It was one of several protests last month that focused on Bahrain’s decades-old alliance with the US, which includes close military cooperation and a free-trade agreement. Days earlier, the Obama administration announced the resumption of arms sales after a seven-month suspension.
At the start of the uprising last year, a spokeswoman for the US Navy said that the protests “were not against the United States or the United States military or anything of that nature.”
That has changed. In a Shiite village, protesters burned US flags, and in another, a young man held up a sign reading, “The American administration supports the dictatorship in Bahrain.” Activists frequently liken US statements — condemning violence by both the government and its opponents — to Russia’s on Syria.
A senior Obama administration official said last month that the weapons sales would not include arms used for crowd control like tear gas. Security challenges required the sale, the official said, adding: “Maintaining our and our partners’ ability to respond to those challenges is an important component of our commitment to Gulf security.”
Officials framed the sales as an attempt to support Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who was visiting Washington at the time and is seen as representing a reform-minded faction in the government.
Many analysts say it is too late for such a strategy. After the uprising was put down by force in spring last year, they say, hard-liners in the government, backed by the Saudis, became ascendant, eclipsing the reform faction represented by the crown prince.
A young activist with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights who attended the march, Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, said he was unmoved by US assertions that the country was pressuring the Bahraini government.
“I don’t want to say [US Secretary of State] Hillary [Rodham] Clinton is lying,” he said. “I want to say this government doesn’t care.”
The US approach faced a critical test this month. Doctors who had been convicted in a military court for their participation in the popular uprising, on charges widely seen as political, appeared before an appeals court. Michael Posner, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, had taken up their case and said he had tried to get the government to dismiss the charges, several of the doctors said.
Posner was visiting Bahrain when the verdicts were announced: Nine of the convictions were upheld. He said the US was “deeply disappointed.”