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 Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid