Bahrain in the eye of the storm ?
Dim View of US Posture Towards Bahraini Shiites Is Described
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN, New York Times, February 21, 2011
MANAMA, Bahrain — The United States military undermined efforts to improve relations with Bahrain’s Shiite majority and understated abuses by the Sunni royal family, according to one present and one former American government adviser and a Bahraini human rights advocate.
As Bahrain’s leaders struggle to hold back a rising popular revolt against their absolute rule, Washington’s posture toward the Shiite majority, which is spearheading the opposition, could prove crucial to future relations with this strategically valuable Persian Gulf nation. The United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based here, helping ensure the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the gulf, and safeguarding American interests in this volatile region.
Over the years, the military, according to the advisers and the human rights advocate, believed that King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his court were reform-minded leaders who could advance democracy and preserve stability. That narrative contrasts sharply with the experience of the Shiites, as documented by human rights groups and some of the military’s own advisers.
“The problem has been that we have been doing everything we can to cuddle up to the Khalifas and have been consciously ignoring at best the situation of Bahraini Shiites,” said Gwenyth Todd, a former political adviser to the Navy in Bahrain from 2004 to 2007 who was also an adviser on Middle Eastern and North African affairs at the Pentagon and the White House. “We could find ourselves in a very bad situation if the regime has to make major concessions to the Shia, unless we change our tone.”
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