February 11, 2012

“Signs” Of Bahrain’s Progression

The pitch of their condemnation suggested that they can’t imagine Moscow’s state of mind, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and company surely understand the motivation behind its Syrian veto. They know that Russian officials from aspiring president Vladimir Putin to state arms dealers aren’t ready to let go of Bashar al-Assad’s strategically-placed regime. They also know, on a deeper level, that Moscow despises U.S. hypocrisy as much as Washington loathes Russian hardball.

The U.S. response to Bahrain’s uprising offers of one of many gateways into Moscow’s thinking in Syria. Although vastly divergent in casualties and social complexities, the Obama administration’s steadfast support for King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa (and other regimes that will be addressed shortly) has added to Russian obstinacy in Damascus. When UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin hastily met with PBS’s Charlie Rose after last weekend’s veto, he repeatedly deflected questions on Russian policy by pointing out the selective nature of U.S. foreign policy. Both parties are guilty of the offense they accuse each other of - Washington and Moscow united against Yemen and Bahrain’s uprisings - but that doesn’t stop Russian officials from venting their irritation into Syria.

With Clinton consumed by Syria’s events, the Secretary just reinforced America’s double-standard by sending a tag-team to pin down Bahrain’s opposition. Michael Posner’s comprehensive government tour softened the ground for his partner, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor slapped a well-known hand on the way out. Following Posner’s high praise of the King’s reform, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman reviewed “the development of historic relations” with Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa. Feltman spearheaded the initial U.S. blackout following February 14th’s outburst.

He also arrived in Manama with a secondary objective: secure political, financial and possible security assistance for Syria’s opposition. Miles away, the house of Al Wefaq’s president came under fire from a tear gas barrage. “This is the state of most homes now days in Bahrain,” said Sheikh Ali Salman.

The sight and stench of tear gas will blanket the island nation as pro-democracy demonstrators intensify their actions around the February 14th outbreak. Periphery protests continue across the country as a larger crowd flocks to al-Muqsha’s Freedom Square, located four miles west of the capital. Al Wefaq and its political allies have staged daily rallies in al-Muqsha for the last week; while an open-ended permit wasn’t granted, the government is satisfied to contain the opposition’s energy outside of Manama. The gathering also falls under 24-hour surveillance, partly due to the fact that protesters always viewed al-Musqsha as a temporary base.

Saturday's demonstrations offered a glimpse of how Tuesday is likely to transpire. Under the guidance of Nabil Rajab, president of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights, several hundred people gathered at the Standard Charter bank for a one-mile westward march to Pearl Roundabout. Police officials immediately warned Rajab against his unauthorized protest, then proceeded to disperse the group with tear gas and stun grenades.

“Unauthorized protests” are, of course, a common tactic of political resistance and civil disobedience.

February 14th should unfold at a higher level of intensity despite the corresponding spike in Manama’s security precautions. One activist reported, "the roads leading into the centre of Manama were all blocked by police.” Instead of massing, protesters may gather in smaller flash mobs and converge on Pearl Roundabout from multiple directions (a trial run was attempted on Saturday). Splitting up into dozens of groups should increase the chances of one group reaching the site and undermining the government’s security measures, otherwise protesters will spread throughout sympathetic villages and spill into the more vacated areas of Manama.

Contrary to Posner and Feltman’s optimistic statements, Bahrain’s political outreach is decaying in proportion to government-induced deaths, injuries, arrests and elapsed time. Failure to restore confidence at the political level ensures rising tensions in the streets, trapping the island in a cycle of hostilities. The uprising’s spark cannot be forgotten or ignored, yet the monarchy remains bent on paving over February 14th’s aftermath as though the day were Pearl Monument.

These are the signs of accelerated instability, not progress, and their effects aren’t limited to Bahrain’s shores.

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