March 14th marked the second anniversary of the intervention of Saudi-led forces in Bahrain. The clashes on the 14th between protesters and riot police were the worst in several weeks1. Despite the intervention and despite continued harsh repression by the regime in Bahrain, protests and riots are still a daily occurrence.
A New Normal
The protests in Bahrain may have started from diffusion of the Arab Spring protests in other countries, but two years after its start the conflict in the tiny nation has taken on its own character. One aspect of Bahrain’s new norm is the constant starting and stopping of ‘talks’ between some opposition groups like Al Wefaq and government representatives. Many however see these meetings as pointless since the regime shows no indication that it plans to ever share power. The regime seems intent on maintaining all real control in Bahrain and all important governmental and military positions are still hand-picked by the ruling family. The government has changed its tactics somewhat however. From installing a white balloon in the capital that “observers in Manama claim…is used to monitor the population of the capital’s restive suburbs,”2 to revoking the citizenship of prominent opposition leaders and protesters, the regime has been approaching repression with a more nuanced game. When reporting the protests on the 14th, the state-run Bahrain News Agency stated that the suburbs saw "acts of terrorism committed by saboteurs for the purpose of intimidating and jeopardizing the lives of citizens"3. This word choice is interesting considering the many ways that citizenship in Bahrain has been manipulated by the regime.
|Balloon over Manama|
Scrutiny and the International Community
Last week Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiéres, MSF) announced that its planned conference in Manama would be canceled due to the regime’s unwillingness to give the group final permission. The conference was planned to discuss medical ethics and conflict. MSF Director of Operations Bart Janssens stated that, "It's a fact that in many countries, as in Bahrain, hospitals have become forefront places for political struggles, and people who are injured cannot find in any way a sort of neutral space where only clinical medicine is practiced and not find political discussions – or worse. For example in Syria, hospitals are basically traps for people to get arrested."4 Dr. Janssens’ comments on Syria no doubt are meant to call to mind the arrest of doctors during the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain for treating injured protesters. Four of the at least 40 doctors arrested during the uprisings are still imprisoned.
The news of MSF not being allowed to hold a conference with such a controversial theme in Bahrain is not surprising, but what it highlights is the lack of international scrutiny against Bahrain as well as the regime’s unwillingness to allow scrutiny within its borders. With such a situation as well as the U.S. and Saudi Arabia both desiring the status quo be maintained, intervention in Bahrain on the side of the protesters seems bleak at best.
|Doctors embrace after treating victims of the 2011 clampdown|
1. "Protests mark anniversary of Bahrain uprising." Aljazeera 14 Mar. 2013. Online. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/03/201331419353482107.html>.
2. Kerr, Simeon. “Bleak Bahrain struggles among high-flyers.” The Financial Times 18 Mar. 2013. Online. <http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/a14abd1a-8f5a-11e2-a39b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2PFjK1tYR>.
3. "Protests mark anniversary of Bahrain uprising." Aljazeera 14 Mar. 2013. Online. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/03/201331419353482107.html>.
4. Fisk, Robert. “Bahrain hit by doctors' desertion: Major medical ethics conference is cancelled in the troubled kingdom.” The Independent 24 Mar. 2013. Online. <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/bahrain-hit-by-doctors-desertion-8547097.html>.