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December 5, 2011

Complicity in Bahraini Repression

The Canadian Charger

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The Arab Spring was attempting to poke its head from under the autocratic cold in sunny Bahrain back in February 2011. Demonstrations broke out in Manama's Pearl Square. Rulers of Bahrain are Sunni, while most Bahrainis are Shi'ite, so of course the charge was that it was all Iranian-inspired. As in the other cases, efforts were made to put the demonstrations down with brute force. Again as elsewhere, the repression was failing. That is, until other forces interfered.

Troops entered Bahrain from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and crushed the democracy movement.  Bahraini authorities then engaged in a thorough program of revenge.  Doctors and nurses were arrested in their hospital, where they were treating indiscriminatingly all the wounded from the clashes, protesters and members of the government forces.  And of course they along with others arrested were tortured.  They were also put on trial in a military court and sentenced to long prison terms.

Their trials have been overturned and they are now before civilian courts, where the outcome is unclear.  Apparently external pressures were responsible for the cancelling of the decisions of the military trials, as well as for the establishment of an independent legal team set up to investigate charges of brutality.  That body reported this November, describing in detail widespread and systematic torture.  A few cases of death under torture were noted.

So how are Canada and the United States involved?  Recall the ambiguous attitude of the two countries expressed toward events in Egypt while Mubarak was still in power.  For example, Harper took the occasion of the uprising for democracy to express the strong expectation that Egypt would continue to cooperate with Israel in relation to the Palestinians. 

Obama, whose Fifth Fleet is anchored in Bahraini waters, cautiously remarked, “In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability, but more are required.”  Like getting off the necks of the people?  He continued, “America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc–the Wifaq–to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people.”  Well, Obama, which side are you on?  You really want to keep that port open to the fleet.

And then, what about the invaders?  It is well known that the United States delivers billions of dollars of military weaponry to Saudi Arabia.  A Canadian company sells light armored vehicles to the Saudis, and just that kind of vehicles was used in the Saudi invasion of Bahrain.  While total direct Canadian sales of military goods to Saudi Arabia are relatively small, much of our military production is of parts that are supplied to the United States, so our part in putting down democracy in Bahrain is greater than the supply of the armored vehicles.

Currently the US Congress is toying with supplying Bahrain with more armaments. As reports, “A White House spokesman said the weapons would be strictly for Bahrain’s external defense.”  Washington is concerned about Iran, but Bahraini democrats are not immune to bullets that are labeled “for external use only.”

There is a US-UAE defense pact, which provides, among other things, for training of UAE forces.  This training will come in handy in any future hints of democracy in the region.  The UAE is also dealing with Reflex Responses, a private American military company, to aid their military capabilities.

Both Canada and the United States share responsibility for undermining the Bahraini version of the Arab Spring.  There is an old Latin slogan: “Pecunia non olet.”  Money does not stink.  Perhaps that slogan should replace “In God We Trust” on US currency.  In any case, the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain appears to be secure.

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M. Elmasry

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