How Manama Mirrors Minneapolis
Bahrain’s dismal record on human rights is nothing new; this small country on the Persian Gulf made headlines in 2011 for violent crackdowns on protests. Following demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahraini civilians took to the streets calling for constitutional, political, and economic reform. The past decade has seen only a further propagation of political corruption. However, Bahrain’s name has slipped out of the media cycle, leaving the general public to unwittingly turn a blind eye to America’s foreign policy for Bahrain. Absence of accountability has allowed for the continuation of U.S. military aid to the Bahrain Defense Forces (BDF), rendering America actively responsible for its brutal autocracy.
Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy has been the target of democratic protests for almost a decade. Ever since the Arab Spring, which inspired demonstrations against repressive regimes across the Arab world, Bahrain has been an epicenter of disarray. Violent skirmishes have since ensued, as Bahraini authorities respond to protests with a systemic campaign to eliminate public opposition. This campaign has seen the dissolution of free speech via banning independent media and demonstrations from the country, the upending of political rights by artificially convicting, imprisoning, torturing, and executing members of opposition groups, the revocation of citizenship, and the continuation of religious discrimination as the Sunni Muslim ruling family targets the civilian Shi’a Muslim majority. Indeed, Bahrain is a small, yet incredibly effective authoritarian state.
This erosion of human rights is an ever-worsening crisis fueled by American artillery and silence. American weapons compose roughly 85% of Bahrain’s stockpile. These weapons are used by the BDF to suppress demonstrations, and this knowledge resulted in the periodic suspension of sales. In 2015, former President Obama initiated conditional sales whereby Bahrain was required to enact democratic reforms as a quid pro quo for weapons. These conditional transactions were abandoned by the Trump administration who proceeded with unconditional arms sales in the name of countering Iranian regional hegemony.
Consequently, American weapons have become the tools of violence against Bahraini civilians. They are both actively used by the BDF to suppress protests and to encourage further corruption in Bahrain’s security sector. BDF defense procurement opacity enables the regime to spend excessively large amounts on defense purchases that range in the billions, trading off with financing democratic reforms and social programs demanded in civilian protests. More importantly, the provision of arms signals American approval of torture and dictatorship, functioning as a greenlight for further violence and international disavowal of human rights.
America’s unnoticed support for tyranny poses imperative questions. It demonstrates that American foreign policy is counter to its namesake— while publicly fighting for human rights, America instead aids dictators. This foreign policy is eerily similar to domestic governance. Bahraini suppression of mass demonstrations parallels recent police department dissolution of Black Lives Matter protests. In both instances, American weapons lie at fault. Bahrain’s protests against police brutality, discriminatory imprisonment, corruption, and prejudicial violence are comparable to American BLM protests, who similarly have demanded criminal justice reform and the end to police violence. In response, the BDF used force to disperse protests, in the same way that American police departments enlisted the force of tear gas, rubber bullets, and mace to suppress protests following George Floyd’s murder. With President Trump directing military forces to suppress protests, the analogy only grows more gruesome. Manama mirrors Minneapolis, with American police and Bahraini forces alike using American weapons against civilians. As America flaunts its status as the world’s policeman, it’s ironically the origin of international crises. Perhaps the BLM’s demands to de-arm and defund domestic police departments should be extended to American foreign policy.