In major setbacks for Bahrain's opposition, the US has decided to
resume arms sales to the kingdom and Gulf Arab leaders are meeting
to discuss greater regional integration.
A decision by the Obama administration to resume a large arms
deal to Bahrain has incensed opposition activists in the tiny Gulf
kingdom who see the deal as a signal that the US supports Bahrain's
repression of opposition protests.
In another blow to the opposition, Gulf Arab leaders are meeting
in Saudi Arabia today to discuss greater integration of their Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC), a move that could solidify the security
cooperation between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Last year, Saudi
Arabia sent 1,500 Gulf troops into Bahrain to help quell the
uprising that began in February 2011.
The US froze the $53 million deal to sell military equipment to
Bahrain in September, months after security forces there violently
suppressed protests calling for reform in a crackdown that has
killed more than 50 people. The move to resume the sale - minus some
equipment that could be used against protesters - is read by the
opposition as the US ending any pressure for reform.
"It's a direct message [from the US] that we support the
authorities and we don't support democracy in Bahrain, we don't
support protesters in Bahrain," says Mohammed Al Maskati, a Bahraini
rights activist, of the arms sale. He said opposition activists
called for a week of protests against the US after the announcement
on May 11. "Now protesters are starting to be more angry against the
USA and this is not good for the USA," he says by phone from
Activists are also protesting the proposed GCC union today.
Bahrain, a tiny island in the Persian Gulf connected by a
causeway to Saudi Arabia, is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet,
considered a vital bulwark against Iran. The US response to
Bahrain's repression has been muted compared to other regional
But when it halted the arms deal last year, State Department
officials promised to monitor Bahrain's response to the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which investigated the
crackdown, when deciding whether to resume the deal. The BICI found
evidence of systematic abuse by Bahraini security forces, including
torture of protesters, and called for those responsible to be held
US officials said the decision to resume arms sales was made in
light of US national security interests. According to a transcript
of a conference call with reporters, an unidentified senior
administration official said, in a reference to Iran, that the sale
would "help Bahrain maintain its external defense capabilities."
The official also said: "We've made this decision mindful of the
fact that there remain a number of serious unresolved human rights
issues in Bahrain which we expect the government of Bahrain to
Arrests of activists
The resumption comes despite Bahrain doing little to sufficiently
address the issues mentioned in the report, say rights activists.
Security forces have continued to use birdshot to break up protests,
and wounded protesters are afraid to go to the hospital for fear of
being arrested there.
Most recently, authorities arrested well-known human rights
activist Nabeel Rajab, charging him with participating in illegal
protests, calling for protests on Twitter, and for "insulting" the
Interior Ministry. Mr. Rajab's arrest a little over a week ago comes
after the arrest of Zainab Al Khawaja, another well-known activist,
for protesting her father's detainment. Imprisoned activist
Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is on a hunger strike to protest his abuse in
detention and his life sentence last year.
He and 20 others were sentenced, eight of them to life in prison,
for their roles in the peaceful pro-reform protests last spring. …