A prominent Bahraini human-rights activist was recently arrested for “insulting” the government. His crime? Reporting on torture in Bahrain’s prisons. To Elliott Abrams, his case highlights the dangers of the island nation’s increasingly repressive rule:
Since 2011, when protests arose in the context of the Arab Spring, the government has reacted to them with repression. It will not work. Resentment of the royal family, which is Sunni while most Bahrainis are Shiite, will only widen among Shiite citizens and all citizens who want a free society. The worst fears expressed in 2011 and after—that the repression would create disaffection, which would lead to more repression and then Iranian meddling—have been borne out. Today, there is real Iranian subversion including shipping weapons into Bahrain. Bahrain is in a downward spiral.
Whether it can be stopped is not clear, at least to me. The current path will lead to more and more repression, more and more Iranian subversion, and more and more violence. Moving off that path would require courageous national leadership, from the Shiite community to be sure but above all, and first, from the royal family. It has been absent. If it remains absent in the months and years ahead, Bahrain’s future will be darker and darker.
A joint effort by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is the only solution I can imagine. Together these three governments have the influence to broker a solution—assuming it is not already too late. . . . What is needed now is a higher-powered effort that takes into account both the fate of the [U.S.] Fifth Fleet (headquartered in Bahrain) and the likelihood of increasing Iranian subversion and the violence it can produce.