Defense One: The US Must Tell Bahrainís Rulers: Itís Time to Reform
2018-06-24 - 2:17 am
Bahrain Mirror: In an article published on the Defense One website, political analysts Salvatore Borgognone and Rachel Furlow said that "it's time for the Trump administration to tell the Bahraini ruling family to ease off," adding that "if Bahrain fractures, it would not only threaten the Gulf's other anti-Iranian governments, but would jeopardize U.S. interests in the region."
The article stated that for "the United States, the Kingdom plays a crucial role in maintaining stability in the Gulf and is a valued partner in the defeat-ISIS campaign, taking a lead role in countering ISIS's financial network."
It further highlighted that the Trump administration should make clear to King Hamad and his inner circle that the dissolution of political societies and expulsion of all dissenters are unhelpful to political reconciliation, and that the only way to achieve full long-term security and stability is holistic reform.
The analysts pointed out that Bahrain is home to the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is essential to maintaining the free flow of commerce and energy resources in and around the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea; the island itself is a staging ground for critical anti-piracy operations, stressing that "as tensions escalate, a deteriorating security situation in the country may force the U.S. to consider an alternative location for its naval headquarters in the Gulf."
The Defense One article also asserted that Bahrain has long had a strong domestic opposition movement that crosses sectarian boundaries and includes all socioeconomic backgrounds.
"The ruling al-Khalifa family, despite redefining itself as a constitutional monarchy under the Kingdom's 2002 Constitution, functions closer to an absolute monarchy, where King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa is the center of all political life and the elected government (Council of Representatives) lacks any real power to check his decisions."
They further highlighted that in addition, decades of a political system designed to favor Sunni elites close to the ruling family has politically and economically marginalized many Bahrainis - particularly Shi'as, who make up 70 percent of the country's population, but also Sunni groups and secularist movements stemming from the middle class and business community.
"Despite successive rounds of dialogue, confidence-building measures, and various constitutional amendments, promised reforms have not materialized. Instead, King Hamad and his government anti-reformers have framed the pro-democracy movement as a security issue, and have tried to crush the opposition by imprisoning its leaders, disbanding its groups, and using other repressive tactics. Just this month, the Bahraini parliament passed a bill that bans leaders and members of dissolved political associations from standing in elections. Furthermore, the Bahraini court denaturalized 115 activists simultaneously, giving 53 of them life sentences on terrorism-related charges."
The political analysts stressed that while the 2011 uprising was mostly a call for reform, rather than regime change, the government's recent human rights abuses and lack of political reform have empowered underground radical groups who call for the regime's disintegration. "Making matters worse, the Bahraini government dissolved Wefaq and Waad, the most prominent of the moderate opposition groups."
The Defense One article went on to say that "Iran's rhetoric regarding the Bahraini government has escalated as well, noting that after Bahrain denaturalized the Shi'a cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim in 2016, IRGC head General Qassem Soleimani said that the action would "leave people with no other option but the toppling of the regime in armed resistance" and could "set the region on fire."
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