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General News    H3'ed 9/18/12

Jen Marlowe: The "Secret" Revolution That Could Set the Middle East Aflame

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unequivocal in her condemnation.  "We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria," she said in remarks earlier this year.  "They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn't worry; everything they're shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That's patently untrue."

In the wake of brutal attacks on civilians and the torture of activists in the Assad regime's prisons, Clinton called on the Russians to suspend their military sales to their key Middle Eastern ally and, a month later, Russia pledged to do so.  It was an American act that Syrian rebels were no doubt pleased about.  It's a pity that Clinton's counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, didn't look out for Bahrain's protesters in a similar fashion.

A year earlier, the ruling Sunni minority of the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom had unleashed its security forces on pro-democracy protesters, leaving many wounded or dead, while others were arrested and tortured.  The U.S. government, which bases the Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, stayed largely silent about the abuses and then, a few months later, the Department of Defense notified Congress that it had brokered a new arms deal with the country.  The Pentagon had arranged for the sale of $53 million worth of weapons and equipment -- 44 armored Humvees and hundreds of TOW missiles -- to Bahrain's oil-rich monarchy.  Despite some Congressional opposition, the Obama administration used a legal loophole to move forward with the sale, without any formal public notification, according to a January report by Foreign Policy.  (The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the branch of the Pentagon that coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment to allies, did not respond to TomDispatch's request for information on the current status of the arms deal.)

Even if had there been public notice of the sale in the U.S., the response would, at best, have been muted.  While American media outlets followed the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt closely, covered Libya's revolution with zeal, and have remained focused on the brutal civil war in Syria, the story of Bahrain's popular, largely nonviolent uprising has largely been limited to scattered coverage and wire service roundups.  Thankfully, TomDispatch's Jen Marlowe traveled to Bahrain this summer to witness the continuing uprising and the brutal government response firsthand, before being detained and then thrown out of the country.  She offers a ground-level view of the "secret" revolution that few Americans have been able to follow and the reasons why they need to.

Earlier this year, armored vehicles patrolled the streets after Bahrain's security forces battled protesters on the first anniversary of the 2011 uprising.  Next year, thanks to the Obama administration, they may have brand new American Humvees on hand for the crackdown. Nick Turse

Terror and Teargas on the Streets of Bahrain
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (in the U.S. at Least)
By Jen Marlowe

Jihan Kazerooni and I drove past scores of armed riot police on Budaiya highway as her iPhone buzzed non-stop: phone calls, Skype calls and, incessantly, Twitter. I had wondered what the phrase "Twitter revolution" really meant when I heard it used in connection with Iran in 2009 and Egypt in 2011. Here, in the small Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain, I was beginning to grasp the concept.

I was in that country for three weeks as a part of the Witness Bahrain initiative, a group of internationals seeking to document and expose human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime against protesters and activists. Aside from brief spurts of coverage, the crisis in Bahrain had largely been ignored by the U.S. media.

Perhaps the lack of coverage of the predominantly Shi'a uprising against an increasingly repressive Sunni monarchy can be explained, in part, by this: Washington considers that monarchy its close ally; Bahrain is the home of the Navy's 5th Fleet, and the beneficiary of U.S. arms sales. Perhaps it has to do with the U.S.-Saudi friendship, and the increasing tension between the U.S. and Iran. Bahrain has been portrayed as a battleground for influence between neighboring Saudi Arabia (a supporter of the monarchy) and nearby majority Shi'a Iran.

Ignoring the revolution underway there and its demands for freedom and democracy is, however, perilous. If activists move from largely peaceful demonstrations toward the use of violence, Bahrain could prove the powder keg that might set the Persian Gulf aflame.  Peaceful activists like Jihan currently hold sway, but given the brutality I witnessed, it's unclear how long the Bahraini revolution will remain nonviolent.

Jihan took me under her wing, introducing me to dozens of Bahrainis who had been directly affected by the regime's crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising. They were not difficult to find.  There was someone in nearly every Shi'a family, Jihan's included, who had been fired from his or her job, arrested, injured, or killed.  Sunni opposition activists (though much fewer in number) had been harshly targeted as well.

Hitting the Road

Jihan, her hair tucked underneath a brown silk scarf and wearing fashionable sunglasses, opened an app on her phone as we tried to reach the march that had been called by a coalition of opposition parties.

"I'll tweet that I am here in Budaiya Road, and there are no checkpoints in the area, but there are lots of riot police." A new tweet came through before Jihan could finish composing hers. She scanned it quickly as she skillfully guided her car around a traffic circle. "Okay. The attack started," she said.  "It's just at the next roundabout. We might be able to see it from the car."  Jihan rolled down the window. "Can you smell the tear gas?" she asked, began coughing, and immediately rolled her window up again.

As we continued our drive, grey clouds of tear gas billowed up from village after village, Jihan constantly checking her Twitter feed and rattling off the names of areas currently under assault: "A protest in Dair has been attacked and in Tashan as well. A'ali, also the same. Now they are attacking the women in the north of Bilad."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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