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The conversation: Brutality in Bahrain

February 18, 2011 | 12:58 pm

BahrainThough protesters in Bahrain have followed the same blueprint for a peaceful assembly as those in Egypt, they've been met with a drastically different response by leaders.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, joined PBS "NewsHour" on Thursday to explain: "In Egypt and Tunisia, it was a little bit easier, because it was not an ideological revolution. There were no major societal divisions at the core of this revolution. They were primarily public empowerment versus regime."

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, agreed: "In Egypt, it's a totally different situation. You have these people who feel that, how can you live with $2 a day? It is impossible. How long can a young couple postpone marriage and live with their parents?" The problem in Bahrain, she said, is that the Sunni leaders are repressing a Shiite majority.

Bahrain2Consequently, the Bahraini protesters have suffered brutality at the hands of security forces. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof has been chronicling his firsthand experience in Bahrain on Twitter and Facebook -- threats to rape a doctor, a paramedic held at gunpoint -- and lays out the bottom line in his Op-Ed column, Blood Runs Through the Streets of Bahrain: "When a king opens fire on his people, he no longer deserves to be ruler. That might be the only way to purge this land of ineffable heartbreak."

Once again, the U.S. finds itself in a delicate situation with vested interests in the region. In a statement delivered Friday, President Obama condemned the violence and urged restraint "in responding to peaceful protests, and to respect the rights of [the] people."

Bahrain3 The Obama administration needs to get proactive, argues the New York Times editorial board. "For too long, the United States has muted its criticism of what goes in Bahrain, to ensure the kingdom’s cooperation on security issues. Bahrain is home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet and an ally in efforts to counter Iran, terrorism and piracy.

After all of its backing-and-forthing on Egypt, we hoped the White House would have figured this one out. On Wednesday, Obama criticized Iran’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, but pointedly did not mention Bahrain. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did better, expressing strong opposition to the violence there and support for reform.

Bahrain's brutality is not only at odds with American values, it is a threat to the country’s long-term stability. Washington will need to push harder.

The Christian Science Monitor's editorial board agrees. "America's strategic interests are better served in alliances with governments that reflect the will of the people."

STAY TUNED:

The Obama administration hurried to get on the right side of history in Egypt. Can it find a way now to slow the train in Yemen and Bahrain? Our Op-Ed columnist Doyle McManus will weigh in Friday night (8 p.m. Eastern time) on "Washington Week" and again in his Sunday column.

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: (Top) An unidentified Bahraini, his jacket splattered with blood, prays near the Pearl roundabout Friday in Manama. After praying, this demonstrator joined others sitting in the street facing off against military vehicles. Credit: Hasan Jamali / AP Photo. Photos: (Middle) A Bahraini woman cries at a hospital where wounded anti-regime protesters were brought in after police opened fire on them, wounding dozens. (Bottom) A wounded Bahraini man receives treatment. Credit: Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images

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