The World from Berlin: US and Germany Offer 'Feeble Opposition' to Bahrain Crackdown
A government-led crackdown in Bahrain led to three protester deaths on Wednesday. Though the situation appeared calmer on Thursday, German editorialists criticize Saudi Arabia's decision to send troops in to help suppress the demonstrations and urge Western nations to not abandon the protestors.
On Thursday, the situation on the ground in Bahrain's capital city of Manama had reportedly quieted down a day after government troops forcibly cleared a central plaza, Pearl Square, where anti-government protests had been gathering. Three protestors and two security officials were killed in the crackdown, which was backed by helicopters and tanks.
Earlier this week, the government of Bahrain issued a three-month state of emergency, and troops from neighboring countries -- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- arrived to help quell the protests. Kuwait reportedly opted to not add its troops to those suppressing the demonstrations.
The protests have now spilled over into Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday, roughly 1,000 people gathered in the eastern city of Qatif to call on the Saudi government to withdraw its soldiers from Bahrain, which is connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway.
Although Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa royal family, Shiite Muslims make up the majority of the population. Many of them have been protesting against the government since mid-February, demanding more rights and greater government accountability.
Fears of Sectarian Violence
In Iraq, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned that sending foreign troops into Bahrain could lead to more sectarian violence in the region, thousands of Shiites reportedly held a rally in Karbala on Thursday to protest the deployment of troops from Sunni Arab states. More protests were expected in the country on Friday.
The situation in Bahrain has proven tricky for the United States, whose Fifth Fleet is based on the strategically located island nation. US President Barack Obama spoke with both King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia and King Hamad bin Isa Khalifa of Bahrain by phone Tuesday, urging them to show "maximum restraint."
In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday called on Saudi Arabia and the UAE to withdraw their troops from Bahrain. "A solution must be found within the country itself," he told Germany's Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.
Thursday also saw UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay appeal to Bahrain to reign in its security forces. "There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protestors and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centers by various security forces," she said in a statement.
The Associated Press reported that shops and malls remained closed in Manama Thursday and that soldiers backed by armored personnel carriers and tanks were stationed in the city's financial and government quarters. The country's stock exchange, which had closed Wednesday, reopened on Thursday.
In Thursday's newspapers, German commentators keep a close eye on anti-protest crackdowns in Bahrain and are quick to point out double standards in the response of Saudi Arabia and Western nations to demonstrations in the country. Commentators on both the left and right find fault with the West for not lending the demonstrators enough support.
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"A cold spell has stopped the spring of liberalizing states ... across the Mediterranean. Only those who don't appreciate the interconnectedness of world politics can believe that the foreseeable victory of Gadhafi's troops over the Libyan rebels and the attempt in Bahrain to suppress the rebels among the underprivileged Shiite majority won't result in backlashes."
"In a region where most of the countries are ruled by autocrats, official state parties and/or authoritarian militaries, this could be the start of a counterrevolution in the truest sense of the word."
"The West is mostly in a difficult position. If Western nations get involved militarily, they will quickly be labeled 'oil imperialists.' The rebels in Benghazi and the protestors in Manama will remember that no one in the West lifted a finger to prevent them from being shot and violently suppressed .... It is also possible that Gadhafi will win the battle in Benghazi but then lose his grip on power in Libya. And those who succeed him won't forget that the West celebrated their fight for greater freedom -- but did little to help them with their efforts."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"It is reminiscent of the time of the 'Holy Alliance,' when the European royal houses tried to resist the implications of the French Revolution. This time, it's the Arab nations -- and, above all, the royal houses of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain -- that want to stem the tide with the support of some emirs in the Persian Gulf."
"The citizens of Bahrain -- mostly Shiites who are systematically discriminated against -- are fighting for their rights and, in doing so, calling into question the centuries-old reign of the Sunni Khalifa family and the entire monarchy. It is no wonder that the protests have shocked the royal house in Saudi Arabia, which is just as conservative and where minorities face even greater discrimination. The first demonstrations have occurred there, too...."
"And how is the West reacting? By merely demanding that 'all sides' show restraint. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the cake when she suggested that the Saudi troops who had just marched into Bahrain should foster 'dialogue' of all things. For years, the West has called for reforms in the Arab world. But now it's abandoning the movements of Arab citizens."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The small kingdom of Bahrain demonstrates how the Gulf monarchies react as soon as protests start to threaten their regimes. Having Saudi troops march in was menacing enough to chase away the close to 500 demonstrators holding out in Pearl Square."
"Still, democratic states like Germany and the United States are reacting to such military incursions with feeble opposition. Having Washington tell the Saudis that they are 'on the wrong path' won't do anything to discourage them. And no politicians -- not even those who sent their messages of solidarity to the democracy movements -- are demanding that the foreign troops withdraw."
"The situation in Bahrain is obviously a sensitive one. The US has a naval base there, and Iran is increasing its claims on the predominantly Shiite country .... Western reserve has created a situation in which the Iranian president, of all people, is now the one speaking the toughest words against the suppression of the protests."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Everyone appears to have their own interests in the tiny kingdom of Bahrain -- Riyadh, Tehran, the Iraqi Shiites and even the Americans."
"Although Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, endorsed the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and praised the courage of the rebels, he's not prepared to do the same thing when it's on his own doorstep. In his view, Bahrain must be ruled by Sunnis and remain autocratic, just like Saudi Arabia. Riyadh's double standard is so obvious that it's damaging. Still, on the Arabian Peninsula -- from Yemen to Dubai -- everyone else is applauding because -- after what happened in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli -- all of the Arab power elites are at risk."
"But what about the Americans? In the best-case scenario, they didn't know about the violence deployed against the protestors .... Was Washington perhaps deceived? Or has it given its silent approval? With a Shiite majority ruling the country that has friendly relations with Tehran, the US Fifth Fleet would likely probably have to leave the small nation -- and Iran would triumph."
-- Mary Beth Warner
Stay informed with our free news services:
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
MORE FROM SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL
German PoliticsMerkel's Moves: Power Struggles in Berlin
World War IITruth and Reconciliation: Why the War Still Haunts Europe
EnergyGreen Power: The Future of Energy
European UnionUnited Europe: A Continental Project
Climate ChangeGlobal Warming: Curbing Carbon Before It's Too Late