We certainly live in interesting times. The Middle East has seen a series of revolutions that many in the Arab world have waited to see for fifty years. From the beginning of the Post-Colonial period, many nations in the Middle East have been ruled by royal families and dictators. Some of these leaders were installed by the colonials themselves. While the Arab world truly did rise up against tyranny, there were also Western intelligence services taking advantage of the revolutions they wanted to see happen, and ignoring, if not suppressing, the revolutions they wanted to see fail.
The West had no trouble flipping the switch of Gaddafi in Libya or Mubarak in Egypt, but then there are other Arab Spring movements which the Western world has not been, shall we say, too keen to see happen. These would be the Gulf states where America, the UK and others have various interests that revolution would not sit well with. These countries include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and the island nation of Bahrain.
This is an awkward situation to be in, both for the West and for the Gulf states themselves. The Qatar-owned Al Jeezera extensively covered the Arab Spring in Libya and Egypt, but not so much in fellow Gulf nations such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain matters because it is a Gulf nation that has experienced a serious protest movement against the royal family, Al-Khalifa. Bahrain matters because it is a kingdom, like Saudi Arabia. Bahrain also matters because it is a Sunni-ruled nation with a large Shiite majority, which makes up nearly 70% of the population.
The United States is allied with the Gulf states in wanting to see the Arab Spring fail in Bahrain. What many people in America fail to realize is that living as a Shia minority in a Sunni dominated country is all too often like living as a second class citizen. The closest American experience would be to compare it to living as a black American in the US prior to the Civil Rights movement. While the Arab Spring is widely covered by the press in Egypt and Syria, US media outlets, and especially Al Jeezera out of Qatar, are nearly imposing a media blackout on Bahrain.
Why is this? First, there is wide-spread fear that if Bahrain falls it will excite and embolden the Shia minority on the Eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. This minority had an uprising in the 1980s and still scares the Saudi Royal family. Some Saudi Shia would even like to see a return to “Ancient Bahrain,” a Shia nation which would encompass both Bahrain and the East coast of Saudi Arabia. The Arab Spring has been suppressed in the Shia minority villages in Saudi Arabia and both the Saudis and America would like to keep it that way. It’s all about oil. Or is it? Perhaps the real reason for keeping the Saudi royal family in power has less to do with oil and more to do with a policy alignment between the US and the Royal family when it comes to two prominent issues: Al Qaeda and Iran.
Meanwhile, the Shia majority in Bahrain are repressed, by the Saudi military driving across the causeway to the island as the Saudi’s attempt to shore up their political flanks. Some leadership for Bahrain’s intelligence and police service comes from the US and Britain. Much of the ground force of Bahrain’s military hails from Pakistan.
That is the shame of American foreign policy. While we supply weapons to Al Qaeda in Syria, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan kills our soldiers and legitimate freedom movements in places like Bahrain are actively suppressed.