The tiny island nation of Bahrain is the home to a major uprising at this point, and while government censorship is making it difficult to get the full picture, a brutal crackdown earlier today near the hospital has left massive numbers of casualties and a growing sense of fury amongst the nation’s Shi’ite majority.
The situation in Bahrain now appears to be a test case for tyrants across the region, as a monarch that is clearly opposed by a strong majority of the population struggles to cling to power through international support and determined, grim violence.
Which was tried in Tunisia, unsuccessfully, and tried in Egypt even more unsuccessfully. One would think the lesson that violence just makes demonstrators all the angrier is lost in Bahrain’s first, and potentially last king, but the island nation’s differences from massive nations like Egypt have some holding out hope that brutality can “work” in this case.
In particular, regional analysts note a massive amount of opposition amongst Bahrain’s Gulf neighbors to the notion of a free nation where the majority of the population is Shi’ite. With the Saudis in particular fretting an uprising amongst their own Shi’ites if the ones on the island suddenly take a liking to individual freedom.
The US, likewise, is struggling to ensure “stability” in the region, but as with Egypt is so far behind the curve that their ability to sway the situation appears to be extremely minimal. The hawkish US leadership needs Bahrain as a naval base far more than Bahrain needs it.
And Bahrain is so tiny that a foreign nation like Saudi Arabia probably could just overrun it and massacre the Shi’ites into quieting down, or failing that massacring them into a voting minority. A number of analysts see this as a likely reaction from nations that fear a free Bahrain almost as much as they fear freedom in their own nations.
But in the 21st century massacres don’t go unreported, and even if the US stands back and lets someone else slaughter the king back into a position of strength, the global outcry over such an incident is likely to be even more destabilizing to the region’s tyrants than the natural thirst for freedom already is. In the long run, there are no good solutions for how to keep a dictator in power when the people want him gone.