our energy use by-products.

    It’s time to begin more intelligent discussions. Whatever happens in 2 weeks — and it is a crucial time, as it’s close enough the GOP might be able to steal it — we’re going to need a new prospective progressive Presidential candidate in 2016. Are we going to continue to suffer with whatever Clintons and Bidens and Bayhs the mainstream wants to feed us, or can we build an effective politics of reform and change that will actually benefit our children and grandchildren?

  2. Excellent analysis, but Mr. Strindberg pulls one punch. He finds
    “..the privilege of unaccountability and impunity currently enjoyed by the ruling elite in all areas of public life …”
    To be the one thing that MUST be addressed, even if every other aspect of status quo remains unchanged.

    But what is that, but the prerogative of being King ?
    In a kingdom, all human beings except the royal family are chattel property.

    The challenge facing the USA vis-à-vis Bahrain is whether to act in accord with our stated values.
    Either we believe that puffery about all men being created equal, or we don’t.

    Strindberg is wrong in his conclusion. The leadership challenge demands a US response to a system of government that depends on slavery. Clearly, neither Obama nor Romney are up to the challenge.

  3. A mere whisper from the White House that it might consider relocating NSA Bahrain to some other Persian Gulf port

    Any nominations?

    In theory, relocating the naval base to a more-democratic Gulf port makes all kinds of sense. In practice, what are we talking about?

    Iraq?

    • Nominations?

      Hey, I grew up being told to be scared to death that “Cuba is only 90 miles from our shores!!!!!! Commies on our very doorstep!!!!!!!!,” while our idiocracy ignores that

      United States Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (also called Gitmo or GTMO) is located on 45 square miles (120 km2) of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba which the United States leased for use as a coaling (fueling) station following the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The base is located on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the oldest overseas U.S. Navy Base, and the only one in a country with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations.[1] The Cuban government opposes the presence of the naval base, claiming that the lease is invalid under international law as it was not a sovereign nation at the time. The United States argues this point is irrelevant because Cuba apparently ratified the lease post-revolution, and with full sovereignty, when it cashed one rent check in accordance with the disputed treaty….

      Since 2002, the naval base has contained a military prison, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for persons alleged to be unlawful combatants captured in Afghanistan and later in Iraq…. The alleged mistreatment of prisoners, the proven mistreatment of some prisoners,…. and their denial of protection under the Geneva Conventions, has been a source of international controversy.

      So the US, whatever “we” are any more politically and socially, is present, in force, exactly minus-ZERO miles from CUBA’s shores. All through the whole freakin’ Cold War, and decades before and since. Strange bedfellows: Cubans do a lot of the scut work on the Base, I read, link to navy.mil , maybe like the “hooch girls” did for GIs (not my unit the 1st Cav’s– except for Headquarters Company) in Vietnam?

      So as to re-locating a base from Bahrain, given the whole freakin’ hypocrisy of everything and every part of the Great Game that’s being played, why not do a deal with the Persians to make the new base even equally as convenient as Guantanamo, and move it all to Bushehr or Kangan? Somewhat parallel relations between “US” and the current governments, courtesy of “our” fu__ing around with “democratic” processes, leading to Regime Change not seen, finally, to be in “our” favor. They do have elections in both places, that are about as “democratic” as our own…

      Of course there’s always that “more democratic” port city called Tel Aviv, or the other one called Haifa, both of which “we” have poured out blood and treasure in large measure over many decades, that little tiny tail wagging the enormous US “Uncle Sucker” dog, to establish and maintain… That would really cement “our” democracy to the hair-trigger fate of the Holy Land. I bet Yahooo would LOVE the idea, making it even easier to spy on his “ally”…

      • Perhaps, JT, because the base at Guantanamo dates from a period when Cuba was not a hostile country, and was willing to sign a deal for us to have a base there.

        And why, if the goal is to relocate away from a country that oppresses its citizens and kills them when they protest, would we want to go to Iran, a horrific human rights abuser vastly worse than Bahrain?

        link to en.wikipedia.org

        link to hrw.org

      • Haifa or Tel Aviv? Are you suggesting that we consider moving the Fifth Fleet to Haifa or Tel Aviv? May I remind you, Mr. McPhee (or enlighten you if this is first-time news for you), that we already have a naval presence in the Mediterranean? It is the Sixth Fleet, and it has been in the Med since 1950.

        The geopolitical reason we have the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain is to maintain a naval presence in the Gulf. Hard to do that if it is based in Haifa or Tel Aviv. (Geography has a way of upsetting such a vision.) Joe from Lowell’s question about nominations for a new home base if it were moved from Bahrain is entirely valid. Bahrain is the ideal home base and has been for decades. The question remains: If we are to maintain a presence in the Gulf, where would the Fifth Fleet home base be if not Bahrain?

  4. Perhaps Kuwait?

    I don’t know, they seem a little less obsessed with oppressing their citizens, but even they changed their election law recently. But then again, at least they have elections.

    • Kuwait? This is ludicrous. You are totally ignoring Kuwaitis’ frustration and anger at the US over their servility towards Israel regarding Palestine; or over the power the Shiites gained in Iraq through our policies their.

      We have lost in Kuwait, just as in Libya, all the edge we had gained from freeing them from the yolk of their respective oppressors.
      We still fail to understand that whatever good we do there will not make up for our one-sided policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      • Sami Ahmed’s suggestion of Kuwait is not ludicrous at all, Bruno. Despite Kuwait’s opposition to the U.S. stance on Israel, Kuwait has been very accommodating to U.S. military forces on its territory. Don’t forget, the Iraq War was lauched from Kuwait in 2003. The U.S. still maintains a sizeable force in Kuwait. Currently, there are about 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait at Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Base and Camp Buehring. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine the Kuwaitis allowing a naval presence as well.

        • Yes indeed it is not a stretch of the imagination and you could wonder why not Kuwait?

          Considering the new extension and developments of NSA Bahrain and that the decision was made by astute and well trained military professionals, I assume there ought to be good reasons why Kuwait was not chosen.

          Is it because of its infrastructure? Is Kuwait suited to host the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and United States Fifth Fleet? is it because of its particular geographic location? (seems to me that the strategic location of the island of Bahrain is of significant importance. Looking at Kuwait’s coast line, any significant US naval base there would physically look “cornered”)

          Indeed the Kuwaiti leadership has been and will certainly remain for years to come very accommodating of our military and geostrategic needs . However Kuwait cannot just ignore the popular sentiment towards the US. It has in its parliament a strong presence of the religious establishment that the Emir cannot just brush off. And the position of those MPs in Kuwait city regarding US presence on their land is rather common knowledge in Kuwait and in Washington. That alone puts a limit to what Kuwait can acquiesce or not. Let’s remember that Saudi Arabia was forced by its public opinion and various domestic power brokers to remove officially any US military base/presence on its soil. As authoritarian as those countries might be described, they still do answer to various domestic power brokers. Public opinion is still one of them.

  5. Yes. US must pressure Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. And Russia must pressure Iran and Syria. But there is no Voice in Russia like Yours Mr. Cole. If somebody speaks up like Journalist Anna Politkowskaja than she will not only end up in Prison for charges of sympathy with “Terrorists”. She will be just murdered in Cold Blood. No free “Bradley Manning” Demonstrations for her. Tell someone from RT to make a Documentation about her.

  6. The historical belligerence between Shiites and Sunnis in the region is already common knowledge within the MSM. However, I wonder how much of its particularities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is known by the author or the general public?

    Iran has often laid claim to Bahrain, based on its history of being a part of the Persian Empire and its seventeenth-century defeat of the Portuguese with its subsequent occupation of the Bahrain archipelago. The religious leaders of the Iranian Revolution revived the claim primarily on the grounds that the majority of Bahrainis were Shia Muslims.

    Ahmadinejad has just made clear his hegemonic intentions in the region by visiting last April the disputed island of Abu Mussa off the UAE coast. The visit and the Iranian president’s provocative rhetoric exposed the duplicity of Iran’s assertion that it was keen to establish good relations in the region. Iran’s statements have been to date contradictory to their actions.

    Shiite/Iranian involvement in armed revolt in north Yemen and Saudi Arabia eastern region is also a well known and well documented fact readily ignored by MSM. Four days ago, the Saudi Coast Guard have arrested a group of Iranians who attempted to infiltrate the country by sea near the northeastern frontier with Kuwait. Kuwaiti authorities have also recently arrested locals suspected of spying for Iran. The Iranian hand in the troubled domestic politics of Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine or Syria is also well known and well documented by western intelligence agencies as well as MSM.

    It becomes clear then that pushing for a reform led and nurtured by Shiites in Bahrain thinking that it will lead to a democratic system styled after the ones found in the West, is not only naive but misleading and dangerous. How could the author believe that the full application of all the BICI recommendations will have no bearing on Saudi interests nor its domestic stability and security?!

    • Shiites are not a hive mind controlled by Iran. If you actually knew a damn thing about the political situation in Bahrain, like the article author does, you would know that the Shiites of Bahrain do not see eye to eye with the Iranians on many issues.

      • I wish I could share your opinion but history and facts show otherwise.

        Yes indeed the Shiites of Hezbollah in Beirut do not see eye to eye with the Iranian political and religious leadership on many issues. It didn’t prevent them from actually supporting Iran and its agenda on regional and domestic issues. Iranian influence on Lebanon domestic and regional policies is not only rhetorical but actually financial and military too. They do also diverge tremendously from their brethren Alawite in Damascus. At the beginning of the Syrian crisis they did distance themselves somehow from Damascus. But pressured by Tehran their leader Hassan Nasrallah has recently full heartedly supported Bashar al Assad’s cause. You cannot bite the hand that feeds you.

        The same can be said of Shiites in Iraq. Their leadership, political and religious is distinct from the one in Tehran and can often be seen diverging with Tehran on more than one issue. Washington bet on those differences when it freed Iraq from Saddam Hussein. We hoped that a Shiite led government in Baghdad would be different than the one in Tehran. But the last few years of domestic political turmoil in Iraq proves otherwise. Shiites in Iraq have allowed Iran a terrible hand in their domestic and regional policies. Arms shipments from Iran to Syria via Baghdad is only one recent piece of evidence of just that.

        And yes, the Shiites represented by the Allawite sect in Syria are as diverging from mainstream Shiites in Tehran as they are from Sunnis. But it didn’t prevent them from allowing Iran a hand in Syria, hence an actual influence on geopolitics and the balance of power in the region, by receiving military and financial support from Tehran.

        Shiites around the world are not necessarily a monolithic group when it comes to theology but also culture, political agenda or interest. However, offered the opportunity they have always sided with Iran and allowed them a direct influence on their local and regional affairs. I’m afraid your point Nasser becomes then moot in the face of historical facts, modern and ancient.

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