• Analysis

Arms deal shocks Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement

A policeman fires tear gas toward Bahraini anti-government protesters in Sitra, Bahrain, Jan 30. The US decided to sell military equipment to Bahrain.

After a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain was delayed this fall following widespread criticism from human rights groups and some in Congress, it was revealed last week that the Obama administration is now moving forward with a new arms deal to the country, without any formal notification to the public. As The Cable reports:

Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.

We’re further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain’s “external defense” and therefore couldn’t be used against protesters. Of course, that’s the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.

The hypocrisy of it all is not lost on Bahrainis, or likely other people struggling for democracy in the region or around the world. As Nada Alwadi, a journalist from Bahrain who was jailed for covering the uprising last spring, said in an email interview:

Many Bahrainis were really shocked by the latest news that the Obama administration is going to go ahead with the arms deal with the Bahraini government, especially since the oppression against protesters in several areas in Bahrain has never stopped, if not become more serious. Bahrainis feel that by going ahead with this deal the United States is sending a message to the Bahraini government that they support them on using these weapons against their own people, which has huge implications on how the United States is perceived. The outcome of such a development, if proven right,will result in growing the frustration towards the United States as a superpower which supports its allies even when they are killing their own people.

The Bahraini government seems to have gotten this message loud and clear as well. Only days after the news broke, Bahraini police fired tear gas into the cells of protesters who were on hunger strike to protest their detention.

Despite the lack of support from the U.S. or attention from the mainstream media, Alwadi insists that:

the movement is still alive and active either on the streets or on social media. Since the Saudi troops entered the country and cracked down on the protesters last March, it was impossible for tens of thousands of people to gather on the main streets again. However, protesters managed to be creative and find other ways to maintain their visibility. Over the past few months, and since the release of the BICI report, several events have been organized by protesters, such as “Occupy Budayie Road,” which resulted in the arrest of many protesters and the killing of young boys… And many Bahrainis expect serious developments on the first anniversary of the uprising on Feb 14.

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