The democratic uprisings in the Middle East are at a crossroads, and a couple of U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region are huge obstacles.
In Yemen, the initially nonviolent approach seems to be degenerating into armed insurrection along tribal lines, further complicated by attacks from Islamic fundamentalists. And the Bahraini regime is continuing its crackdown on dissenters in the aftermath of an invasion by U.S. buddy Saudi Arabia.
In a piece for The Nation a couple of months ago, Jeremy Scahill detailed the relationship that the United States has had with the regime of strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh. Washington has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly military aid to Yemen. This pact has been cemented by a U.S. obsession with the country’s branch of Al Qaeda, a fixation that will quite likely backfire for the United States in the long run.
“The feckless U.S. response is highlighting how shortsighted our policy is there,” Joshua Foust, a former Yemen analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Scahill. “We meekly consent to Saleh’s brutality out of a misguided fear that our counterterror programs will be cut off, apparently not realizing that, in doing so, we are practically guaranteeing the next government will threaten those very programs.”
To its credit, the Obama Administration has become more vocal over the past month in its calls for Saleh to step down. But it still hasn’t imposed sanctions on the regime or brought it before the United Nations, its preferred modus operandi for nations less friendly to the United States. Instead, it is dispatching envoy John Brennan to chat about Yemen with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—two absolute monarchies that are a major part of the problem on the Arabian peninsula.
And nothing illustrates this better than Bahrain. The Saudis (plus the UAE and other Persian Gulf monarchies) invaded the country at the invitation of the Bahraini government the day after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates supped with the Bahraini ruling family in a show of support.
Things have degenerated since then. Dozens have been killed since the protests started, and hundreds have been arrested. And in a bizarre twist, the Sunni royalty has demolished dozens of Shiite mosques, since it sees the protests as an Iran-backed Shia conspiracy.
“In Shiite villages across this island kingdom of 1.2 million, the Sunni Muslim government has bulldozed dozens of mosques as part of a crackdown on Shiite dissidents, an assault on human rights that is breathtaking in its expansiveness,” Roy Gutman recently reported for McClatchy.
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Yet, compelled by Iranophobia and Saudiophilia, the Obama Administration has let the Bahrainis continue. The regime has recently lifted a state of emergency, but only to present a façade of normality.
Here is an oddity: The Bahraini regime is eager to host an international car-racing event next year. “The authorities are especially keen to get back the Formula One race next March, correspondents say, after the unrest prompted this year's race to be postponed,” reports the BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13616798
But the repression in Bahrain has been so widespread that it has engulfed the racing car arena, too.
“Bahrain has even sacked and abused a quarter of the workers at its F1 race track,” reports Avaaz, an activist group that is urging the sports drink manufacturer Red Bull to pull its racing team out of the race and for the race itself to be cancelled. “One badly bruised track worker says that a policeman ‘put my head between his legs, flipped me on to the floor—and then the beatings really began.’ ”
All this repression in Bahrain and Yemen has dampened the spirits of those who have stood up nonviolently to their governments for months.
“For me and many others like me here in the square, we are convinced that peaceful means would not work since they did not work over the last four months,” Ahmed Obadi, a young protester and teacher in Yemen, told the New York Times.
The Obama Administration needs to make sure that those who choose the path of nonviolence have its fullest support.