The Bahraini government has issued a statement angrily condemning a new US State Department report on human rights problems in the island kingdom, accusing the US of lying and “fueling terror” and threatening national security.
The State Department report is a break from long-standing US ambivalence about the crackdowns by the Bahraini monarch, who violently crushed pro-democracy Arab Spring protests in 2011 then went on to punish those involved in the months and years that followed. The US was long seen as reluctant to be too critical since Bahrain hosts a key US Navy base, and the crackdown was facilitated by the Saudi government.
Bahraini anger and denial about the situation isn’t limited to criticizing the US either, as they have also announced that they will continue to block Juan Mendez, a UN torture investigator, from the country.
Mendez has termed the continued postponement an “effective cancellation,” adding that since they postpone every time a new round of reports comes out it appears “as if there is something to hide.”
Bahrain is majority Shi’ite, but its royal family is Sunni. This is the source of considerable tension, as the Shi’ites complain the royal family has monopolized power and discriminates against them. Shi’ites are also a solid majority in the portion of Saudi Arabia’s coast near Bahrain, and that has Saudis concerned that a democratic Bahrain could inflame tensions in Shi’ite Saudi regions, which are also the oil-rich part of the nation. In 2012, the Saudi and Bahrain monarchs announced a royal union, formalizing Saudi hegemony over the island.