Thu, May 12, 2011 - Page 9 News List

West turns blind eye to crackdown by Bahraini rulers

By Alistair Lyon  /  Reuters, BEIRUT

LIBYAN DIFFERENCE

Western officials deny that military action against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi versus rebukes for Bahrain reflect hypocrisy.

“There is a complete difference between the two circumstances,” British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said last week, citing Libyan and Arab League calls for Western action to halt Qaddafi’s intent to kill his own people. “We’ll continue to make representations to Bahrain, but in Bahrain there was a political process of dialogue between respective factions which we would encourage to be continued.”

Saudi intervention, however, stymied any immediate prospects of political dialogue in Bahrain, as hard-liners in the ruling al-Khalifa family silenced reformists led by the crown prince.

Washington has offered only muted criticism of its Bahraini ally in public, although even some Shiite politicians acknowledge it has raised its voice in private.

“There was sustained pressure from Western governments, especially the US, but it was low-profile, given the friendly relationships with Bahrain,” Wefaq’s Jasim Husain said.

The US, trying to balance its interests and its ideals as revolts threaten its Arab friends and foes alike, has struck a middle course on Syria, an old antagonist.

It has tightened sanctions to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of force against demonstrators, but has stopped short of calling for the overthrow of a regime it sees as a vital, if unsavory, component in regional stability.

“Bahrain escaped the kind of criticism Syria got out of deference to Saudi Arabia, which has absolutely no interest in reforms in Bahrain, let alone regime change,” Murhaf Jouejati, a Middle East scholar at George Washington University, said. “Moreover, Bahrain, an ally of both Saudi Arabia and the US, is home to the US Fifth fleet and Washington has every interest in the continued dominance of the pro-American and anti-Iranian Bahraini monarchy.”

For now, Bahrain may have jammed the authoritarian lid back on, at a significant cost in national trauma, sectarian rancor and regional tension. It is hard to imagine the story is over.

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