A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Malinowski: Hard Truths on Bahrain

Tom Malinowski's "Prison Island," as its title implies, is not terribly encouraging on the situation in Bahrain, which he characterizes thus:
Since [the Bassiouni Commission], the momentum has dissipated. There has been no real resumption of dialogue between the government and opposition to pursue what moderates on both sides agree is the only viable solution to Bahrain's crisis -- a constitutional monarchy in which government ministers are chosen by an elected parliament rather than appointed by the king. This course of action would necessarily give Bahrain's Shiite majority more say in running the country, a prospect that is anathema to portions of the island's ruling family as well as its regional backers.
The government has also not ended human rights abuses against protesters. As we would see during our visit, police torture and abuse have simply moved from police stations to the alleyways and back lots of Shiite villages. The courts have agreed to retry key opposition leaders, but the government still refuses to release them, though their convictions were based on nothing more than the content of their speeches and participation in meetings and rallies challenging the monarchy. Also, for the first time in months, there is no approaching milestone -- no committee to be appointed, or report to be issued, or deadline to be met -- that might give moderate leaders reason to ask their people to be patient. The absence of hope is radicalizing both sides.
But he still sees some room for avoiding the worst:
Bahrain is almost broken, but not entirely so. The government is persecuting its critics, but not killing them on a large scale as in Syria. As everyone we met told us, Bahrain is a small country: The protagonists on both sides know each other, and there still seems to be room for compromise. But the window is rapidly closing, and once it shuts -- as in Syria -- it will be hard to turn back. Preventing this outcome by holding Bahrain to the commitments it made to the Bassiouni Commission, and encouraging political compromise, is America's paramount interest in Bahrain.
 It's worth your time.

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