What The Hell Is Happening In Bahrain?

Scott Lucas at Enduring America

Andrew Sullivan

Michael Slackman and Nadim Audi at NYT:

Government forces opened fire on hundreds of mourners marching toward Pearl Square on Friday, sending people running away in panic amid the boom of concussion grenades. But even as the people fled, at least one helicopter sprayed fire on them and a witness reported seeing mourners crumpling to the ground.

It was not immediately clear what type of ammunition the forces were firing, but some witnesses reported fire from automatic weapons and the crowd was screaming “live fire, live fire.” At a nearby hospital, witnesses reported seeing people with very serious injuries and gaping wounds, at least some of them caused by rubber bullets that appeared to have been fired at close range.

Even as ambulances rushed to rescue people, forces fired on medics loading the wounded into their vehicles. That only added to the chaos, with people pitching in to evacuate the wounded by car and doctors at a nearby hospital saying the delays in casualties reaching them made it impossible to get a reasonable count of the dead and wounded.

Nicholas Kristof at NYT:

As a reporter, you sometimes become numbed to sadness. But it is heartbreaking to be in modern, moderate Bahrain right now and watch as a critical American ally uses tanks, troops, guns and clubs to crush a peaceful democracy movement and then lie about it.

This kind of brutal repression is normally confined to remote and backward nations, but this is Bahrain. An international banking center. The home of an important American naval base, the Fifth Fleet. A wealthy and well-educated nation with a large middle class and cosmopolitan values.

To be here and see corpses of protesters with gunshot wounds, to hear an eyewitness account of an execution of a handcuffed protester, to interview paramedics who say they were beaten for trying to treat the injured — yes, all that just breaks my heart.

So here’s what happened.

The pro-democracy movement has bubbled for decades in Bahrain, but it found new strength after the overthrow of the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. Then the Bahrain government attacked the protesters early this week with stunning brutality, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and shotgun pellets at small groups of peaceful, unarmed demonstrators. Two demonstrators were killed (one while walking in a funeral procession), and widespread public outrage gave a huge boost to the democracy movement.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa initially pulled the police back, but early on Thursday morning he sent in the riot police, who went in with guns blazing. Bahrain television has claimed that the protesters were armed with swords and threatening security. That’s preposterous. I was on the roundabout earlier that night and saw many thousands of people, including large numbers of women and children, even babies. Many were asleep.

I was not there at the time of the attack, but afterward, at the main hospital (one of at least three to receive casualties), I saw the effects. More than 600 people were treated with injuries, overwhelmingly men but including small numbers of women and children.

Nitasha Tiku at New York Magazine:

On Bahrain TV, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa called for open communication, saying, “The dialogue is always open and the reforms continue. This land is for all citizens of Bahrain.” He added, “We need to call for self-restraint from all sides, the armed forces, security men, and citizens.”

As in Egypt, the White House is in the awkward position of asking for restraint from a longtime strategic ally, while not appearing to directly oppose the regime. After four protesters were killed on Wednesday night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “expressed deep concern about recent events and urged restraint moving forward.”

As the government turned to violence, the protesters, who vowed to repeat Egypt’s nonviolent model, have likewise grown more aggressive. Early on they called for a transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. Then, reports the Times, “On Thursday, the opposition withdrew from the Parliament and demanded that the government step down. And on Friday, the mourners were chanting slogans like ‘death to Khalifa,’ referring to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.”

Stephen J. Smith at Reason:

Despite denials from sources close to the Bahraini government, credible rumors of Saudi tanks and troops on the ground in Bahrain are widespread, as the ruling Bahraini House of Khalifa desperately reasserts control in the capital after initially ceding the central Pearl Square to tens of thousands of anti-government protesters. The House of Saud, as you may recall, has a strong interest in ensuring that the Shiite-driven unrest in Bahrain doesn’t spill over to Saudi Arabia’s own Shiite-manned oil fields.

In addition to the Nicholas Kristof tweet that Jesse Walker posted earlier (more here), which suggested that Saudi troops were stopping ambulances from helping protesters injured in the surprise midnight attack (and that’s not the only suggestion of medics being prevented from helping), there are a few reports that Saudi tanks may have arrived on the island. One Spanish racing team owner (Bahrain was set to host the season-opening Formula 1 Grand Prix next month, something which is now very much in doubtclaimed that “there are Saudi tanks everywhere.” An Iranian news organization is claiming the Saudis sent hundreds of tanks and personnel carriers in from Qatar, which it backs up with a video of armored personnel carriers rolling down a highway in Manama, though I can’t confirm that those are actually from Saudi Arabia. The Guardian writes, somewhat ambiguously: “Tanks and troops from Saudi Arabia were reported to have been deployed in support of Bahraini forces.”

Regardless of whether or not Saudi troops and tanks actually took part in the brutal early morning attack that dislodged the protesters from Pearl Square, the Khalifas have taken measures to prevent their own security forces from sympathizing with the mostly Shiite Bahraini protesters. For years the Sunni rulers of Bahrain have been accused of recruiting foreign riot police and naturalizing them in an effort to avoid an Egypt-like situation where low-level officers refuse orders to fire on their countrymen. As a result, few among the Bahraini security forces speak the local dialect, and some of the Pakistanis don’t speak Arabic at all.

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Obama condemned that violence Friday in a written statement that also sought to quell reprisals against pro-democracy activists in Yemen and Libya, saying:

I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur. We express our condolences to the family and friends of those who have been killed during the demonstrations. Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights including the right to peaceful assembly. The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests, and to respect the rights of their people.

Obama’s statement maintained the stance he took as Egypt’s protests unfolded — where protesters at first met police resistance and then, after police left the streets, where gangs of Mubarak supporters turned violently on protesters and journalists. Throughout that turmoil, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton steadfastly called on the Egyptian government to avoid violence and respect the “universal rights” of Egyptian citizens.

The picture from Bahrain, however, appears grimmer for pro-democracy activists, as police opened fire on the protestors Friday. The New York Times reports that shots were fired from at least one helicopter.

Vodka Pundit at Pajamas Media:

I know some Glenn Beck fans are probably reading this, but anarchy is a much more likely outcome than Caliphate. Not that either result would be especially good for our interests. Al Qaeda & Co thrive in failed states — but what happens in a failed region?

Truth be told, the Arab world has been failing for a long time. The region combines a long history of Ottoman oppression, lingering resentment from the fleeting period of Western colonialism, ballooning populations and shrinking economies, a malign fascination with Nazi racial theories and Soviet-style politics, and the skewed absurdities of oil wealth and Western aid. Shake it all up with the murderous and nihilistic resentments of Islamic fundamentalism, and you get lots of angry, well-armed people with no experience in self-governance and lots of scapegoats in need of a good killing.

This will get worse before it gets better.

Ashley Bates at Mother Jones

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