Given its tiny size (1.215 million population and 290 sq. miles of territory), Bahrain would not warrant a second glance yet its un-elected, tribal rulers rub shoulders with leaders at the world stage. Originally from Kuwait, the Khalifah family moved to Bahrain displacing Banu ‘Utbah nearly 200 years ago.
Given its tiny size (1.215 million population and 290 sq. miles of territory), Bahrain would not warrant a second glance yet its un-elected, tribal rulers rub shoulders with leaders at the world stage. Originally from Kuwait, the Khalifah family moved to Bahrain displacing Banu ‘Utbah nearly 200 years ago. Since then, the Khalifahs have ruled the tiny island as a family fiefdom but always sought external support to maintain their grip on power. Old habits, especially bedouin habits die hard. Bahrain has been under Iranian, British and now American-Saudi protection.
This brings us to the current situation where an uprising that started on February 14, is being ruthlessly suppressed with the help of Saudi and Emirati troops as well as mercenaries from Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen. The brutal crackdown also has US support. In fact, there was a quid pro quo between the Saudis and the Americans. In return for Saudi help in pushing the Arab League resolution to launch attacks on Libya, the US would turn a blind eye to the Saudi invasion and occupation of Bahrain. The Americans, too, wanted to crush the people’s movement for fundamental rights in Bahrain because it would have put at risk the US Fifth Fleet that uses Bahrain as its regional base. The Americans occupy one-third of the island; local Bahrainis are not permitted to set foot there. The Americans’ needs are taken care of not by local Bahrainis but expatriate workers from Pakistan, India and elsewhere who are treated as little more than slaves.
Ships of the US Fifth Fleet prowl the Persian Gulf in a ceaseless attempt to intimidate regional countries, especially Iran whose independent policies are viewed with fear by the Americans. With America’s large footprint in Bahrain come other demands: free availability of alcohol, nightlife, and other vices. Despite being a 100% Muslim country, the Bahraini rulers are unable to resist American demands. Not surprisingly, Bahrain has numerous night clubs, drinking holes and casinos. In fact, Bahrain came into its own in the 1970s following the eruption of civil war in Lebanon that shut down the Muslim East’s only “enjoyment capital” until then. As if not to be left behind, the Saudis built a causeway, appropriately named the King Fahd Causeway that links mainland Saudi Arabia with Bahrain. Every Thursday evening (start of weekend in the region) thousands of Saudis drive across the causeway to visit Bahraini nightclubs where they drink and partake in other vices that are not openly available in the kingdom.
The causeway has another, altogether sinister purpose as well. In case of threat to the ruling Khalifah family, the Saudis would send troops to rescue them. This is precisely what happened on March 13–14 when an estimated 2,000 Saudi and Emirati troops were rushed to Bahrain to crush the people’s uprising. The overwhelming majority of Bahrainis are Shi‘is while the ruling Khalifah family is Sunni. People were asking for no more than what people elsewhere in the Muslim East have demanded: basic rights and freedom and dignity. And unlike the rebels in Libya, the Bahraini protesters were completely unarmed and peaceful. Men and women came with their children carrying flowers, not guns. Even this was unacceptable to the Khalifahs and their Saudi and American masters. The peaceful protesters were attacked with live ammunition as well as tear gas shells. Some protesters were shot at point blank range. Tanks and armored personnel carriers have also been used to crush cars and smash neighborhoods. At least 30 protesters have been killed, four of them in police custody. This number may appear small but in the context of the island’s overall population, it is significant. Scores of doctors and nurses have been abducted and have simply disappeared because they were treating wounded protesters that happen to be Shi‘i as are the doctors and nurses. Many injured protesters did not seek treatment at the hospitals for fear of being arrested. One Bahraini female poet, Ayat al-Qermezi, was kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered. University professors have also been arrested.
Bahrain is now officially under a state of national security that was imposed when the Saudis invaded and occupied the island state. It is essentially under martial law. Saudi tanks and armored personnel carriers block major intersections; entire Shi‘i neighborhoods are under lock-down. Bahraini security personnel dubbed “Baltajiyah” (thugs) armed with metal bars go around smashing cars and store windows. These acts of vandalism have been secretly captured on camera by the American television network, ABC News. There are police checkpoints all over the country. A midnight-to-early morning curfew is in force and more than 800 Bahraini protesters — all Shi‘is — have been dismissed from their jobs. Tanks are stationed in the center of the capital Manama and at all major intersections.
Despite such atrocities against peaceful protesters, the US and its allies have maintained a studied silence while their wrath is reserved for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Bashar al-Asad of Syria. It seems there is a hierarchy of suffering. If you are from a country whose government the West does not like, you get support and publicity. If you happen to be in a country whose regime is an ally of the West, forget about your rights. You will be arrested, tortured, raped and murdered and nobody in the West would raise a finger.