Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The uprising that began in Bahrain on February 14, 2011, at the outbreak of the uprisings that swept several Middle Eastern leaders from power, has not come close to changing Bahrain’s regime into a constitutional monarchy. However, the mostly Shiite opposition shows no signs of ending its campaign to achieve that goal or, at the very least greatly increased political influence and rights. The crisis has demonstrated that the grievances of the Shiite majority over the distribution of power and economic opportunities were not satisfied by the modest reform efforts instituted during 1999-2010.

The government has sought dialogue with the opposition to try to address its grievances. A “national dialogue” held in July 2011 reached consensus on a few modest political reforms. Hopes for resolution were elevated further by a pivotal report by a government-appointed “Independent Commission of Inquiry” (BICI), released November 23, 2011, which was critical of the government’s actions against the unrest. The government asserts it implemented most of the 26 BICI recommendations, but outside human rights groups assessed that overall implementation was modest and incomplete. Demonstrations and the government crackdown continued throughout 2012, and both sides resumed a dialogue in February 2013. In fifteen meetings as of late April 2013, the dialogue, by the accounts of the participants, has made little concrete progress, but the parties have continued to attend it and the dialogue could eventually produce incremental movement toward a solution.

The Obama Administration has not called for an end to the Al Khalifa regime, but it has criticized the regime’s human rights abuses, urged it to undertake further political reform, and advanced ideas to narrow government-opposition differences. The U.S. criticism has angered some Al Khalifa officials but it has also dissatisfied human rights activists who assert that the United States is downplaying regime abuses because of U.S. dependence on the security relationship with Bahrain. Bahrain has provided key support for U.S. interests—particularly the containment of Iran—by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years. The United States signed a formal defense pact with Bahrain in 1991 and has designated Bahrain a “major non- NATO ally,” entitling it to sales of sophisticated U.S. weapons systems. Partly to address criticism from human rights advocates and some Members of Congress, the Administration put on hold a proposed sale of armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons. However, in mid-May 2012 the Administration announced that it would proceed with the sale of other arms sales to Bahrain that it can only use for external defense. Consumed by its own crisis, Bahrain has joined with but deferred to other GCC powers to resolve political crises in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Fueling Shiite unrest is the fact that Bahrain is poorer than most of the other Persian Gulf monarchies and therefore lacks the resources to significantly improve Shiite standards of living. In 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA); legislation implementing it was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169). The unrest has further strained Bahrain’s economy.

Date of Report: March 16, 2013
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: 95-1013
Price: $29.95

To Order:

95-1013.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.