Al Khalifa Not Providing Bahrainis with A Modicum of Democracy: Ex-US Diplomat

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An American author and former diplomat slammed the Bahraini regime for its continued human right violations and crackdown on dissent in the Persian Gulf country, saying the Bahraini people are deprived of “even a modicum of democracy”.

“The Al Khalifas ignore the basic needs of their people and refuse to provide them with even a modicum of democracy,” Michael Springmann, the former head of the American visa bureau in Saudi Arabia, said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.

“The government uses force to attempt to control its populace--and fails,” he said, adding, “If anything, the king's iron boot on his people's neck intensifies and hardens dissent, a dissent that has been growing for seven years.” 

“When the end comes, hopefully, sooner than later, it will be bloody and the Al Khalifas might not have time to flee to Saudi Arabia, another of its patrons,” the former diplomat said.

J. Michael Springmann served in the US government as a diplomat with the State Department's Foreign Service, with postings in Germany, India, and Saudi Arabia. He left federal service and currently practices law in the Washington, DC, area. Springmann’s works and interviews have been published in numerous foreign policy publications, including Covert Action Quarterly, Unclassified, Global Outlook, the Public Record, OpEdNews, Global Research and Foreign Policy Journal.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Tasnim: As you may know, Bahraini regime forces have recently attacked protesters in several cities and villages across the Arab country, several days after large crowds of people marked the seventh anniversary of the February 14 revolution in the Persian Gulf kingdom. The protesters chanted anti-regime slogans and underlined that they will continue protests until their demands are met. What is your assessment of the latest protest rallies and the Manama regime’s crackdown on dissidents?

Springmann: My assessment of the almost daily protest rallies and the Manama regime's crackdown on dissidents is that little will happen until the American and European Main Stream Media (MSM) begin to report on them.  For seven years, Sunni and Shiite have demonstrated against the excesses of the Al Khalifa government.  Now, they have even taken their protests about repression to Munich, where a Security Conference was held.  Gathering outside the hotel Bayerischer Hof, the conference's site, demonstrators symbolically put their case to more than 30 heads of state and government and over 100 cabinet ministers from across the globe. (The meeting's purpose was to come together for discussions on major international security challenges.) That is it in a nutshell.  "Major international security challenges" apparently do not exist in Bahrain or Yemen or anywhere else that the Munich conference attendees don't deem important.  And they do not deem them important because Bahrain's capital, Manama, is the base for the US 5th Fleet, there evidently to protect the undemocratic members of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council from Iran.

The United States and Europe are also apparently entranced by the prospects of arms sales and training of Bahrain's so-called security forces.  In September 2017, the American State Department approved nearly US$4 billion in weapons sales to King Khalifa.  Additionally, according to the September 29, 2016, Irish Times, "an international human rights organization has called for a Northern Ireland company to stop training security forces in Bahrain amid concerns about torture."

Moreover, on March 25, 2016, Independent, a British newspaper, reported: "The revelation that elite Royal Navy commandos are running week-long training courses for Bahraini personnel has outraged human rights campaigners, who accuse the regime of using snipers to target protesters during anti-government protests in 2011."

Tasnim: Given the increasing number of death sentences and life imprisonment verdicts issued on trumped-up charges against Bahraini human rights activists and protesters, it seems that the Manama regime is not going to ease tensions in the tiny island country, what do you think about the verdicts and how do you see the future of the country?

Springmann: The verdicts, of course, are appalling.  No democratic, enlightened government relies on trumped-up charges to execute or hand down life sentences to legitimate protestors against repression.  While, at present, the Bahraini government has the support of the United States and the United Kingdom, a concerted human rights campaign in those countries and others could create future problems for the government of that unhappy land.  Withdrawal or curtailment of funds propping up the despotic King might enable the freedom fighters there in Bahrain to make more headway against the so-called "security" forces.  Also, withdrawing all or part of the 5th Fleet from Manama would deprive Bahrain of a good bit of its income from US government expenditures and the funds flowing from the roughly 20,000 sailors and civilians serving there. 

As I have noted a number of times before, I see the Bahraini King's position analogous to that of the French absolute monarch Louis XVI.  That unfortunate man did not take heed of the changes sweeping through 18th Century France.  Nor did he recognize and act upon the widespread discontents affecting his people.  In the end, this brought on revolution and the lopping off of the king's head.

I believe something similar might happen in Bahrain.  The Al Khalifas ignore the basic needs of their people and refuse to provide them even a modicum of democracy.  The government uses force to attempt to control its populace--and fails.  If anything, the king's iron boot on his people's neck intensifies and hardens dissent, a dissent that has been growing for seven years.  When the end comes, hopefully, sooner than later, it will be bloody and the Al Khalifas might not have time to flee to Saudi Arabia, another of its patrons.

Tasnim: What do you think about the Al Khalifa regime's recent attempts to normalize ties with Israel? Don't you think that the Saudi lobby is behind such attempts and the ongoing crackdown on the Shiite majority in Bahrain?

Springmann: In my view, the Saudi government is not behind efforts to improve Bahrain's relations with Israel.   Certainly, that would help Saudi Arabia gain allies to use against Iran.  However, I see this to be strictly Israel's plan, which has the advantage of further dividing the Arab world.  For example, Israel is deeply into Northern Iraq and the Kurdish people there, seeking to split Iraq and posture as the patron of repressed peoples everywhere--except in Occupied Palestine. 

While there are no formal relations between the Zionist entity and Bahrain, there is and has been plenty of behind-the-scenes contact and cooperation.  In December 2017, Al Jazeera reported "(a Bahraini delegation) arrived in Israel with a goal to "send a message of religious tolerance and coexistence"...  In turn, the same article noted that a group from the Israeli Wiesenthal Center (a far-right Zionist organization) would visit Bahrain in 2018 "to start normal contacts." But this is nothing new.

'Way back in 2011, the Washington Times ran a story (April 11) saying "The Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has had secret contacts with Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable."

"The cable reportedly was sent to Washington from the US Embassy in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, after a Feb. 15, 2005, meeting between then-US Ambassador William Monroe and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa."

 “(The king) revealed that Bahrain already has contacts with Israel at the intelligence/security level (ie with Mossad) and indicated that Bahrain will be willing to move forward in other areas,” the cable said.

Certainly, the Saudis are and have been providing aid to their brutal sister "state" since their 2011 invasion to restore order.  However, we should also look to the United States for facilitating these Israeli-Bahraini contacts.  The Electronic Intifada reported December 15, 2017 "An adviser to Donald Trump may be playing a key role in forging an alliance between Israel and Bahrain."

"An investigation by the research group Bahrain Watch published this week reveals that the “interfaith” organization This Is Bahrain has close ties with Johnnie Moore, an “evangelical adviser” to the US president, the report said.

"Moore runs a public relations firm that caters to governments and his efforts appear aimed at whitewashing human rights crimes by Bahrain’s authorities during and since a 2011 uprising, as well as normalizing ties with Israel."

"Moore also backed the president’s decision this month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

"This week Moore personally shepherded a This is Bahrain “interfaith” delegation on a tour of Jerusalem."

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