According to news reports in various Arab media, on Sunday, May 5, the cabinet of the island archipelago nation of Bahrain endorsed a parliamentary proposal to “stop interference by the U.S. envoy into the affairs of the kingdom.”
Bahrain, like most other Arab countries in the Middle East, has been experiencing political unrest, attributable to the wave of political revolution popularly known as the “Arab Spring.” Minority citizens of this island nation have been clamoring for increased rights, especially the Shi’ite minority in this Sunni-dominated country. The ruling al-Khalifa family has aggressively and brutally responded to the incipient efforts at revolution.
The new legislation aimed at the United States is thought to have been motivated by one or both of two issues.
First, the U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, Thomas Krajeski, has been meeting with members of the Shi’ite opposition. He meets with many different constituencies. According to a Reuters report, the Cabinet members instructed the government to stop the U.S. ambassador from engaging in “repeated meetings with those who inspire sedition.”
Second, on April 19, the U.S. State Department issued a report highly critical of Bahrain’s response to its own Cherif Bissioni Commission, an internal commission which lambasted its handling of the Arab Spring uprisings within the country. The U.S. stated that “the most serious human rights problems included citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention.”
The state department’s human rights report on Bahrain also found that forms of discrimination based on “gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shiite population.”
This report angered many Bahrainis.
Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and is among the Persian Gulf countries, such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, that receive military equipment from the United States.
Secretary of State John Kerry was in Bahrain on April 30, during a swing through the Middle East. While there, Kerry met with Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa. No public statements were issued, but human rights issues were believed to have been part of the discussions.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture was set to visit Bahrain in April to follow up on the Bissioni Commission report, but the visit was cancelled by the Al-khalifa regime last month.
On Monday, May 6, the U.S. Navy began exercises from its naval base in Bahrain with 41 other nations in the Persian Gulf. These exercises will include anti-mine drills and search-and-seizure operations. The U.S. led exercises are intended as a show of cooperation and force in response to an increasing maritime presence by Iran in the Gulf. The exercises are expected to continue until the end of May.
Bahrain is located in the Persian Gulf, with Saudia Arabia just to its west, and Iran 120 miles to its north, across the Gulf.