President Obama on Situation in Bahrain

I recently wrote to President Barack Obama to ask him to speak up against the death sentences for some of those protesting for democracy in Bahrain. (This was before the Bahrain monarchist government threatened to prosecute some doctors and nurses for the deaths of patients they treated, or I would have written about that, as well). I just got a response and wanted to share it with you, so here it is. I have to say, it’s pitiful:

The White House, Washington


May 4, 2011

Dear Friend:


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.  I value your comments and inquiries.


I greatly appreciate the outpouring of messages from Americans across the country and around the world.  Some comments are supportive, others are critical, but all reflect the desire of Americans to participate in a dialogue about our common concerns and challenges.


To learn more about my Administration or to contact me in the future, please visit:  Thank you, again, for writing.



Barack Obama


Why the US Should Care about Democracy in Bahrain

If you follow me on Twitter (@jcberg) or read my Facebook page, you probably have noticed that I have been posting a lot of news stories about Bahrain, and maybe you wondered why. I want to explain my reasons for doing this.

When the massive pro-democracy protests in Bahrain broke out February 14, I knew very little about that country – just that it was small and located somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. I didn’t even know that it was an island, or that it was the home to the US Fifth Fleet.

However, as I learned more, I came to think that we Americans have a special responsibility for what happens in Bahrain, for several reasons:

  • Because, as mentioned, it is the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet. That means that the overwhelming military presence on the island is the US; anything they do, they do with the tacit approval of our government.
  • Because both the king of Bahrain and his patron, the king of Saudi Arabia, are completely dependent on the US for survival. We sell them almost all their weapons; without those, as absolutist rulers of small states, they would be swept away in an instant.
  • Because successive US governments, including the current one, have endorsed brutal despotism in Bahrain (and in Saudi Arabia) so that the profits of the oil companies will not be threatened.

Most Americans are like me – knowing nothing about Bahrain – so I felt obligated to try to spread the information around. In particular, I try to reenforce a few points:

  1. Bahrain is not a “moderate” country; when people say that, they just mean that it is friendly to Israel (and Israel is not moderate at all!) It is an absolute monarchy (there is a parliament, but the king appoints most members and can dismiss it at any time), and rules by violence and brutality. The king hires foreign mercenaries from Pakistan and other countries, so the troops will have less compunction about shooting down Bahrainis.
  2. This is not a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia. The royal family and the elite are Sunni, while a big majority of the people are Shia, and Shia do face a lot of discrimination – but a persistent sign and chant in the protests has been “No Sunni, No Shia, Only Bahrainis.” Some Sunni have been taking part, as well. However, the press in Bahrain is very tightl controlled by the king, and they have convinced many Sunni that the protesters are Shia Islamist fanatics controlled from the outside (see next point).
  3. Iran and Hezbollah have nothing to do with it. The government of Iran has been making statements about Bahrain, but these statements are condemned by the protesters whenever they make them.
  4. The goal of the protesters is democracy, not a religious state. Most want a constitutional monarchy, though a few have been so angered by the king’s brutality that they now want a republic.
  5. The King and other monarchists are out of touch with reality. They like to play that they are real royalty (the king proclaimed himself a king about 30 years ago). Right now their main concern is to bring a Grand Prix auto race, canceled because of the protests, back to Bahrain. The king likes to socialize with the royalty of Europe, and is making big plans for the royal wedding in England, to which he has been invited. (British activists are demanding that the invitation to this butcher be revoked).

There has been a near-blackout of the repression in Bahrain, which is very severe right now. Bloggers and twitter-users are being arrested and tortured; doctors and nurses are arrested if they try to treat people wounded in protests; and everyone is living in fear. This may be starting to change. There was a front-page story in the New York Times today, and a strong op-ed by Amy Goodman in the Guardian. We need to keep this up! Obama’s policy on Bahrain has been pretty cynical; there’s even a rumor that he told the king of Saudi Arabia that he would accept their invasion of Bahrain (they now have over 1,000 troops there) in return for Saudi acceptance of the intervention in Libya.

But Americans do believe in democracy, and if the current situation in Bahrain gets enough public attention, Obama will have to change his position. He could probably end the repression with a phone call; let’s make him lift the phone.