Editor’s Note: Kristin 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.