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GlobalPost Commentary

Bahrain's people are a casualty of Washington's political compromises

Commentary: Three years after protests erupted, democracy in Bahrain remains elusive and it's clear the US could have done more.
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A Bahraini demonstrator, protecting his face from tear gas, looks on during clashes with riot police after anti-government protesters tried to retrieve the body of their comrade Abdul Aziz al-Abbar at Salmaniya hospital, on June 19, 2014 in the village of Daih, west of Manama. Al-Abbar, 27, died from his wounds on February 23, after he was shot during clashes between police and protesters. (MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images)

MANAMA, Bahrain — In her new book, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says “Bahrain was an exceptionally complicated case” for Washington when mass protests broke out in my country in 2011. Her justification for not doing more to press for an end to the Bahrain government crackdown is that “America will always have imperfect partners… and we’ll always face imperatives that drive us to make imperfect compromises.”

The Bahraini people are struggling for democracy. They are the casualties of those political compromises. I was convicted for criticizing the government. I’ve just come out of two long, difficult years in prison. My mother died when I was there, and without information about the outside world I had no idea about what was going on in my country.

When I was released at the end of my sentence on May 24, I saw how much Bahrain had changed it is change for the worse. There is more violence; villages are big attacked by Bahrain security forces on a daily basis, people are being killed, but international governments are even more quiet now about what is happening than before I went to jail.

Bahrain hosts the huge US Navy base, but those pushing for democracy have been ignored and abandoned by the American government. Remember talk of promoting human rights? Remember President Obama saying in 2011 that “history is on the move in the Middle East… wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.” It’s not true. Instead, we’ve been compromised by Washington.

When I joined tens of thousands of other Bahrainis in 2011 to protest peacefully for democratic reform, we did not receive help from the US government. Instead, the Bahraini ruling family violently cracked down on the protestors, killing dozens of people and putting thousands more in jail.

While we’ve been beaten and jailed for demanding our rights, the United States has continued to arm and train the Bahrain military. After seeing that peaceful protests don’t work, people have become more radical and more likely to turn to violence. It has become more difficult in the last two years to persuade young people in Bahrain that the peaceful way is the best way to get us our rights.

The American government has sacrificed us in order to sustain its friendship with the ruling dictatorship. We do have a few friends in America acting in our behalf. Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts has spoken out about my case. NGOs like Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch have kept a focus on Bahrain in the American media and on the political agenda, but the overwhelming official response has either been silence or complicity with the repressive regime.

Closing their eyes to the problem is not a smart policy for the United States. Democracy is not only the best outcome here, but also for Washington, for London, and for everyone except the ruling family. We are not moving towards democracy. Instead, we continue on a path towards greater repression. Other prominent human rights defenders have either left the country or, like Naji Fateel and Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, are in prison with long sentences.

I could be punished again if I continue to speak out. Yet, I must do so. I can’t give up until there is change, until there is radical reform, until those who are responsible for the human rights violations are brought to justice, until people aren’t afraid of the police. I don’t want to go back to jail but if it is necessary, I am prepared.

Nabeel Rajab is president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. He was released from prison on May 24, 2014 after serving two years for his part in public protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/commentary/bahrains-people-are-casualty-washingtons-political-compromise