Mar 15, 2011
For those reasons, the Obama administration has chosen quiet diplomacy to try to persuade their rulers to respond peacefully and credibly to popular demands for change. Rulers in both countries have chosen repression over reform. Washington needs another plan.
On Friday and Saturday, Bahraini security forces again fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters. On Sunday, demonstrators shut down the roads leading to the capital’s financial sector and held defiant rallies at a university — the most serious challenges to the royal family since the protests began in February. On Monday, at the request of Bahrain’s ruler, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to back up the government — a provocative and dangerous escalation.
The situation in Yemen is also quickly deteriorating. A demonstration in the capital on Friday that drew about 100,000 people was the largest of the three-week uprising there. On Saturday, four people died, including three who were reportedly killed after security forces fired on protesters. On Sunday, pro-government supporters used rocks, daggers and guns against the protesters. On Monday, four Western journalists were deported.
Protests in Bahrain are being led by the country’s Shiite majority, which has long been denied full rights by the Sunni royal family. Though 70 percent of the population, Shiites are barred from serving in the Army or police force. Still, many would accept a constitutional monarchy backed by a new constitution and a government elected by the people.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa needs to call off the thugs and begin a dialogue with the opposition. He also needs to replace his prime minister — a leading opponent of reform — with someone more enlightened.
In Yemen, pro-democracy protests are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Saleh made a serious concession on Thursday when he said the country would have a parliamentary system by the end of 2011. He, too, needs to negotiate with his opponents and rein in his security forces and thugs.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Bahrain on Friday, and he told reporters that the government’s “baby steps” toward reform would not be enough. We suspect that mild scolding will not be enough to change the king’s mind. The Obama administration needs to press both governments a lot harder. The window for encouraging peaceful change is closing fast.
*New York Times