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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Iran and Bahrain

by Elliott Abrams
August 31, 2011

Defenders of the royal family in Bahrain and its suppression of protests calling for greater democracy often claim that the protests are in fact Iranian-inspired and even Iranian-run. Needless to say, the leaders of the various protest movements deny this angrily.

I have tended to view these Bahraini government claims as unreliable and probably false, for it is too easy simply to paint the (mostly Shia) opposition as unpatriotic and tied to the Iranian regime. But now there is evidence that in at least one case, the accusations are correct. The Evening Standard newspaper in London revealed this week that the “Bahraini Freedom Movement” in London appears to be an Iranian front organization.

The article states that:

Saeed Shehabi, 56, runs the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement, which seeks to topple the King of Bahrain’s dictatorship. But today it can be revealed that Dr Shehabi has made speeches supporting Iranian hardliners, and worked for 13 years in offices owned by the government of Iran….A Standard investigation found that the offices near Old Street where Dr Shehabi worked for 13 years are owned by the “Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran”. When he started working there in the Nineties it was owned by Proudrose Ltd. Records show Proudrose’s mortgage was lent by the Iranian government and one of its directors, Dr Ali Helmi, is the cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in London.

These facts, and others noted by the Standard, suggest that Shehabi is no human rights activist nor a genuine proponent of democracy in Bahrain. They do not, of course, discredit the Bahraini opposition nor do they justify the ways in which it has been repressed—sometimes brutally—by the government. But they are a reminder that Iran is indeed mucking around in Bahraini politics and that Bahrain has a legitimate interest in preventing this. Moreover, they should elicit strong denunciations from every genuine human rights organization in Bahrain, for Shehabi has damaged the cause.


Post a Comment 15 Comments

  • Posted by Joseph

    Mr. Abrams,

    As an American citizen living as a resident in Bahrain, I applaud your acknowledgement of the existence of the other side in Bahrain. The media’s refusal to at least look into what has actually been happening in this country makes them partly guilty of encouraging the radicals who are causing chaos here to continue. I myself have witnessed baldfaced lies about actual events, spread on Blackberry messenger and Twitter reported as fact in numerous Western media sources and even Al Jazeera. The media has a responsibility to get the facts right before reporting stories. They also need to consider that perhaps not all of their trusted sources are telling the truth. So many of the stories on Bahrain have been skewed and inaccurate.

    I hope this is the beginning of a season of fair reporting on events that happen here.

  • Posted by Ahmed

    Iran has definitely had an interest in Bahrain politics, it is a neighbor and a very sensitive one. However, Saeed Shehabi among other members hardly represent the majority of the opposition. They are pretty vocal, however, and make it sound as if they do. Government does have a right to defend itself but putting the blame on all the opposition, and henceforth cracking down on a full sect is a bit of a joke.

  • Posted by Jamie

    What a shame. The government of Bahrain does not want Shehabi and mushaimea to engage in the dialouge because they are not reprensent Bahrain people as they said, while now pro-government says shehabi represent the majority of Bahrain people ! Huh. In case of Bad you will say he represent but in case of good no he is not represent ! Double policy minded! yes Iran support Bahrain people and Iran support all reveloutions. but as USA said Iran want to take advantage of Bahrain tense but there is no iranian hands in the uprise. Bahrain is for Bahrainis , Death to Alkhalifas

  • Posted by D. Crane

    The question as to Iranian influence is somewhat immaterial. Certainly, the critical factor regarding Iranian influence is the consequences that this influence may have should there be a change in the various branches of the Bahraini government. The fact that the voices of the protest movement are unequivocally demanding drastic governmental reform without any viable alternatives is more worrying: the dissolution of the current government without offering members with an appropriate level of expertise required for the functioning of key Ministries; the abolition of the constitution without any consensus on how a new constitution will be formed or what it will contain; the reorganisation of the security apparatus without a realistic notion of how to maintain law and order.These facets of regime change form the crux of sustaining Bahrain’s place as a liberal and aspiring democratic state. If the anti-governmental voices are successful in achieving regime change but these problems are not addressed, the power vacuum that will undoubtedly result will unquestionably be filled by Iranian influence. Therefore, the more important issue that needs to be considered is not the short-term impact Iran may be creating. Rather (given the fact that Wefaq walked out of Parliament) the longer term results of empowering a supposedly pro-democratic movement, that has thus far shown nothing but an inability to effectively employ the vehicles of democracy, is something which bears a far more discomforting posture.

  • Posted by Shihaby

    Whenever a pro-government citizen stands up to these rioters, they simply deem him as a mercenary or a government employee. When they riot and the government cracks down, they say the government is too violent, when the king pardoned most of the rioters who were apprehended and encouraged them to report any abuse they received, they called his speech a joke. Reasoning with these people is impossible.

  • Posted by AlAmmari

    The Shiite opposition made some much lies that in the end thir lies back fired .
    The media had supported the those lies for so long I’m so glad to read someone discovering the truth and publish it.
    Thank you.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    A power vacuum in Bahrain is exactly what Iran wants . There’s more here than simply what was uncovered by THE EVENING STANDARD .

  • Posted by S. Mohammed

    Iran’s desire to expand its influence into the islamic world as a whole beyond the sunni/shia, arab/persian split has been a major goal of the islamic republic from day one.
    This policy manifests itself in many ways including courting the greater islamic world and trying to bridging the arab persian divide with the pro-palestinian, ant-isreali rhetoric.

    Bahrain has served as a testing ground for these initiatives since the early seventies. The first “major incident” that opened the government’s eyes to the extent of Iran’s plans, was the uncovering of a mass assassination attempt of the royal family by the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain headed by Al-mudarasi.

    The plan was to be executed by a group of armed men in imitation police and army uniforms, as the royal family members and the emir attended a funeral.

    Many link this incident to Bahrain’s heavy sunni recruitment in the army, and security forces.

    Over the years Bahrain has downplayed links to Iranian involvement to avoid inflaming the delicate sunni/shia.

  • Posted by Malorie Fowlie

    I will be taking your advice thanks! Looking forward to more news

  • Posted by Mariam Janahi

    This is not the time for “blame”. Bahrainis of all sects can see what is currently happening and where we are heading. It is time to stop and think hard – what we all should do is to stop the divide from getting wider and wider. The Goverment responsibilities (among other things) are to maintain law and order and enforce these on EVERYONE without discrimination. It is the responsibility of clerics to spread words of reconciliation, building bridges and bringing people together and not use their positions to spread hatred and dispise. It is the responsibility of all of us at homes not to use abusive,derogatory and recist terms. Its is our responsibilty to bring up our children as true citizens who respect and understand their role and accountabilities within the community. It is time to stop and acknowledge that big mistakes have been committed against Bahrain and its more honorable to admit and move on rather than persist on the path of denial.

    Mariam Janahi

  • Posted by lex birch

    On Feb 14 most ppl in Bahrain were behind the call for change and supported the chance for talks. Things changed drastically when the thugs threw the first stone, and turned the entire demonstration into a seriously violent stream of riots. Innocent ppl were stopped from going about their daily routines by these increasingly dangerous gangs on the roads and the economy was almost brought to a standstill when they invaded the financial centre. Iran was the fuel that kept the fire alive, without a doubt. ppl living in Bahrain know this, the governments both national and international know this, embassies in Bahrain have confirmed this, but the media still believe the lies of thugs and rioters rather than official channels. Some so-called journalists like Nic Robertson and Kris Kristof (who were paid handsomely by Iran)have personally had a hand in almost toppling a good King and government. Bahrain is not Libya, neither Syria, and anyone who thinks it is, is sadly misinformed. i hope that the media of the world takes a good look at the situation in Bahrain, learns more about it, and tries to put right what they so sadly have made wrong. instead of fighting for prizes and recognition maybe they should begin the clean up process and help restore Bahrain to its original glory.

  • Posted by Ali

    It is good to know that some peoople are actually joining the “missing” jigsaw pieces. The people in Bahrain have been annoyed by the protestors who have been causing nothing but riots (burning tyres, demolition of street lights and electric poles, blowing loud horns at night, using moltov cocktails, stabbing people who are pro-government) off course that these rioters don’t even make up 15% of the whole Bahrainis. Another thing is that Not ALL Shiites are anti-governement! People who are attached to the Freedom Movement of Bahrain who is linked down to Ali Salman and Mushaima and their pals; all have the same agenda of causing chaous and making a “welayat al faqeeh” state (welayat al faqeeh state is like the old ages when the church over powered the government). Living in this kind of state does not support “freedom” as these protestors declare. For example look at all the people who live in this old age state; they are suffering and most of its people are poor. Unlike Bahrain where schooling is for Free, medical care is for Free, Housing is for Free, and there is so much support for the unemployed, widowed and the families of the deceased, as well as the King is very kind and sweet hearted. He has provided all the families in Bahrain by removing all the existing loans (if anyone had one) and constantly supports his people. Looking at neglecting media really does reflect a false, biased, unthorough and even a shameful name for this country. But while in fact it is a place, a home, a haven; where every Bahraini is proud to be one; we are one. I hope one day that the opposing media stops broadcasting false information and take a look at what really is happening, causing what is really happening is just a big scenario of huge drama queens and nothing but scandulous gigs.
    Long Lives the King!!!!

  • Posted by John Lubbock

    It’s really a shame to see these allegations being refracted around the internet. If you look at the substance of the allegations, they are pretty weak. He rented an office owned by Iran, but he left that office over 10 years ago (not mentioned by the article). He said something sympathetic about the Iranian revolution, which was not just an Islamic revolution. And he is attributed a quote which makes him sound guilty of something. Also the title of the article is misleading – what ‘files’ is it referring to?

    Before reprinting pretty weak allegations, journalists should think for themselves if there is any political motivation behind them.

  • Posted by Shihaby

    @John Lubbock

    The same could be said about ANYTHING that is reported about Bahrain. Just because you interview a person who claims to have been beaten/witnessed a beating doesn’t mean it’s true. But somehow a random person’s words are more credible than a well known fact that every Bahraini knows?

    A 15 year old boy was found dead a couple of days ago in Sitra, Bahrain. What was the first thing to be said? He died due to gas canisters that the riot police have been firing. Autopsy report: No gas has been inhaled by this person, cause of death was a broken neck. Suddenly the “witnesses” change their claim that he was shot in the neck by a gas canister.


    All these rumors floating around do is hurt this boy’s family, it’s bad enough that they lost their son, now they have to endure the onslaught of rumors and accusations.

    The media craves trouble, trouble sells papers and gains viewers. You will very rarely see an article/report about something that the government did properly, because no one wants to read that, everyone wants to know what the latest “scandal” is.

    Don’t believe everything the media spits out.

  • Posted by 22

    Eric Lubbock – Lord Avebury – has long presented Saeed Shehabi as a “human rights activist” and is up to his eyeballs in this Iran scandal as much as Shehabi. When is Lord Avebury going to recognize the cynicism of inviting enthusiasts for Iran’s revolution, which killed tens of thousands, to speak on human rights at the House of Lords?

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