Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let them eat doughnuts: the US response to Bahrain's oppression

While the west averts its eyes, Bahrain's people are subjected to brutal suppression

Mehdi Hasan
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 July 2011

"Pity the poor people of Bahrain. They have been shot, beaten, tear-gassed – and patronised. On 7 March, at the height of the pro-democracy protests in the tiny Gulf island kingdom, a crowd gathered outside the US embassy in Manama, the capital, carrying signs that read "Stop supporting dictators" and "Give me liberty or give me death". A US embassy official emerged from the building with a box of doughnuts for the protesters, prompting a cleric in the crowd to remark: "These sweets are a good gesture, but we hope it is translated into practical actions."

It hasn't been....

But Bahrain's crimes are ignored and forgotten; in recent days, the US and UK governments have heaped praise on the government-sponsored "national dialogue" between the royal family and opposition. It is, however, a cruel charade. "How can there be real dialogue when most [of the opposition] is in jail?" says Kristin Diwan, a Gulf specialist at American University in Washington DC. In fact, of 300 invited participants, just five are from the main Shia opposition party, al-Wefaq, which gained 60% of the vote in last year's parliamentary election. The government, meanwhile, has involved a huge number of diverse organisations to try to dilute opposition voices. What contribution, for instance, will the Bahrain Astronomical Society make to discussions on democratic reform? "It is a joke," Said Shehabi, a London-based member of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, tells me. "It makes a mockery of dialogue."

It is bad enough that we helped arm and equip the brutes of Bahrain and then turned a blind eye to their violence and torture; we must not now allow our leaders to endorse this farcical "national dialogue" or further patronise the country's bloodied and battered opposition. Bahrainis need democracy, not doughnuts."

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