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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Bahrain Slips Further into Repression

by Elliott Abrams
June 18, 2016


The Project on Middle East Democracy sums up the week in Bahrain:

First, “A Bahraini court ordered the suspension of all activities by al-Wefaq, the island-nation’s largest opposition party. The Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry, which asked the court to issue the order, said al-Wefaq’s shuttering was needed to “safeguard the security of the kingdom….”

Second, “Bahraini authorities arrested prominent activist Nabeel Rajab at his home during the early hours of the morning of Monday, June 13. Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and he has reportedly been charged with ‘spreading false news.'”

Third, “Human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja was forced to flee Bahrain after her recent release from prison, saying that the government told the Danish embassy that if she did not leave the country she would be rearrested and separated from her son indefinitely.”

Fourth, “Bahrain refused to allow a delegation of human rights activists from attending the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on Monday. The five activists were given travel bans, the largest number of people Bahrain has placed under a travel ban at a single time, and prevented from traveling by passport officers at the Bahrain International Airport.”

Those are the developments in one week! It is in that context that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein criticized Bahrain and noted that “Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them.” Even Ban ki-Moon criticized these developments, a rare occurrence for a UN Secretary-General. Samantha Power tweeted that this was all “serious backsliding” on human rights, which is true, although it does not appear to affect U.S.-Bahraini relations in any visible way. The Brits are worse: in January the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said that Bahrain “is a country which is travelling in the right direction. It is making significant reform.”

That was nonsense in January and is even greater nonsense today. And it is dangerous, because the royal family is loading a powder keg. Grievances will grow, as Prince Zeid said, and so will violence, and repression, and more violence. And it is all a wonderful opportunity for Iran to continue and increase its subversion, preying on the real grievances the Bahraini Shia majority face.

What is U.S. policy? To speak softly and carry no stick. To tweet about the problem, but not to act. So the danger grows.

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