Middle East

The Crackdown in Bahrain


The New York Times reports from Bahrain:

Without warning, hundreds of heavily armed riot police officers rushed into Pearl Square here early Thursday, firing shotguns, tear gas and concussion grenades at the thousands of demonstrators who were sleeping there as part of a widening protest against the nation's absolute monarchy.

At least five people died, some of them reportedly killed in their sleep with scores of shotgun pellets to the face and chest, according to a witness and three doctors who received the dead and at least 200 wounded at a hospital here. The witness and the physicians spoke in return for anonymity for fear of official reprisals.

The military said later it had taken control of most of the capital and banned protests, The Associated Press reported. The announcement on state television said the military had "key parts" of Manama "under control," hours after the killings.

That just scratches the surface of what's going on in Bahrain right now. Nicholas Kristof tweets this allegation, for example:

1 #Bahrain ambulance driver told me #Saudi army officer held gun to his head, said wld kill him if helped injured.

In Egypt, ordinary soldiers refused to fire on demonstrators, helping turn the tide against the dictatorship. That may be less likely if the Bahraini protesters find themselves facing foreign troops rather than soldiers embedded in the local community. (*) Then again, this is a transnational revolutionary moment. Saudi soldiers might not have time to hold the line in Bahrain if they're preoccupied by an uprising at home.

Bonus link: "A Wikileaks Primer on the Cozy US-Bahrain Relationship."

* Addendum: "Foreign" is a relative term. Bahrain's domestic enforcers aren't exactly embedded in the local community either.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Violence in Mideast Protests, House Budget Cuts, Machine Beats Man

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  1. The continued support for Saudi Arabia is the biggest mistake of US foreign policy.

    1. But for some reason liberals’ concern about sustainability morphs into worrying about “the evil corporations” instead of our continued support of a dictatorship so our carbon emissions are cheaper.

      1. riight…like exxon aint involved in those carbon emmissions. ah huh…

      2. The big concern this morning seemed to be the sexual assault on a CBS reporter in Egypt. It certainly took top-billing over the events in Bahrain.
        Oh, and the latest bulletin on Cong. Gifford’s recovery (who, as a Blue Dog Democrat, was unremarked by the national media until she was shot by a lunatic Beck-listening teabagging hate mongering Rove-channeling racist.)

        1. the latest bulletin on Cong. Gifford’s recovery

          I wish her all the best, but if we *must* have updates they should be, say, once a year.

        2. That’s probably because Bahrain is the Liechtenstein of the Middle East.

      3. To be fair, I’ve seen and heard a lot of liberals lambaste our support of the Saudis.

    2. affenkopf|2.17.11 @ 9:24AM|#
      The continued support for Saudi Arabia is the biggest mistake of US foreign policy.

      It is definitely one of the top ten.

  2. In 899 AD, a millenarian Ismaili sect, the Qarmatians, seized the country and sought to create a utopian society based on reason and the distribution of all property evenly among the initiates.


    1. Heh. I did a paper on the Carmathians in college, way back when.

    2. If they’re so reasonable, why don’t they use a gorram “U” like the rest of the world?

  3. From what I understand the gulf states hire a high percentage of foreigners for the low level jobs in the military and police, promising them citizenship. The locals don’t like these jobs since they aren’t high prestige while at the same time they don’t like the foreigners moving into their countries and ordering them around. So I guess it depends on whether the security forces like their paychecks more then they like the protesters.

    1. This. In the gulf states the rank and file are largely Pakistani or Bangladeshi and serve in the armed forces for quite a bit more than they would get at home (though I doubt if they are offered citizenship). Don’t expect them to have the same sympathies towards the protestors as the Egyptian Army.

      1. Don’t expect them to have the same sympathies towards the protestors as the Egyptian Army.

        True. At the same time, they’ve got plenty of grievances of their own. I wonder if the Bahraini protesters have any plans to try to use that as a wedge.

        1. Jesse-maybe. I doubt if the jundis have a lot of love lost for their officers (the military jobs that the natives take). Still it may come down to the common soldier deciding where their bread gets buttered-as you say, if the protestors are smart, they might be able to use that to their advantage.

      2. Ummm…not sure about the Police (of which there are many, many, many kinds), but the military in the UAE is composed primarily of Emiritis, though they have started to change that over much discussion and hand-wringing.

        It makes sense (of a sort) in Bahrain, where the majority Islamic sect is not the ruling one. But in the other Gulf States, Sunnis rule and compose the majority (of locals).

        Bahrain is fairly unique.

        1. Tinon19-I know that large parts of the Armies of both Qatar and Kuwait are expats.

          1. UAE must be an outlier in that sense and they’re the ones late to the ex-pat army party. I have no idea of Oman’s situation. I’m almost certain that Saudi is mostly a Saudi military.

            1. Timon19-the Saudi army is probably almost entirely native. Because the Saudi population is so much larger than the population of the gulf states (at least for those considered citizens) the oil money is spread a lot more thinly in the KSA and the natives have a greater incentive to join the rank and file than in their gulf neighbors.

    2. I saw a similar report. Basically, they hire Sunni Pakistanis for police jobs and give them citizenship to offset the Shia majority.

      One other thing, I saw a picture of armored vehicles heading to the crackdown and, wouldn’t you know it, 2 of the 4 vehicles were Humvees. Once again, it’s nice to know my tax dollars are being used to murder peaceful protesters.

    3. Also, the country is 70% Shi’ite. For the most part, those are the ones protesting. Bahrain is one of the most liberalized countries in the Middle East, ie: women can drive and work, no hijabs, etc. I’m all for freedom and protesting the government, but the vast majority of the unrest is fomented by their version of SoCons (and don’t think for a second that if the protesters somehow take over the government it won’t turn into a mini-Iran).

      Having said all that, it’s still not cool to kill peaceful protestors.

      1. Having said all that, it’s still not cool to kill peaceful protestors.

        What if that’s an effective way to defend your liberty?

        In much of the world the gen’l level of civility isn’t high enough to take the chance on someone else (who might well be innocent) taking the 1st shot. If killing the (possibly temporarily) peaceful protestors — and their babies and dogs — is what you need to do to make sure women keep being allowed to drive and work, then do it.

  4. Hey, rest of the Arab world!

    Take note. This is how you handle people demanding change. Those pussies running Egypt could have had that shit wrapped up on the third day if they’d have come out swinging. (Exhibit A: Iran last year. Exhibit B: Bahrain this week.)


    1. Iran this week too.

  5. I’m upset at the lack of gassing and skullcracking in Madison, WI. You think this is a joke!? Let’s break erm!

  6. I may be wrong, but my impression was that until last night the King was not all that unpopular and that these protests were more of a demand for reforms and better treatment of the Shia majority.

    I can understand that a king who’s only a generation or two removed from outright feudalism may not want to go all Scandinavian style constitutional monarchy but you think he’d at least maybe look to the British Royals for advice.

    This action last night may have this king facing the fate those old frog bastards got.

    1. Any chance this was done without consulting the king — that the military/security forces are flexing their muscle without the royal OK?

  7. Oh please. There is an easy way to ensure that the soldiers will *always* fire at the crowd when told to. Use a round-robin foreign mercenaries system:

    Soldiers from Bahrain are used to suppress the uprisings in Saudi Arabia.
    Soldiers from Saudi Arabia are used to suppress the uprisings in Kuwait.
    Soldiers from Kuwait are used to suppress the uprisings in Bahrain.

    Soviet Union used similar setup for years – soldiers from Middle Asian part of USSR didn’t have a slightest problem firing at the civilian crowd during Novocherkask uprising.

  8. How do you feel about a privatized police force, Jesse?

  9. This is zionist plot to usurp the kingdom! Jews!

  10. Why do all these revolutions take place in a square? Aren’t there any public circles?

    1. I know you were being funny, but Pearl Square is actually a roundabout.

  11. It took a while, but Obama and Hillary spoke up meekly for the right of Egyptians to protest. Will they comment on the violence from the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?

  12. Hmmm. Where have I heard Bahrain mentioned before.

    Oh yeah, headquarters of the Fifth Fleet.

  13. Oooh, yippee! Is this where we find out that other countries in the Middle East aren’t like Egypt?

  14. Perhaps the king of Bahrain would like to borrow a few of the American assassins that senior US politicians have been calling on the “take out” that dangerous Mr Julian Assange who has, after all, been leaking the dark secrets of the Gulf . This is no time for the US to start standing up for freedom and democracy around the world. Christ! That would call for a major policy shift!

  15. The time of the people is at hand. Snipe and be sarcastic all you want. The regimes will fall. And, not just in the middle east. They are going to fall all over the world. The twitter effect isn’t going away, people. Unfortunately, just like in America, just because the people will be able to vote doesn’t mean they are going to get anything worth singing about.

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