How To Sound Like a Washington Expert on Bahrain

This blog is cross posted from The Huffington Post:

Next week is the big meeting between the Gulf monarchs and President Obama in Washington. Kings and princes and emirs from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC)–Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)–will get the full red carpet treatment at the White House and Camp David. With the heavy press coverage, Washington analysts on the Gulf will get their moment to shine.

With these few handy phrases here’s how you too can sound like an expert on U.S. ally Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and notorious torturer of medics and human rights activists.

  1. When Bahrain is mentioned be sure to say, “it’s not the worst country in the neighborhood.” No need to say any more, everyone will know you mean Saudi Arabia flogs and beheads people and Bahrain doesn’t. But being “not as bad” as Saudi on human rights is a bit like saying Stockholm’s winters aren’t that cold because Helsinki’s are worse, but never mind.
  2. Blame America for not doing more to sort things out in Bahrain. Or Britain, who has pushed even less for reform in the past few years. Or Saudi Arabia, which everyone assumes (but no-one really knows) is blocking any moves towards democracy in Bahrain. Or blame Iran for exploiting the grievances and encouraging violent protest, or Russia for selling arms to Bahrain, or the Emiratis for helping Saudi to stop the protests in Bahrain in 2011. But make sure not to hold the Bahraini rulers themselves responsible for the unfair trials, torture, and deaths in custody. That would be an amateur mistake. It’s all someone else’s fault, really.
  3. Say in your most authoritative voice: “Bahrain is different because of the sectarianism.” People will be impressed that you know Bahrain is the only GCC country that has a Shia majority population, and that this automatically makes things more complicated “because of the sectarian edge.” The truth is that Bahrain is not that different from other Gulf monarchies where people’s rights are denied for non-theological reasons. Bahrain’s problems are rooted in a lack of power sharing between those who have it and those who don’t. Bahrain has serious sectarian problems, yes, but there’s no reason to think its rulers would be any less authoritarian than their Gulf counterparts if the kingdom also had a Sunni majority.
  4. If the Bahraini Prime minister is mentioned, nod gravely and say, “the problem will eventually take care of itself.” He’s the king’s uncle, and has had the job (unelected, of course) since 1971. This shows you know that he’s considered a major obstruction to reform (say “a royal hardliner” for extra gravitas), and that he’s approaching old age (79). Now, this might not be strictly true (see Zimbabwe: Mugabe) but most importantly, it passes for learned analysis.
  5. This is the big one. The more pessimistic you are about Bahrain, the more expert you will sound. Flood your sentences with words like intractable, logjammed, impossible, impasse, locked, and stalemate. Leave no room for optimism–it’s a classic rookie mistake to suggest there can be a good outcome for Bahrain.

You could also make a scorecard and play Bahrain Bingo during the media coverage. Bonus points if you hear “the Crown Prince is a potential reformer.”


Published on May 6, 2015


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