He's put teenagers in prison for calling him names, and made treating wounded protesters a crime punishable by death. He's a pretty nasty guy, the King of Bahrain. However with such high stakes in the stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain, it comes as no surprise that Bahrain's fellow conservative Gulf Arab states and other Western countries continue to bolster support of the controversial monarchy of the world's smallest desert Kingdom.
Of chief interest to the US is the maintenance of the Navy's Fifth Fleet which has been based in Bahrain for 40 years, and is a counterpoint for Iranian military in the region (and monitors the flow of oil in the Gulf region). Since Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama's inauguration, more than $100million in aid has been sent to Bahrain, and the Pentagon has overseen plenty of arms deals. Is it just me who thinks that perhaps Obama shouldn't have been put into the same category as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King?
Then comes big brother Saudi Arabia, whose support of the Bahraini monarchy is an extension of its protection of all Gulf monarchies. The effect of sending in 1,000 troops when the protest began in 2011 was to send a clear message to Shi'ites living in Saudi. Particularly now that Iraq no longer has a powerful presence in the region (understatement of the year), the Gulf states feel that the balance has been offset. Iran's power is making Gulf Arab leaders jittery, and Saudi's intervention in Bahrain during the 2011 protests sent a clear message of warning to Iran to stay away.
Without question the Bahraini government's manipulation of power is morally unsound. That much is surely undebatable. Reports of torture, rape, corruption, discrimination and oppression dominate the political landscape. In light of gross human rights violations and wrongdoing, the natural assumption would be that 'Great' Britain will review the type of business, if any, that they conduct with the leaders of Bahrain. We are a civilized country after all, the land of tea and crumpets, not to be associated with a despotic regime. Apparently satire isn't dead after all.
It turns out that the UK continues to court Bahrain regardless of the rather unsavory goings on. Andrew Smith, media co-ordinator from the Campaign Against Arms Trade told The Huffington Post that since the Arab Spring began in 2011, the UK government has approved over £30million worth of arms export licences to Bahrain including assault rifles, pistols and naval guns. They say that many of the weapons sold to the closely affiliated Saudi regime were also used in the harsh crackdown on demonstrators in the 2011 uprising.
Smith added that: 'When our government sells arms it is giving moral and practical support to an illegitimate and authoritarian regime and directly supporting their systematic crackdown on opposition groups'.
Many UK citizens will be unaware that the UK is engaging in such arms trade with Bahrain. However, our government's involvement with a morally dubious country by default makes the hands of the entire nation bloody. In fact, a report from the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that "Both the government and the opposition in Bahrain view UK defence sales as a signal of British support for the government."
It gets worse. In addition to the arms trade, negotiations are currently underway to supply the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) with Eurofighter Typhoons. Arabian aerospace online news service said Eurofighter negotiations 'stepped up a gear' following a meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Bahraini Monarch King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa last August. The two leaders spoke about the Kingdoms plans to purchase a squadron of 12 Typhoons. However the greatest hypocrisy by far was Great British Week. An entire week of jubilations which ran from January 15 to 22 last month celebrated strong bilateral ties between the UK and Bahrain.
The cosy relations between the two countries saw over £300million of bilateral trade in the year of the uprising (2011) alone. It's also worth mentioning that Bahrain hosts 25 British companies, including Ernst & Young, HSBC, McLaren Automotive, and Standard Chartered Bank, as well as thousands of British workers. Funny, that.
It would be a struggle to find a more blatant incidence in which business takes precedent over human rights. The Commons foreign affairs committee are fully aware of this, but quite frankly, couldn't care less. In a recent report they said that although cooperation between the two countries is undoubtedly "controversial" given the Bahraini uprising, "Bahrain provides an immensely valuable home in the Gulf for UK naval assets which would be difficult to find elsewhere". And so it continues... business as usual.
The future for Bahrain is uncertain. Uprisings against entrenched autocratic regimes elsewhere in the Middle East have resulted in four victories for protesters since the Arab uprising began in 2011. In Syria, civil war still continues, and the future is unclear. Whether protesters will be able to force democratic reform onto this island Kingdom is unclear. However, one certainty amidst the chaos, is that change is Bahrain will remain a mirage so long as the king is bolstered by so much international support. Let's not beat about the bush, the British government is publicly supporting a repressive and undemocratic government in Bahrain, and by doing so they are bloodying the hands of a nation which prides itself on promoting civil liberties and human rights for all. Now, who fancies a cuppa?
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