January 2011 saw the civil unrest that had been stirring for several months in Egypt erupt in to violent protests, as an increasingly disheartened nation took action to remove from power what it saw as a complacent government whose policies failed to reduce, amongst other things, soaring levels of unemployment. This pattern repeated itself across the Middle East, most notably in Libya and Syria where Western forces were called on to stop escalating violence that was directed against political demonstrators by the countries’ respective governments.

This intervention by Western states, such as Britain and France has been notably absent in other countries in the region such as the staunch ally of America, the island state of Bahrain.

…namely the thirty warships that make up the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Despite reports of excessive force being used against demonstrators in the country, the American government, in particular, seems reluctant to intervene even though the island is home to a substantial amount of military hardware namely the thirty warships that make up the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. This may however be the reason for America’s reticence in taking sides, and Bahrain’s strategic importance cannot be underestimated.

American naval ties with Bahrain stretch back to the 1940s when the island was used as a base of operations in the Central Pacific area and has, since the Gulf war, been used to store supplies in case of war in the region.

…no one can overlook the strategic importance of the fleet…

The 5th Fleet’s primary objectives are to monitor activities in Iran and to police the Gulf in order to stop pirate activity; but no one can overlook the strategic importance of the fleet protecting a corridor through which 40% of the world’s oil travels.

It is, of course, in America’s best interests to allow Bahrain to become fully democratic, a process that would strengthen an already solid alliance between the two countries, but maintaining the friendship with the already established government and monarchy is the US’s short-term priority.

…hundreds being detained without trial…

The pro-democracy marches that began peacefully in March, in Bahrain, soon resulted in clashes between police and protestors, with hundreds being detained without trial; four detainees have died in custody. The government soon declared a state of emergency after the violence escalated, which prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to criticize the harsh measures taken against the protestors.

There was however no obvious military intervention from the US despite the presence of approximately 16,000 navy personnel onshore or onboard the thirty warships in the waters surrounding the island nation.

…tensions remain between pro-democracy campaigners and the government.

The state of emergency has now been lifted; the soldiers and tanks removed from the streets, but tensions remain between pro-democracy campaigners and the government.

With America a strong presence in the area it is unclear if the government can maintain the equilibrium before pressure from outside, democratic governments and world bodies, forces the US to take sides.

 

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