News / Middle East

Gates Says Bahraini Leaders Serious About Reform

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa at Sakhir Palace in Manama, March 12, 2011
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa at Sakhir Palace in Manama, March 12, 2011

Multimedia

Audio
Al Pessin

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew out of Bahrain Saturday afternoon after meeting with the king and crown prince about political reforms, and just ahead of another demonstration in Manama.

There was a large protest on Friday in Manama and on Saturday thousands of protesters marched near the royal family's palaces.  As the secretary headed home he said he believes the kingdom's leaders are serious about responding to the protests with real political reforms.

After riding past the site of Friday's large protest and street battle with police, Secretary Gates spent nearly two hours with Bahrains' top leaders, including ten minutes alone with the king. On the flight home, the secretary said the region's leaders need to respond to the protests with more than what he called "baby steps."

"I believe, based on the things that I've heard from the crown prince and the king, that they are prepared to do more than just, as I put it, baby steps," he said.

Secretary Gates urged the Bahraini leaders to respond to their people's political and economic grievances with "real reform."  He said they have already made some changes and would like to move faster with what he called "more far-reaching steps."

But he said one problem is that some opposition elements have refused to join a dialogue offered by the crown prince, a frustration the prince also expressed to reporters at the start of meeting. Gates said U.S. diplomats have met with opposition leaders to try to convince them to participate in talks.

Part of the Pearl Roundabout tent city, March 12, 2011
Part of the Pearl Roundabout tent city, March 12, 2011

One reason for the reluctance could be found Saturday morning at the headquarters of the protesters, Pearl Roundabout in Manama. While Gates was at the royal palaces meeting the king and the crown prince, a tent city of protesters and vendors was awakening after a day in which police fired tear gas, and according to some reports rubber bullets, to break up a large protest after Friday prayers.

The police were reportedly joined by pro-government gangs armed with pipes and swords. Some protesters threw stones, while others tried to make them stop and chanted for a peaceful approach by both sides.

One protester, a teacher who identified himself only as Nabil, says he is not interested in any dialogue with the royal family. "Our grandfathers tried them in [the] 20s and 50s and 60s and 70s, we had a problem with them. And in 80s, 90s and now as well. They say, 'OK, let's sit at a table and see what you want.' And we believe them every time. And every time they lie. So no trust for this family now," said Nabil.

Badria, right, with two friends on Pearl Roundabout, March 12, 2011
Badria, right, with two friends on Pearl Roundabout, March 12, 2011

Also on the roundabout were several women in traditional black abayas, including a nurse named Badria.

When asked why she is supporting the protests, she said, "Because we are suffering here in Bahrain. All our rights are not given to us. Even our grains they are now wishing us to sign that we are with the king. Otherwise, they will not give us our grain."

Protest signs at Pearl Roundabout, March 12, 2011
Protest signs at Pearl Roundabout, March 12, 2011

The mostly Shi'ite Muslim protesters' top complaint Saturday was about foreign workers, Sunni Muslims brought in by the country's Sunni leaders to do manual labor and given citizenship, a situation the country's Shi'ite majority says is changing the political balance and depriving them of jobs. Badria says she is worried about the future for her four small children.

"I am educating them. Who will give them work? Nobody! If the situation is still like this, my children will not get jobs. They will not get any place to stay," she said.

The protests in Bahrain pose a strategic problem for the United States. The U.S. Navy's fifth fleet is based there, providing support to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there are concerns that if Bahrain becomes unstable it could affect another key ally, neighboring Saudi Arabia, where another Sunni royal family rules.

In addition, Secretary Gates said he told the Bahraini leaders if they allow the already month-old unrest to continue, it could create an opportunity for Iran.

"I expressed the view that we had no evidence that suggested that Iran started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region, but there is clear evidence that as the process is protracted, particularly in Bahrain, that the Iranians are looking for ways to exploit it and create problems. And so, I told him that in this instance time is not our friend," he said.

Gates said he told the Bahraini leaders the widespread demand for reform in the Middle East will not allow for a return to the status quo before the protests began, and the United States wants its friends to lead the process, rather than have change imposed on them by potentially destabilizing popular uprisings.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More