Is Bahrain serious about reform?
March 15th, 2013
11:36 AM ET

Is Bahrain serious about reform?

By Sarah Leah Whitson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sarah Leah Whitson is the director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family and their allies in Washington and London say they are pinning their hopes on a new “national dialogue” to break the bitter stalemate with the country’s political opposition among the majority Shia population. But a just settlement will remain elusive unless the government delivers on two outstanding reforms: accountability at the highest levels of the country’s security forces for their abusive response to the 2011 uprisings, and freedom for the country’s unjustly imprisoned opposition and human rights leaders.

This tiny island country of 500,000 citizens, 600,000 expats and 15,000 personnel of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, convulsed by five weeks of mass demonstrations in 2011, has received its fair share of international attention over the past two years. Per capita, the participation of hundreds of thousands of the country’s citizenry may have set some sort of world record for mass protests – what other country can claim to have had most of its population out on the streets protesting at one time?


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Topics: Arab Spring • Bahrain
February 13th, 2013
09:46 AM ET

Should companies take responsibility for repression?

By Wenzel Michalski and Ben Wagner, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Wenzel Michalski is the Germany director at Human Rights Watch. You can follow him @WenzelMichalski. Ben Wagner is a researcher at the European University Institute and a visiting academic fellow at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are their own.

The Arab uprisings have been a poignant reminder of how the Internet can promote free expression and assembly, but also how governments can try abuse it. The medium used by demonstrators to organize protests and bring medical supplies to Tahrir Square, for example, was also used by the government to pinpoint human rights defenders for arrest, harassment, and even torture.

This reality will likely be on the minds of policymakers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who are meeting in Vienna to discuss how to advance media freedoms, and who will be fully aware that while the Internet is a catalyst for popular protest, it is also targeted by governments to stifle those same voices.


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Topics: Bahrain • Technology
Can U.S. exploit Middle East green energy potential?
August 15th, 2012
11:15 AM ET

Can U.S. exploit Middle East green energy potential?

By Rob Sobhani, Special to CNN

Rob Sobhani is president of Caspian Group Holdings, which has interests in green energy and infrastructure projects, and author of ‘King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence’. The views expressed are his own.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain is one of America’s key allies in the Persian Gulf. He’s also among a growing number of political leaders in the Middle East who see more than oil in the region’s future. After all, the Middle East is blessed with an abundance of another natural resource: sunshine.

Bahrain wants to take full advantage of this reality, and harnessing solar energy has become a top priority in the country. But the government has also taken the surprising step of seeking long-term partnerships with leading American solar energy companies.


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Topics: Bahrain • Energy • Environment • Middle East • Oil • Saudi Arabia • United States
Gulf union might do more harm than good
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, talks to King Hamad of Bahrain last month. Will the two countries form a partnership?
June 20th, 2012
08:06 AM ET

Gulf union might do more harm than good

Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington. The views in this article are solely those of Geneive Abdo.

By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN

Ever since Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah proposed forming a political federation among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the pros and cons have been fiercely debated across the Middle East.

For many Arabs in the region, particularly Shia communities in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and particularly Bahrain, such a proposal suggests an attempt to form a dominant Sunni bloc that would tip the balance of power at a time when tensions are escalating between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

Five countries in the GCC — Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are Sunni-dominated societies. Only Bahrain, the sixth GCC country, has a Shia majority. With the sectarian conflict in Syria escalating and spilling over into Lebanon, the violent clashes between the two sects in Iraq, and the uprising in Bahrain by a predominantly Shia opposition, the proposed political federation is likely to enflame the regional conflict.


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Topics: Arab Spring • Bahrain • Iran • Islam • Middle East • Saudi Arabia
April 24th, 2012
11:20 PM ET

Don't forget about Bahrain

Editor’s Note: Caitlin Fitz Gerald writes about international affairs and civil-military relations at Gunpowder & Lead. She is currently turning Carl von Clausewitz's On War into an illustrated children's book. You can find her on Twitter at caidid.

By Caitlin Fitz Gerald – Special to CNN

When protests began in Bahrain last February, they were met with ruthless crackdowns and sectarian abuses, and more than a year later, the relationship between protest action and government response has not visibly changed. People are still taking to the streets in protest, and the regime is still responding with force, arrests, reported torture, and well-coordinated media propaganda. The most recent focal points have been the hunger strike of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights who was arrested in the early days of the protests, and Formula One's controversial decision to go ahead with the Bahrain Grand Prix this past weekend.

Recently, there have been some excellent pieces exploring events in Bahrain, among them Gregg Carlstrom's evocatively titled "In the Kingdom of Tear Gas" which concludes that "the reality is that street protests, after simmering in outlying villages for months, have begun to heat up in the capital of Manama"; and "The Crackdown" in which Kelly McEvers explores the factors that may have doomed the protests from the outset, pronouncing that "If any Arab Spring revolt can be pronounced a failure thus far, this is it." With these excellent articles and the additional attention on Bahrain due to the Grand Prix, there has finally been a sharper focus on what has been perhaps the most neglected theater of the Arab uprisings of the last year and a half in terms of western media coverage. FULL POST

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Topics: Bahrain
April 23rd, 2012
11:11 AM ET

Bahrain risks insurgency as protests radicalize

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

Bahrain hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix yesterday amid clashes between government forces and protesters. Extremists on all sides have outflanked the moderate middle ground with recent bomb attacks on the security services and instances of loyalist vigilantism indicating that a dangerous radicalization is taking place. This suggests a bleak future for Bahrainis caught between a ruling family seemingly unable to reform, and a significant segment of the population that no longer believes the ruling Al-Khalifa family has the legitimacy to rule.

This year's Grand Prix was supposed to signal a return to normality after the race was cancelled following the outbreak of the uprising in 2011. The authorities had exerted significant pressure on motor sport's governing body to ensure it went ahead this year. They were keen to demonstrate to their international partners that meaningful reforms were underway in the wake of last November's recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). FULL POST

Topics: Bahrain • Protests
February 14th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Abrams: Turning point in Bahrain

Editor's NoteElliott Abrams is former senior director for the Near East and deputy national security adviser handling Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush administration. He is now a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he writes the blog Pressure Points.

By Elliott

Today, February 14,  is the anniversary of the date when demonstrations began in Bahrain last year.  No events connected to the so-called “Arab Spring” have been as depressing as those in Bahrain.

The tiny country (only slightly larger than the City of New York) was long viewed as a peaceful and enlightened place, but by the actual Spring of 2011 Bahrain was mired in sectarian divisions, security force violence, and errors and excesses by the government and the opposition, all worsened by the presence of foreign troops from other Gulf Cooperation Council nations. In the end, dozens were killed and communications between the Sunni government and royal family and the Shia majority had broken down.  On February 11, this past Saturday, there were more demonstrations and police used tear gas to break some of them up. FULL POST

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Topics: Bahrain