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The Politics of Democracy and Dissent

The Bahrain – Ukraine Duality

by RANNIE AMIRI

When President Obama recently spoke on “… the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked …” he was of course referring to Russia’s concerns over unrest in Ukraine and its subsequent troop movements into the Crimean Peninsula. No such “principle” was evoked, however, when Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain in March 2011 in its violent suppression of popular, pro-reform sentiment expressed by the overwhelming majority in the Gulf island nation.

Unlike Ukraine, the peaceful protests in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout did not depose a constitutionally elected government. Obviously, the centuries-old rule of the al-Khalifa family has never been by mandate at the ballot box. Likewise, adherence to the country’s National Action Charter put forward by King Hamad al-Khalifa has been solely to the extent of perpetuating dynastic rule.

Stephen F. Cohen, professor of Russian Studies and History Emeritus at New York University, describes how European and NATO agitation along Russia’s borders led to today’s conflict in Ukraine:

“… even though we always say that Russia and Putin invaded tiny little Georgia, the fact is that the war was begin [sic], by the American-backed military forces of Georgia– because they attacked Russian enclaves in Georgia.”

He elaborates, “And even if we just go back to this November, just a few months ago, when the protesters came into the streets in Ukraine, Putin said to Europe and Washington, why are you forcing Ukraine to choose between Russia and Europe? We’re prepared with Europe to do a kind of mini-Marshall Plan to bail Ukraine out. Let’s do it together. And that was refused by Washington and Brussels. And that refusal led to the situation today.

“… the fundamental issue here is that, three or four years ago, Putin made absolutely clear he had two red lines. You remember Obama’s red lines in Syria. But Putin was serious. One was in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. NATO and NATO influence couldn’t come there. The other was in Ukraine. We crossed both. You got a war in Georgia in 2008, and you have got today in Ukraine because we, the United States and Europe, crossed Putin’s red line. Now, you can debate whether he has a right to that red line, but let’s at least discuss it.”

In contrast, Bahrainis demands for a constitutional monarchy, elected prime minister, independent judiciary and representative parliament did not come at the hands of outside forces or foreign sponsors and by all accounts, are wholly indigenous. The vast majority of people support such reforms; they are not split as are Ukrainians between two competing spheres of power. The canard of Iranian interference in Bahrain’s affairs is nothing more than the tired refrain of Gulf dictatorships preying upon the sectarian and nationalistic fears of its people. Even former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said at the time, “I expressed the view that we had no evidence that suggested that Iran started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region.” WikiLeaks cables confirm allegations of Iranian interference to be unsubstantiated.

Three years ago, bolstered by the presence of the Saudi military and “Peninsula Shield” forces which made the quick, 16-mile trek across the King Fahd causeway, Bahrain’s security servies—90 percent of whom are non-Bahraini nationals—viciously cleared Pearl Roundabout. Tanks and bulldozers rolled in, riot police shot at the encamped, helicopters hovered overhead and fired at homes, hospitals were blocked and doctors beaten as they tended to the wounded.  The capital’s Salmaniya Hospital was besieged and soon became a center of interrogation, torture and resistance.

As of this writing, no violence has been perpetrated by Russian forces in Crimea and no shots have been fired.

In contrast to Obama’s rebuke of Putin, the crackdown in 2011 only elicited a call for “maximum restraint.”

Much has transpired in Bahrain since the Saudi invasion. One only needs to visit the website of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights to see how the show trials, imprisonment of pro-democracy activists, collective punishment and wanton human rights abuses have utterly devastated the society. This overt oppression has been ignored by the United States and its European allies, the same nations that now express outrage at Russia’s incursion into Crimea.

Professor Cohen notes how Russia has faced the increasing encroachment of NATO along its borders which, “… began 20 years ago when Clinton began the movement of NATO toward Russia, a movement that’s continued.”  Saudi Arabia on the other hand, dismayed at President Hosni Mubarak’s departure and panicked at the prospect that any home-grown, grass roots uprising would take hold, reacted swiftly and brutally when it unilaterally invaded Bahrain (the formal invitation of which came only came after tanks were on their way).

No fascists roam the poor, impoverished streets of Bahraini villages. No secretary of state has shed tears at the murdered and tortured.  No U.S. diplomat has commented on the flowers left at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout.  Whereas Putin has called for free presidential election in Ukraine, no Western power has ever issued a similar demand of Bahrain.

Bahrain and Ukraine may appear to share a similar narrative. But their differences, and the hypocrisy of Western nations in regards to each, could not be more striking.

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.