Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Bahrain: No Mood for Compromise

by Elliott Abrams
May 5, 2011

Medical personnel are the latest targets of a continuing crackdown in Bahrain.

According to a recent posting by the Project on Middle East Democracy, “The Bahrain News Agency reports that the Military Public Prosecution is questioning 47 medical and paramedical employees for their involvement in ‘the recent deplorable unrest which gripped the Kingdom of Bahrain.’” The personnel under investigation include 24 doctors and 23 nurses and paramedics. The report continues “Medical personnel were criticized throughout the unrest for treating those involved in the opposition and…medical treatment  was described as akin to supporting the opposition.”

But the crackdown is not limited to doctors and nurses. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights reports that “In recent developments, Bahraini authorities arrested two former members of Parliament from Al Wefaq political party: Matar Matar and Jawad Fairouz. MP Jawad Fairuz is known for highlighting government corruption and unfair distribution of lands as he attempted to bring the case to parliament. Matar Matar has been documenting violations and cases of disappearances and arrests through the Al Wefaq office.” Al Wefaq has been a moderate Shia voice, not involved in violent or extremist activities. The day before his arrest, Matar told al-Jazeera that the organization was committed to secular democracy in Bahrain.

What these two reports show is that the elite of the Shia community is being targeted—the best educated, the middle class, and in the case of the two members of parliament the politically active. The path back toward compromise is made that much more difficult with every passing day. The sectarian divide is widening, for the Government of Bahrain is making the issue Shia versus Sunni rather than constitutional change.

Similar reports come from NGOs in Bahrain. Shia workers are subject to mass firings; the press is being muzzled; detainees are being tried in military courts that deny due process, and four men were sentenced to death last week in military trials. As one report (not available on line) put it, “two and a half months since protests began in Bahrain, a government crackdown on opposition and dissent has left over 30 dead, more than 500 hundred people in detention and thousands either fired or suspended without pay. The government has launched a coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign aimed at justifying its treatment of the political opposition and Shi’a communities. The language used by government supporters often serves to deepen the sectarian divide in the kingdom and, in some cases, seems to seek to dehumanize the Shi’a majority.”

NGOs in Bahrain report that the opposition still wants a negotiated settlement: In one email, I was told that “Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in front of them, opposition societies continue to say that they are open to dialogue and desire reform through a negotiated process. They retain confidence in the trustworthiness of the Crown Prince as a potential interlocutor, though they have little faith he holds any power right now. Consistent in their demands, the opposition has remained committed to democratic reform under the structure of a constitutional monarchy and rejects the claims that its ultimate goal is the dismantling of the regime. Instead, leaders have called for a constituent assembly – inclusive of all sectors of Bahraini society – to debate and identify solutions to Bahrain’s current challenges.”

But the opposition has not found a willing partner in the government: a member of Al Wefaq said “the authorities are just not in the mood” and government supporters have privately said that the government should wait to pursue any dialogue until security and safety is restored. The problem, of course, is that “security and safety” as defined by the government may mean a worse and longer crackdown on all opposition and on the leadership of the Shia community.

The picture remains, then, very grim and the government seems unwilling now to follow any path to reconciliation. Perhaps the government, or at least a part of it, is counting on crushing the Shia and teaching them a lesson. Sadly for Bahrain, the only lesson such conduct can teach is that there will be no justice and no democracy until the royal family is gone. That outcome is more likely each day that serious negotiations about constitutional reform are delayed and repression of the Shia community continues.

Post a Comment 12 Comments

  • Posted by D.M.

    Is it legitimate to use the term apartheid to describe the attitude of the regime in Bahrain towards Shia?

  • Posted by B

    Thank you! Such reports help in revealing the horrible reality in Bahrain.

  • Posted by Waleed AlHamdan

    Clearly atrocities are being committed in Bahrain while the world is keeping silence. We should all spread the news about what the people of Bahrain are facing.

  • Posted by Nadia

    your report sir is credibility and analysis the real situations in Bahrain. Thank you for support the facts.

  • Posted by F

    the author of this article has not seen all the facts! we were revolting but our revolution was highjacked by sleeper cells in bahrain which serve the Iranian Republican Guard..

    there are various videos on youtube and millions of articles which explain and describe what im saying! Some articles include Statements from the Iranian Government, Hezbollah leaders, and the Iraqi congress which indicate that these 3 regimes, together, have ambitions to taking over the Gulf Council Countries including Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE (which Iran already invaded some parts of), Oman, and Some parts of Saudi. This is not some conspiracy or any government propaganda, if you just Google or YouTube “Iran claims the GCC is theirs” you’ll see millions of old and very recent articles and videos which explains this, including statements by the Iranian Minister of Militarily as recent as may 2nd.

    This revolution was our voice! but those people ruined it for us, and we need them “under control” so we can fix our country as one unite!

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Destroying the educated and productive cream of the Bahraini middle class is no way to solve their long term problems . When stupidity wins out they all lose .

  • Posted by Abbas

    What the govt achieved ? nothing at all .

  • Posted by Prof. Issac

    Only the weakest needs tyranny, almost 250 years and the ruling family in Bahrain has not gained the required political wisdom to rule Bahrainis with their consent.

  • Posted by FredWillie460

    Sirs before you pass comment on such claims maybe you should look a little closer at what went on at Salmaniyah Hospital during its occupation by protesters here in Bahrain.

    The claim that these people were arrested for treating injured protesters is no more than a propaganda ploy.

    The Hospital was used under the direction of the senior anti-government medical staff all Shia who used its as their HQ for the attempted coup from February 14th until it was recovered by the Government on the 16th of March.

    During this period only those sympathetic to the opposition were afforded treatment. Those excludes included 600000 expatriate workers like myself besides the Sunni half of the Bahrain population. Bahrain’s population is approx 1.2million

    Read a little more please and do some research on this matter as sadly this article from a respected writer does little to add to his reputation of fairness.

    See these two videos for starters –


    I have approximately 70 others all on a similar vein covering this abuse. Would it have be tolerated in any country, I think not! Those that perpetrated it are those that are arrested.



    it also involve Doctors, Doctors at the American Hospital in Bahrain and then decide just how twisted some of the opposition propaganda can be.

  • Posted by Media Without Compromise

    Hello there, I found your site by the use of Google at the same time as looking for a comparable topic, your website got here up, it seems to be good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  • Posted by The7Stars

    Definitely consider that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be at the internet the simplest thing to consider of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed at the same time as other folks think about issues that they just do not recognize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest and also outlined out the whole thing with no need side effect , other people could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks

  • Posted by Deshawn

    Hey there guys, newbie here. I’ve lurked about here for a little even though and thought I’d take part in! Looks like you’ve got quite a excellent place here

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required