Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Bahrain: The Frozen Arab Spring

Throughout the Middle East, 2011 was a year of revolution and uprising as the Arab Spring pushed from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen and Libya to Syria. But when it reached the Gulf, the forces of freedom and democracy faced an aggressive push-back from the oil-rich monarchs. Nowhere was the backlash more brutal than in the tiny Kingdom of Bahrain, whose Shi'ite majority came out in protest to demand greater freedom and equality from the island's ruling Sunni royal family. They were answered by a violent crackdown orchestrated by neighboring Saudi Arabia, which blamed Iran for stoking the protests and sent troops to help clear the streets of Manama. The crackdown led to an estimated 36 deaths and more than 500 injuries, as well as numerous accounts of torture — confirmed by the report of Bahrain's official Independent Commission of Inquiry, which also found no evidence to back the claim that Iran was behind the protests. But the Bahrain crackdown got far less media attention than the dramatic events elsewhere. For one thing, the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera, which had been the media mainstay of the Arab Spring, showed a lot less enthusiasm for covering the turmoil in the fellow monarchy next door.