Bahrain's revolution is a year old today, and brave citizens are once again taking to the streets to protest against the tiny Gulf state's repressive regime.
Their wave of anger comes off the back of stalled promises for political reform, and the regime's cynical attempts to crush the uprising through fear. Currently, 48 doctors and nurses are standing trial for providing basic medical care to the hundreds of pro-democracy protesters wounded and killed by security forces in 2011. Some doctors were dragged from the operating table, arrested and tortured. They now face up to 15 years in prison.
Bahrain's al-Khalifa monarchy continues to enjoy heavy-handed backing from their hardline neighbours, the Saudis, while America, Britain and other so-called supporters of freedom have done shamefully little to support the protesters who have dared to speak up and act.
With dangerous tensions simmering between its Shia majority and Sunni minority, the threat of all-out sectarian conflict in Bahrain, as in Syria, is all too real. And as Kristin Smith Diwan writes in the Financial Times today, the US and the UK "at best have condoned Saudi influence and at worse have been complicit in it". This is doing irrevocable damage to the chances for a peaceful, political solution to the conflict:
In Bahrain, suppression is weakening the already tenuous hold of the reformist political blocs, and fraying the opposition’s commitment to non-violence. Proto-militias can be seen in the unarmed “sacred defence” forces forming in the Shia villages. Still, Sunni irregulars armed with sticks and swords decry the weakness of the government response and threaten to take justice into their own hands...
The US and UK have been slow to face the implications of the Saudi alliance with the hardline faction of the al-Khalifa monarchy. They need to stop following the pace set by Bahrain’s government and to establish benchmarks for progress towards political accountability, reconciliation, and political empowerment of Bahrain’s citizens. Releasing all political prisoners and ending the state media campaign against the opposition would help to overcome opposition distrust. The recent decision of respected national figures to begin discussions based on the seven proposals put forth by the reformist Crown Prince Salman in February 2011 provides an opening for the west to broaden engagement with both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
More information: Pressure works. Watch this video which tells the story of the successful Avaaz campaign to stop the Formula 1 race in Bahrain last year.