Defenders of the crack-down in Bahrain have a story line. The government had to act to stop a down-hill slide into chaos and extremism fostered by Iran. The king’s goal was simply to freeze matters, and once that is done the time for compromise and concessions will have arrived.
It is not a bad story, but every action the Government of Bahrain has taken in the last month contradicts it. Instead of reaching out to the responsible Shia political leadership and middle class, the king and his government are jailing and harassing them. The Washington Post summed it up in a troubling story today: “The targeting of more educated and prosperous members of the Shiite community is particularly worrisome, say local analysts, who fear it could remove a moderating element in political life….Like their Sunni neighbors, many wealthier Shiites have enjoyed lives of relative ease in this land of high-end shopping malls, restaurants and luxury homes. But after joining in the February protests with poorer Shiites, who have generally borne the brunt of discrimination and government disfavor, even middle-class Shiites are now subject to the full force of the government’s ire, according to opposition leaders.”
This is the opposite of seeking compromise. As the Post reports, the crack-down “is reaching deep into Bahrain’s middle-class professions…potentially threatening the country’s long-term stability.” The government is now “targeting Shiites indiscriminately.”
It is difficult to understand why the king believes this path leads anywhere but exile in London for him and his family. Bahrain has a Shia majority (once estimated at 70 percent, but probably lower than that now due to a campaign of naturalization of foreign-born Sunnis, especially those who serve in the army and police). The current actions against the Shia community will embitter all its members and decapitate its moderate political, economic, religious, and moral leadership. Future compromises will be far more difficult, and are perhaps already impossible.
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