Bahrain: Anything But an Island of Stability

Last week Rob Sobhani, CEO of Caspian Group Holdings, called Bahrain an “island of stability” in the Washington Times. “Chaos has not affected the Kingdom of Bahrain, and this reliable military, economic and diplomatic partner of America has weathered the storm,” he writes. “By practicing good governance, this U.S.-educated monarch has prevented his country from becoming another failed state.”

I wonder if he’s referring to the same Bahrain that has jailed human rights defenders, killed peaceful protesters, and cracked down on the main opposition party. Bahrain is an increasingly shaky bet for Washington.

Four years after the large-scale protests of early 2011, few of the promised reforms have been enacted. The security forces remain divided along sectarian lines, corruption runs rampant, and civil society has little room to breathe.

The U.S. government has consistently ignored or downplayed Bahrain’s human rights violations, even when its own diplomats and elected officials have been expelled from or denied entry to the country. And when the U.S. embassy sends monitors to the deeply flawed trials of human rights defenders, their silence has been interpreted as tacit approval.

Sobhani’s company has a significant energy project in Bahrain. But the truth is that the status quo is bad for business—international credit rating agencies Standard & Poor and Fitch gave Bahrain a negative rating in December 2014 because of falling oil prices and the failure to end political unrest.

Stability in Bahrain is still possible—but not because of the “good governance” Sobhani claims the monarchy has exercised. The United States needs to take a comprehensive review of its relationship with Bahrain, offer assistance on security force reform, and stop tolerating corruption. For more recommendations, see Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Bring Stability to Bahrain.”

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Published on February 18, 2015

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