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.

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Can Bahrain Save Itself?

by Elliott Abrams
June 3, 2011

The first real glimmers of positive news emerged from Bahrain in the last two days. The king lifted the state of emergency on June 1. He then called for “all necessary steps to prepare for a serious dialogue, comprehensive and without preconditions” that would “start from July 1,” and sent the interior minister to meet that same day with opposition parties. Those parties have now responded positively; the main group, al Wefaq, said it “welcomes the appeal from King Hamad for a serious, comprehensive dialogue based on the principle of national consensus.”

The Government of Bahrain has a great deal of ground to make up, and must persuade the opposition parties and its Shia population that this offer of dialogue is serious. Previous efforts have failed, largely due to the conduct of the security forces. Even this week, while the government talked of dialogue, the New York Times reports that “security forces attacked peaceful protesters in more than 20 villages with rubber bullets, stun grenades, shotguns and tear gas, according to human rights observers in Bahrain.”

Such conduct must stop or opposition leaders will be forced to suspend participation in any dialogue—even before it begins in July. Moreover, those discussions must cover how to deal with those who are now unjustly imprisoned and with the claims of those who were injured or killed this year. There must be some fair mechanism to investigate and punish abuses by the security forces.

This week Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheik Khaled, was in Washington meeting with U.S. Government officials and others interested in Bahrain, and next week Crown Prince Salman will visit here and see Secretary Clinton and the president. This is putting Bahrain’s best foot forward, for the crown prince is widely regarded as supportive of reforms and Sheik Khaled is a highly skilled and very popular envoy. According to Bahraini official sources, in the dialogue all constitutional reforms will be on the table. It is understood that some power must move from the king to the elected assembly, and that the assembly must be far more representative of Bahrain’s majority-Shia population than today’s gerrymanders permit. The impression I was given is that such objectives are acceptable to the king, and the main argument will be over timing and phasing of any reforms. It can’t happen all at once, officials say, especially “in our neighborhood” where Bahrain’s larger and richer neighbors will look askance at any serious progress toward constitutional monarchy.

Bahrain can save itself if the king is truly open to such reforms. Of course, the opposition must act responsibly as well—but its leaders have largely done so since the beginning of this crisis. The king, the crown prince, and Sheik Khaled should concentrate in the coming weeks on restraining police actions that can poison the atmosphere once again. Given the history of police abuses in the last several months, and the apparent divisions within the royal family over whether to crush the opposition or talk with it, this may be the greatest short-term challenge.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by Sayed

    If US truthful about support democracy, the people in Bahrain would achieve their dream which are fighting for from 1956 and read the history to know more about aspiration of Bahrainies to Democracy.

    I hope Obama Admin. put interests aside and support the people who believe US slogans about democracy.

  • Posted by Balbool

    Bahrain need to protect itself from being taken over by the neighboring Iran. Iran has great influence on the shiite and specially Al Wefak leaders. All those people who pushes under the cover of human right they better keep the next door beast at mind, otherwise like Iran managed to dominate Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the whole gulf will fall under their influence.

  • Posted by sincere bahraini

    What is your source of this article?
    This fake invitation to dialoue was clearly supported by many many intensive crackdown and killing of innocent peaceful protestors the next day.
    The trust is like an egg, once it is broken, then it is broken. He made millions of promisses and never made any of them true. This time Al khaleefa regime is having a real revolution.
    Your article will not help them, instead with these words you are suppoting them to humilate and kill people. Will you forgive yourself after doing this. I am in a pleace now where I can’t even breath because of the expired tear gas they have thrown on us. What does this mean? Is the invitation for dialogue serious.
    One more thing I suggest you read the reply of the opposition to this invitation. Our PM is the only “world wise” who has been chairing this position this long, before we were born.

    If Bahrain can save itself, why Al khaleefa regime brought troops from all over the area? Saudi Arabia, UAE, pakistan, yemen, syria, bathist … Even from israel. Yes behrain can save itself without the interference of all of these. Also I suggest you have a trip to bahrain to see yourself that the state of emergency has not been lifted.

    For you information, the king speach was the last hair which he has decided to cut between him and the nations here.

  • Posted by Isa

    What kind of article is this?

    The key “political” issue will be the role of an elected PM to replace the King’s uncle who has filled that role for 40 years, a world record (longer if we consider his rule pre-independence from the British). He is widely regarded, even by Monarchy apologists, as being a source of most of the corruption in Bahrain. If this issue isn’t sorted out, forget “stability” in Bahrain. This is a political reality.

    If you are really serious:
    The key civil rights reform would be a constitutional assembly/amendment that would enshrine individual rights and separate the judiciary from executive and legislature. That way we don’t have to get shot at & tortured when we want to discuss public policy.

  • Posted by John

    “The regime’s reform agenda, despite the rhetoric, will not encompass anything resembling a meaningful reduction in the power of the Khalifa [family] or a notable empowerment of Bahrain’s Shiite majority in particular,” said Wayne White, an expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington

  • Posted by John

    After months of brutalizing protesters, Bahrain’s government now says that it will lift a state of emergency beginning on Wednesday and soon begin a “comprehensive serious dialogue — without preconditions” on reforms. That is certainly what is needed. The monarchy has made similar promises before and not delivered.

    – NYTimes.com

  • Posted by Mohamad

    To have a realistic outcome, there needs to be a negotiated settlemet with all interested parties present at the table. This can be achieved within the framework of a special GCC summit. Otherwise the stalemate will continue on for some time.

  • Posted by Dreambox

    I never dreamed I would. I like everyone else.

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