Prior to independence, the British with mercenaries from India helped the royal family crush any popular protest or uprising. Things didn’t change much afterwards; upon independence, Ian Henderson, a ruthless colonial police officer, who previously crushed the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, was the Head of Security in Bahrain. He served there for 30 years until his retirement in 1998. In effect, he established the infamous security and intelligence apparatus in Bahrain, and secured the absolute reign of Al Khalifa with his reign of terror. He famously became known as the “Butcher of Bahrain”. He received many royal medals from Bahrain and Britain’s monarchs. After retirement, he now assumes an advisory position to the King, living in his mansion in Bahrain, and traveling freely to the UK and back. The British have dominated the national security agency (secret police) long after independence.
Western governments’ complicity doesn’t stop at this. Bahrain receives annual American military aid; in 2010, it received $19 million in military aid. Since the 90s, Bahrain was given dozens of American tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopter gunships. The US also supplied Bahrain with “enough .50 caliber rounds (used in sniper rifles & machine guns) to kill every Bahraini four times over”. Bahrain is also sold relatively large shipments of arms from the US & UK. From 2007 to 2009, the Pentagon sold $386 million in arms to Bahrain. In a 12-month period from October 2009, US arms sales to Bahrain reached more than $200 million. In 2001, the US designated Bahrain a “Major Non-NATO Ally”. Bahrain also participates in joint military exercises with the American Army.
Among the equipment sent to Bahrain from the UK are: CS grenades, smoke ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition, tear gas/riot control agents, thunderflashes and other riot control equipment. There are also three fulltime British advisers to the Bahraini police. Relationship gets cozier; King Hamad has donated $149,000 to the Sandhurst military academy and given valuable gifts to many British politicians. Furthermore and from France, Sarkozy’s security adviser, Alain Bauer, has been actively supervising and reorganizing Bahrain’s security forces for the past two years (He also negotiated sending arms to Tunisia the same day Ben Ali fled the country). On top of all that, Bahrain is hiring Western PR companies to polish its stained image; Washington based companies: Qorvis Communications and the Potomac Square Group, along with London’s Bell Pottinger. This campaign also focuses on online activism, the Oslo Freedom Forum’s email along with that of the UN Human Rights Office was targeted by an orchestrated email bombardment of government propaganda.
It should also be noted that more than half of Bahrain’s security forces (estimate is 20,000) are foreigners from Pakistan, Iraq (Saddam’s brigades), Syria & Yemen. Majority of these foreign forces are ex Pakistani soldiers (around 10,000 according to sources) and are mainly from the Baluchistan region. Just a month after protests erupted, 1000 Pakistanis were recruited; tests and interviews were conducted by Bahraini officials and an American instructor. (Can you imagine Iran or Syria hiring soldiers from US ally, Pakistan, with the help of an American instructor to crush their own citizens’ demands?) Also, Pakistan deployed a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment over a year ago in Bahrain to train local troops. This is not to mention training GCC armies and security personnel (who entered Bahrain on March 13th) receive from the UK, US and others.
In Bahrain, the issue also has an ugly sectarian face. The government has been keenly trying to alter the demography through political naturalization of Sunnis from other nations. Active discrimination against Shiites in Government posts, military, and security apparatus is well noted. The government has also stirred and ignited sectarianism and hate against Shia even before the events. When protests erupted with majority Shia participation and notable Sunni presence, the government took its witch hunt against Shia to another level. The policy of Dividing the society and targeting the Shia became key to government’s media propaganda espeically accusing them of being agents of Iran. In the first few days of protests, NYTimes reporter, Michael Slackman was caught by security forces, and when he pulled out his passport in fear, an officer responded: “Don’t worry! We love Americans! We’re not after you. We’re after Shia”. When martial law was announced by the King, crushing the Shiite population was the clear aim; security forces and thugs targeted their villages, mosques, cars, children, women, doctors, nurses, activists, bloggers, journalists, workers, etc. Sectarian language was often blatantly used against them without reservation. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent has summed it up quite eloquently in his article: “Bahrain is trying to drown the protests in Shia blood”.
The US Administration’s rhetoric is as confusing as it was in all Arab uprisings. Hillary Clinton’s support to the government and yet asserting a peaceful solution, and then, Obama’s sweet-talk to the Arab people including the Bahrainis are just mere “bla bla bla”. In a US Embassy cable from Manama, the American official asserts “Bahrain’s national security strategy rests squarely on the presence here of NAVCENT/Fifth Fleet headquarters and Bahrain’s close security partnership with the U.S. Unlike its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain does not enjoy the kind of oil revenues that might enable it to buy advanced weaponry on its own.” From all the above, talking like they have no leverage in the situation, the US administration can’t really fool anyone.
All of the above mainly dealt with arming and training security forces and armies, without mentioning the economic ties and the shady deals. The protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain were injured, tortured, or killed by brutal security forces trained and armed, not by China or Russia, but by the United States, United Kingdom, France and other nations in the “Free World”. From the different attitudes and double-standards and measures employed by the West, the Arab public is entitled to doubt the hypocritical sweet-talk, and the real aim behind NATO’s airstrikes on Libya. It must be stressed here that a significant number of citizens in western countries oppose this charade, and many activists, journalists, NGOs and Western Human Rights Organizations have been very vocal about exposing the atrocities and the western hand in it; and for that, the Arab World, and Bahrainis are thankful.
During World War II and before US entry to the war, American President, Roosevelt in a famous radio address, stressed on the importance of maintaining military assistance to Britain and France, and called the American Arms and expertise, “The Arsenal of Democracy”. Unfortunately MR. FDR and kind people of America, it has become “The Arsenal of Tyranny”.
Historical and Political Background:
Bahrain’s strategic location and later prosperity due to the Pearl trade made it an eye-catching prey for invaders and conquerors. Since the 16th century, Bahrain was invaded or ruled directly or by proxy by the Portuguese, the Persian Savavids, the Omanis, the AlSauds, the British, and Huala and Arab tribes from surrounding areas. Al Khalifa’s rule started with Ahmed the “Conqueror”. The British dominance over Bahrain started in the 1800s. As a result, the first major unrest took place in 1892, and was crushed by the Brits. In almost every decade following that, there was a major uprising demanding independence and social and economic justice. In 1970, after Iran’s Shah claimed that Bahrain historically belonged to Iran, a UN referendum took place and Bahrainis, with an overwhelming majority, voted for an independent state. Bahrain gained its independence in 1971. In 1973, a national assembly with only consulting powers was established where two thirds of its members were elected. Some controversial issues were the US Fifth Fleet and the budget. However, the most troublesome issue was a State Security law decreed by Shaikh Isa; which allowed the state to detain citizens up to 3 years (renewable) without trial. The assembly fiercely rejected the law; and Shaikh dissolved the assembly in 1975, and another era of unrest and state brutality started. Succeeding him in 1999, his son Shaikh Hamad made many promises on turning Bahrain to a constitutional monarchy. However, promises were broken; and the same problems (corruption, discrimination, torture, political naturalization, etc) remained. It reached a tipping point in February 2011, with the Pearl Uprising inspired by events in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere. The main focus for protesters was the prime minister, the King’s uncle, who’s the longest serving prime minister in the world (40 years).