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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid