Media reports on Bahrain’s ‘Arab Spring’ come last in line

Corinna Mullin and Azadeh Shahshahani – WNN Opinion

Bahrian women protesters
Bahriani women protest covering their faces more fully to protect their identities on the streets of Duraz. February 14, 2011. Image: WN

(WNN) BAHRAIN: Despite the recent flurry of news coverage of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report’s release last week, the story of the Bahraini pro-democracy uprising has been one of the least reported amongst those of the ‘Arab spring’. This goes for  the regional Arab media, whose cheerleading and persistent coverage of uprisings elsewhere in the region contributed to whatever successes have been achieved, as well as for the majority of western press. This despite the fact that the violence and repression the Bahraini protesters met has matched, if not exceeded in some instances, those elsewhere in the region.

The stunted Bahraini revolution has also garnered much less rhetorical and material support from western governments. In Tunisia and Egypt, western governments supported, albeit belatedly, the expression of ‘people power’ against the repression and corruption of their former allies. In Syria, they have publicly called for regime change, and in Libya they actively engaged in ending Gaddafi’s 42 year rule. By contrast, there have only been muted calls for political reform and an end to the violence of the repressive Khalifa regime. This is perhaps not surprising considering all that is at stake for western governments in Bahrain.

First and foremost is the fact that Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet, whose controversial stationing in the country’s port was the source of another pivotal anti-democratic moment in the island nation’s history. In August 1975, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s father, Emir Isa bin Salman Al Kahlifa, formally dissolved the national assembly after it failed to ratify the extension of the lease for the US naval units, essentially putting an end to the country’s short-lived experiment with a parliamentary monarchical system.

It seems unlikely that Bahrain’s strategic importance to the US will decline in the near future.  As former US Fifth Fleet commander vice admiral Charles Moore said recently, quoting the late Middle East force commander and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Crowe,  Bahrain is “pound for pound, man for man, the best ally the United States has anywhere in the world”.

These double standards have not been lost on the Bahraini protestors. As Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights put it: ‘Democracy isn’t only for those countries the United States has a problem with.’


Corinna Mullin is a Lecturer in Comparative and International Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), with reference to the Middle East.
Azadeh Shahshahani is a human rights attorney based in Atlanta, and is Executive Vice President and President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild.

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