By Ameen Izzadeen
(This article also appears in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)
It is not surprising that the United States is turning a blind eye to the butchery in Bahrain, a key US ally. While the Bahraini people cry for help and plead with the international community to save them from a tyrannical king, the United States seems to be more interested in protecting its strategic interests than being of some help to the besieged people of Bahrain.
The West’s apathy with regard to the crisis in Bahrain is in sharp contrast to its involvement in the conflict in Libya where it has imposed sanctions and initiated a process to declare a no-fly zone. After all, Bahrain’s tyrant is America’s tyrant. “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” That was how US President Franklin D. Roosevelt is supposed to have justified Washington’s support for the ruthless tyranny of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio (“Tacho”) Samoza. Very little has changed in US policy since that 1939 remark.
Like Samoza, Bahraini rulers are a law unto themselves and big-time human rights violators. Yet Washington will not call King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa a tyrant or a madman who is killing his own people. Perhaps, such descriptions are reserved for men like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez.
Videos posted on youtube show how pro-government thugs in Bahrain assault even female medics in a hospital for treating wounded protesters.
While pro-government thugs kill, wound and torture the protesters, US military chief Mike Mullen met King Hamad in February and assured him of the United States’ support for his regime and reaffirmed the United States’ strong commitment to the military relationship with the Bahraini defense forces. Early this week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited the king. A day after his visit, Saudi Arabia sent a thousand-strong force to Bahrain.
The king and his ancestors have been devout servants of the British and the Americans since the 18th century. In return for their servitude, the British in the past and the Americans at present have agreed to protect the kingdom – more precisely the royal family, the usurpers of the public wealth of Bahrain – against threats from Iran or other countries, and cover up its human rights excesses.
Many political philosophers of the 18th and the 19th centuries warned of the tyranny of the majority and called for a bill or rights to protect the minorities. But what we see in Bahrain is the tyranny of minorities.
Tyranny in all its forms should be condemned. But the tyranny of the minority is worse, for the number of people who suffer under such a system is greater than the number who suffer in a tyranny of the majority.
Perhaps, after the dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Bahrain remained the only country where a minority dictated terms to a majority. More than 70 percent of the Bahrainis are Shiite Muslims, but they have little or no say in the government. The king, a Sunni Muslim, shares little political power with the majority. Whenever the majority makes demand for political rights, he unleashes brutal force on them and justifies it on the grounds that the protesters are Iranian agents.
The Shiites form a mere 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population. But they are a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan.
The Bahraini rulers and their American protectors concur that if democracy is given to Bahraini people, it will pave the way for a Shiite dominant pro-Iranian government. Such an assumption has forced the Americans to look the other way when the Bahraini regime kills and wounds protesters. The US has another reason to support the regime: Bahrain, a country of 290 sq km — less than half the size of the Colombo District — with a 1.2 million population, half of whom are foreign workers, is home to the US Fifth Fleet, which occupies one fifth of the country’s land area.
The conflict in Bahrain is not between the Shiites and the Sunnis. Rather it is a conflict between people’s power and tyranny. All that the protesters want is an end to the sham democracy which King Hamad introduced a few years ago. Under this system, a parliament exists and elections are held. But the gerrymandered results keep the Shiites under-represented in parliament. Besides, the upper house which comprises members appointed by the monarch has powers to quash the decisions made by parliament. The king appoints the cabinet but he takes the final decision. Naturally, such a system is in effect a one-man show. It promotes nepotism, corruption and discriminatory practices. Almost all the top positions, including the top military posts, are held by the minority Sunnis.
Who wants such a democracy in a country where 90 percent are literate? But democracy in West Asia is public enemy number one for the United States. The US has virtually lost Egypt to pro-democracy forces. It cannot afford to lose Bahrain, which is the most servile of all the Gulf regimes, by supporting the pro-democracy voices.
Thus, the crackdown of the uprising not only serves the interests of the ruling sheikhs but also of the United States. Compounding the situation, if not making a bloody situation bloodier, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have sent troops to Bahrain to terrorise the unarmed populace. They are behaving like goons.
No such display of bravery or muscle-flexing can be expected from Saudi Arabia in defence of the Palestinian people who are being oppressed by the Israelis. A force which could not defeat the Houthi rebels in Yemen is now strutting about in Bahrain.
However much both Washington and Riyadh deny it, the Bahrainis believe, the Saudis have come to their country with the US nod. They see it as an invasion and ask the Americans why they do not call it an invasion.
Some of them see the Saudis as Sunni Wahhabi bigots who seek to eliminate Shiite Islam while others say the Saudis are simply serving their masters – the United States and Israel.