Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy (Paperback)
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An uprising against Bahrain's Al Khalifa ruling family that began on February 14, 2011, has diminished in intensity, but incarceration of dissident leaders, opposition boycotts of elections, and periodic small demonstrations continue. The mostly Shiite opposition to the Sunni-minority-led regime has not achieved its goal of establishing a constitutional monarchy, but the unrest has compelled the ruling family to undertake modest reforms. The mainstream opposition uses peaceful forms of dissent, but small factions, possibly backed by Iran, reportedly are stockpiling increasingly sophisticated weaponry and have claimed responsibility for bombings and other attacks primarily against security officials. The Bahrain government's repression has presented a policy dilemma for the United States because Bahrain is a longtime ally that is pivotal to maintaining Persian Gulf security. The country has hosted the U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf region since 1948; the United States and Bahrain have had a formal Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) since 1991; and Bahrain was designated by the United States as a "major non-NATO ally" in 2002. There are over 7,000 U.S. forces in Bahrain, mostly located at a naval headquarters site. Bahrain has relied on U.S.-made arms, but, because of the government's use of force against protesters, the Obama Administration held up some new weapons sales to Bahrain and curtailed U.S. assistance to Bahrain's internal security organizations led by the Ministry of Interior. In 2014, perhaps in part to mitigate the differences with the United States, Bahrain joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and flew strikes against the organization in Syria that year. The Trump Administration has prioritized countering Iran and addressing other regional security issues, aligning the Administration more closely with Bahrain's leadership than was the Obama Administration. The Administration has corroborated Bahrain leadership assertions that Iran is providing material support to violent opposition factions in Bahrain and lifted conditionality on some major arms sales, particularly the sale of additional F-16 combat aircraft. The policy shift has prompted Bahrain opposition criticism that the new Administration is ignoring human rights concerns in the interests of countering Iran. Within the Gulf Cooperation Council alliance (GCC: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman), Bahrain has staunchly supported Saudi policies. It has joined Saudi Arabia-led military action to try to restore the government of Yemen that was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. In June 2017, it joined a Saudi and UAE move to isolate Qatar for its purported support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist movements. Bahrain has accused Qatar of hosting some Bahraini dissidents and of allying with Iran. Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa did not attend the December 5, 2017, GCC summit in Kuwait, which was abbreviated and unproductive because of this rift, although Bahrain's foreign minister did attend the meeting. Bahrain has fewer financial resources than do most of the other GCC states and has always had difficulty improving the living standards of the Shiite majority. The unrest has, in turn, further strained Bahrain's economy by driving away potential foreign investment in Bahrain-an effect compounded by the fall in oil prices since mid-2014. Bahrain's small oil exports emanate primarily from an oil field in Saudi Arabia that the Saudi government has set aside for Bahrain's use. In 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA); legislation implementing it was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169). Some U.S. labor organizations assert that Bahrain's arrests of dissenting workers should void the FTA.