March 22nd, 2011
08:14 AM ET

Why isn’t the world intervening in Bahrain as it did in Libya?

Editor’s NoteKristin Diwan is Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies at the American University School of International Service. Her work focuses on the politics and policies of the Arab Gulf.

By Dr. Kristin Diwan – Special to CNN

The international community is intervening to stop killing in Libya. But it is standing by as the Bahraini government - aided by the Saudis and broader Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - suppresses its own people with brutal force.

Bahraini opposition groups have petitioned the United Nations to intervene on their behalf.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed his "deepest concern" at the use of "excessive and indiscriminate force ... against unarmed civilians.” Yet there are no plans for U.N.-sponsored action.

Why isn’t the world acting in Bahrain as it did in Libya?

The reasons are political.

Moammar Gadhafi alienated almost everyone in the region and had few international friends. In contrast, Bahrain’s ruling Al-Khalifa family has earned strong support in neighboring Gulf states, along with goodwill from the United States, which has its Fifth Fleet stationed in the country.

In addition, Bahrain's uprising, while cross-sectarian, would empower the Shia majority. Shia empowerment through democratization - which occurred in neighboring Iraq - is feared by the Sunni minority in Bahrain, even by some who would welcome political reforms to make the ruling family more accountable to its populace. Shia empowerment is certainly feared by Saudi Arabia, which is intervening to ensure Bahrain does not fall under Iranian influence.

The U.S. encourages Bahraini’s democratic aspirations and worries that if Bahrain brutally puts down the protests, the demonstrators would turn to Iran for support. The U.S. does not want to see revolution, but rather reform. Among other things, revolution in this region would disrupt oil supplies.

Meanwhile, the countries of the Gulf are eager to suppress the uprising in Bahrain. They would not provide cover for international intervention, as it did by voting for a no-fly zone in the Arab League.

This is because while the Libyan uprising earned sympathy from neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, Bahrain's uprising is feared by its neighbors. Any overthrow of a monarch - or even reform to a genuine constitutional monarchy - would be sure to increase democratic pressure among neighboring monarchs.

A final reason why the United States and the broader international community have been reluctant to even confront Bahrain and the Saudi troops is because the U.S. needs as much GCC support in Libya as possible.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Kristin Diwan.

soundoff (132 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    It is because Egypt and Tunisia will no longer be under US control. Under democracy, these countries might not be friendly towards Israel. We "need" a regime in Libya to protect Israel from these countries in the event that Israel steps up it's oppression of Palestinians. France attacked Germany when it invaded Poland. What's to stop Egypt from attacking Israel considering it's annexation of Palestinian terroritories?

    March 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • Kevin

      Besides Israel's nuclear weapons, that is.

      March 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  2. Khalid Muneer

    The Article shows complete ignorance in the geopolitics of the region. Furthermore, the author does not provide any evidence that the uprising in Bahrain is cross secterion. Obviously the author did not follow when a great number of protestors were holding Hezboallah flags which is a well known terrorist group. They were also holding Khomaini and Khamenie pictures. When the world intervens in Libya it is because Qaddafi was killing his own people, but in Bahrain, the regime restrained itself with the objective of restoring order and security. Can any group bring their tents and block Oxford Street causing disruption to other people's lives and claim they are protesting peacfully?

    March 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  3. Jon

    So, in short, we're not doing anything about Bahrain because we don't want to tick off Saudi Arabia.

    March 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • Khalid Muneer

      You are so wrong my freind. Should the world bomb every country if there it has a protest? The world should discreminate between a cross sectarian protes and a sectarion protest that was instegated /encouraged by Hezbollah and Iran. Western countries should not be bomb happy whenever there is a protest!

      March 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  4. mario perez

    This just shows how unjustified this Libyan war is. If Libyans want freedom, let them fight and die for it....They won't be the first ones....Since when does the World decides who is and who is not in is a violation of sovereignty. This is hypocritical. Gadhafi did not start this, the revolt did, so let them gain their own "freedom".

    March 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  5. mario perez

    No fly zone for Bahrain!

    March 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  6. mario perez

    The UN is an obsolete organization. The global mafia needs to be stopped.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  7. mario perez

    if someone in congress screams bloody murder ....there it goes the whole world along. how pathetic.....

    March 22, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  8. CommonSensical

    The difference is simple and glaring in terms of the USA: PanAm Flight 103

    On Wednesday 21 December 1988, a Boeing 747–121 was destroyed by a bomb in mid air killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie, in southern Scotland, were also killed as large sections of the plane fell in the town and destroyed several houses, bringing total fatalities to 270. As a result, the news media has named the event the Lockerbie bombing.
    On 24 February 2011, resigned justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil revealed that Muamar Gaddafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.

    March 23, 2011 at 12:18 am | Reply
  9. Raj

    CNN – what are your editors doing? This is supposed to be GPS; the new CNN brand competing with the Economist or Le Monde or Foreign Policy – not Fox or NBC.

    The three technical arguments the professor makes are correct to back up her observation. But its a riduculous question; all three points are commonly understood by most global citizens and we dont need an article to tell us the obvious: Libay has almost no friends in the international community, has a history of erratic behaviour and is attacking their own citizens with jets and tanks. Bahrain is in the middle of a political game; its a fairly undemocratic and unfair government towards its citizens but it has for the most part been forward thinking and a team player on international issues. And in this country police have shot people at a public rally. Sure – thats bad but by comparing the two situations you are assuming your readership are idiots. I think Ill stick to real international news analysis sites from now on which get to deeper issues than throwing out something like "Why does Nato Except Turkey but not Indonesia?"

    March 23, 2011 at 1:48 am | Reply
    • HMMMF

      In fact Raj, the protest movement in Bahrain has morphed into a very violent racist movement that attacks and terrorises South Asians. The protesters also paralysed the country with road blocks. At that point the government was forced to intervene. Most of the protesters did as they were asked by the police and left the roundabout but a number began an assault on them using their weapons of choice, gas cylinders and petrol bombs. Would any police force in the world stand by and do nothing in those circumstances? Essentially this was suicide by cop. So the situation in Bahrain was not much different than any situation in which a violent gang attempts to achieve its objectives.
      We all wish that people would listen to those of us who actually live here instead of the international media and human rights organisations who have given cover to a group of anti democratic murderous racist thugs.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:16 am | Reply
    • ali

      for now Bahrain is an occupied country where nationals monuments get blown away and people are carried out to jail and tortured. Forward thinking? lol

      March 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Reply
      • Francis

        Occupied country- by whom? ali- do you prefer that it be occupied by Iran or Friends in Lebanon? When national monuments are not respected by people who sat around it and wrote on it-climbed on it created laterines and toilets around it to the extent that the stench was increasing every day- do you think such a national monument dedicated to the GCC which you claim to occupy but in reality help ,do you think it should be kept? No way.

        March 28, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  10. John

    Are you kidding me. Why not tell the truth. The United States is protecting its puppets in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. You guys just kill me with your lies. In fact it's the United States foreign policy that's the real terrorist in the world.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Reply
    • Sud-Kivu

      His point was pretty much the same as yours – just more sophisticated than "defending our puppets." It would be bad for the U.S. and the world to destabilize the Gulf, especially now that Egypt may not be one of our "puppets." Political realism is a part of politics. Sorry, but that will never change. You don't intervene in a humanitarian crisis when it could completely wreck your foreign policy and destabilize the Persian Gulf and its shipping lanes which are full of oil. The world isn't fair.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
      • Suzuna

        merks62 on June 19, 2007 A full rtoaorteisn of this car would be unfortunate, in my opinion. After all, the way this Plymouth acquired its patina is as unique as it gets!

        February 12, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  11. JOSH

    Muslim world will never be the same again, and if some dumb politician is expecting pro-western governments after these revolts YOU ARE WRONG. How can you be pro-western when the people in those countries are surviving, living on 2 dollars, plagued by hunger, diseases, wars, provoked by the voracious-oil western countries and some goonies who lives in palaces and have billions of dollars to throw away. And after years of applying a genocide policy in these countries, now we want to present ourselves as "crusaders" saving the democracy. JAJAJAJAJAJAJA.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  12. Rocky

    US president is not the one that determines our foreign policy when it comes to Saudi Arabia and its sattelites like Bahrain and Yemen, the one who does is the King of Saudi Arabia. They tell us what to do and we do it. We don't have men like Nixon anymore.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:08 am | Reply
  13. Antoine Mourad

    Dr Kristin,

    again I must fully agree with Mr Hassan

    your knowledge of the Arabian Gulf states and indeed the Arab world seems to be very little and you cannot compare what is happening in Bahrain with what is happening in Libya,as one( the Bahrain one ) is an Iranian backed and supported revolt against a regime that gives its people all social welfare and freedom ,while the other ( Libya) is locally inspired same as the one in Syria which she chooses to ignore like the rest of the media and where 25 people have been killed by the authorities already for peacefully demonstrating in a mosque including a doctor ,a lawyer and few children

    March 24, 2011 at 7:51 am | Reply
  14. Vincenzo Ruello

    Vincenzo Ruello the Italian amateur film scientist has decoded the Holy Shroud on the 10th February 2011 releasing true real life images of the face and body with skin and hair from actual encoded information. He films in various angles of light which was the secret in decoding the Shroud. His clips and the real face of Jesus Christ can be seen on youtube search Vincenzo Ruello

    March 24, 2011 at 9:47 am | Reply
    • John N. Florida

      The age of the shroud is obtained as AD 1260-1390, with at least 95% confidence. It's difficult to imagine a shroud woven in AD 1260 would have an image of Jesus who rose 1200 years previously.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:45 am | Reply
  15. John N. Florida

    Has the Arab League called for intervention in Bahrain?
    THAT is the difference.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:42 am | Reply
  16. Alfred Dominican, The Rebel

    Dear Editor. My Country Santo Domingo underwent or invaded for 42,000 marines USA in 1965. Here had Banana and Sugar.For only Fear that we become another Cuba. Your country is a big nation and have a beatiful history. But the reason for airstrike Tripoli or Gadafi I believe is for Petroleum. USA is a Leader The Mediterran's Pirates right now similar to Francis Drake. The ONU Give Its Corso's Patents for robbery the petroleum'Libyans. The Minions Zapatero and Sarcozy too no want Help civilians. They want reelection equal Obama. Can you read Gulliver's Travel of Jonattan Swift or The Naive of Voltaire or The Vested Interests of Jacinto Benavente? Gadafi the Big Leader is David, USA and UE is Golliat, that is Terrorism. This War is The 100 Years'War. The USA is a Leader or World's Dictator from the Second World War, and must go. Is the moment for Chinesse or Indian or Brazil or Russian.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:23 am | Reply
  17. Leon Stewart

    We as the US have to be fair and balanced when injecting ourselves into the affairs of other Countries. We don't have the manpower to fight War's all over the World, but if we want to start why would we just be concerned with juust the Oil Producing Countries that we don't like. The ones we like we will allow them to mistreat their people.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  18. Fernando

    Paul Brown, wake up. You're paying $3.50/gallon because the oil companies are gouging us. They report record profits and pass all costs onto us. If you think the situation in Bahrain isn't oil driven (non-intervention) then you must have your eyes and ears closed. Look who is supporting Bahrain an look at which of them supply the US with oil. The US cannot afford to get the Saudis upset because if they were to pull all or their assests out of the US the US would be bankrupt. Anythintg having to do with oil will always drawn the attention of the US. As for Iraq repaying the US for "freeing" them of Saddam, I think it should be the other way around. The Iraqis did not ask for help. They woke up one day to face an invasion. Saddam was an Iraqi problem and they should have been the ones to deal with it. The Iraqi people should be reimbursed for all of the property damage and loss of human life.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  19. Hondacivic21218

    I think she definitely underplayed the significance in the US response of the 5th Fleet being stationed

    March 24, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  20. Silhouette

    Why Libya? Why not Burma? Why not Zimbabwe?

    March 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  21. kamran

    Dear Fellow Humans specially Muslim brothers, The discussion is initiated by scholars who have analyzed muslim's system of sects i.e firrquas and they what to further enhance their knowledge and understanding, your comments are helpful and i appreciate your concern, and taking time to comment. whether right or wrong you all are concerned for a better peacefull resolution. Thankyou. So to give their(scholar's) understanding a boost i must say that all above comments and all comments ever by muslims are simply based on the fact of which sect. they belong either sunni or shia. Hence the comment in itself looses legitimacy/sense because it is radically initiated, each one favoring the theory he is born with. I think its very much up to the scholars/think tanks to analyze on their own as to who is better to choose in the muslims. Thanks

    March 25, 2011 at 6:17 am | Reply
  22. Bahraini

    I am assuming there are Bahrainis among the people who commented. Instead of watching your one eyed state tv and media and just went to the pearl roundabout, you would have known that protests had nothing to do with religion or outside influence of any sort. It is about the majority of the population who have been discriminated against by the ruling family for decades. The demands of the protesters are not new. They are the same demands for decades. Fact is non of the protesters were armed in anyway. If they were armed they were armed with roses, flags, women, kids, older people and their kind hearts. All they were requesting for were rights. Whoever is saying otherwise is either just watching the state media or just dont want to believe otherwise because of their own fears. People do not deserve to be killed even if they disrupted your very peaceful and comfortable life. They are people for gods sake. You cannot justify their killing. I met some of them and they are the some of the nicest people I have met. I feel hurt for seeing what is happening to them and I hope they overcome this and get what they have been asking for. The rest who are criticising them, will one day feel how it is to be discriminated against. And I have seen the majority of the population on the street asking for the samething – the removal of the evil regime that is now showing their true colours and proving why the people do not want them. There is no proof of an Iranian influence or the peaceful protesters being armed

    March 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Reply
    • Abbas

      Yes,they were very nice people who cared for their country, by defacing a national monument, keeping an unclean ex roundabout, interestingly both these were not constructed by the sweat of any of these great country loving peacefull people who believe in roses and kind words. They were nice people who blocked traffic and suffocated fellow bahraini businesses for the sake of thier goals- thus building great confidence in their fellow citizens that the future with these peacefull people will be a bed of roses. They were very peacefull people who's other friends at the hospital were discriminating on patients, spitting on some and tying up injured workers from other communities. These peacefull people also had friends who attacked workers from other countries whose sweat is making it possible for them live in houses etc. Yes they are peacfull people indeed..why not !!!! and ofcourse there is no influence from outside forces-all this is imaginary.

      March 28, 2011 at 2:34 am | Reply
  23. Wilmington North Carolina Short Sales Agent

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    April 24, 2012 at 10:17 am | Reply
  24. Alda

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about humanitarian intervention. Regards

    fundamental principle (Latosha)

    October 31, 2018 at 12:06 am | Reply
  25. Richie

    Why people still make use of to read news papers when in this technological world all is existing on web?

    impertinens (Irvin)

    October 31, 2018 at 6:14 am | Reply
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