Well, have a look at this delightful report from Al Jazeera about what riot police have been up to in Bahrain (I warn you: the report linked to features images of wounded people and others in great distress).
Bahrain was memorably described by David Mellor on the Today Programme (shouldn't it be anagrammatically renamed the Toady Programme when he's on it?) as a "quasi-democracy".
It would appear that five people have been killed in this last attack. (Before we get too locally self-righteous, we should remember what Alfie Meadows went through at the hands of the British police recently.) The attack on the protestors in Bahrain was launched using weapons of exactly the types sold to the Bahraini authorities by British, i.e. guns, rubber bullets, teargas and grenades. Apparently we also sell Bahrain machine guns and ammunition. Everything, in other words, that a "quasi-democracy" needs for quasi-violent quasi-suppression of protestors exercising their quasi-democratic quasi-freedom.
This morning, the Guardian has this and this to say about British Government policy in the wake of the savage attack on protestors. A sample:
Britain announced a review of licences granted for arms exports to Bahrain which it would "urgently revoke" if the sales criteria had been breached in their use, after it emerged that types of crowd-control weapons similar to those used in the crackdown were supplied by British companies. Despite concerns among activists over Bahrain's rights record, British firms were last year granted licences, entirely unopposed, to export crowd-control weapons that can lead to fatalities in use.Oh, thank God! A "review" (that's all right then!) after it "emerged" that Bahrain's government have been using weapons to attack and hurt and kill people! One wonders what we imagine they were going to use these weapons for... decorating their office walls?
The Guardian also says:
According to the Foreign Office's own records and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the UK has also supplied Libya – which has warned in an SMS message that it will use live ammunition against protesters – with similar weapons and ammunition. Sales to both Bahrain and Libya were actively promoted by the UK government's arms promotion unit, the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation.
Despite the widespread unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa, British arms manufacturers this weekend will be attending IDEX, a major arms fair in Abu Dhabi, to promote sales throughout the Middle East region.And:
Despite the warnings from HRW and other organisations of a worsening rights situation in Bahrain, the Foreign Office's own statistics reveal that the number of arms exports licences continued to increase in 2010 from 34 to 42 with no licences being refused. Arms exports to Libya, where lethal force has already been used against demonstrators, appear to have followed a similar pattern with exports last year including tear gas, and £3.2 million worth of ammunition including for crowd control..The Guardian then quotes a Labour ex-minister being all righteous about it. But Labour's ethical foreign policy amounted to taking down some photos of General Suharto in the Foreign Office.
In truth, the current government is no better than the last one on this issue, and that one was probably a bit worse even than the one before it... the one that had David Mellor in it. On the Today Programme, when he defended Bahrain as a "stalwart friend" of the UK, Mellor was described as having "strong links" with the country. The BBC announcer didn't go into this further... apparently thinking that it wasn't necessary for us licence payers to know about the interests of someone who was about to offer us his opinion... but Mellor was a senior adviser for Ernst & Young (one of the biggest international accountancy firms, with an extensive British arm) and apparently still "consults" them (I dread to think what that means). Ernst & Young do big business in Bahrain, even running something from there which they call their "Global Islamic Financial Services Group". (So much for the clash of civilisations.)
So, none of this is very hard to parse, is it? The British government and British business (both in sales of things like riot control tools and in financial services) has extensive links with the Bahraini regime, which is a brutal monarchical dictatorship with the flimsiest pretence of democracy; a wealthy Sunni minority regime that squashes the rights of its shia majority (Mellor, by the way, was eager to play up the usual scaremongering fears about Shia extremism... despite the fact that the protestors who were attacked have been demanding secular democracy).
America (our great ally) also has extensive links of all kinds. For instance, in 2008, KBR - an American construction firm based in Houston, formerly part of Halliburton and one of the vultures that fed on Iraq after the invasion... and the biggest non-unionised construction firm in the U.S. as it happens - won the contract "to provide design management, project management, and construction management services" for the planned Qatar-Bahrain Causeway.
Moreover, as a Gulf state, Bahrain is an important link in the chain of bases, intallations and local allies that make up the ringfence of American imperialism in the energy rich region, to which successive British post-imperial governments (going back to Atlee) have passionately wedded themselves. America's Fifth Fleet is the naval wing of their Central Command: it is located on the island of NSA Bahrain, within the Kingdom of Bahrain. It is at the epicentre of the Middle East, not far (relatively speaking) from either Bagdad or Riyadh.
I suppose what I'm getting at can be boiled down to something very simple. The protestors in Bahrain are protesting against a regime that the West supports, trades with, supplies with lucrative financial services and uses as a vital naval base. Our politicos act all shocked and our pundits defend them from opprobrium when they attack, beat, torture and murder people (using weapons that our governments and weapons firms have sold them) who just want some of the democracy (not quasi-democracy, thanks) that our leaders constantly use in their rhetoric.
This must stop. We must campaign against the arms trade. We need to reject the notion that people in the Middle East aren't ready for democracy, that they need our help and paternalistic guidance... or our bombs and armies of occupation dumped on them. If anything, what they need is less of our help - if, by help, we mean our "humanitarian intervention" or our evangelical promotion of free trade, or our penetration and cooptation of their economies. We (and here I use "we" in the unironical sense, to mean "we, the people") need to support the protestors all across the newly-insurgent Middle East as they fight (and they are, quite literally, having to fight) the regimes that our Western leaders have so long, so profitably and so hypocritically supported and dealt with. Even as we fight the neoliberal evisceration of our own economy, we need to support them in their struggle against the tyranny of their neoliberal-friendly local dictators. It's all one struggle because it's all one problem.
We have to do it. After all... who else is there?
ADDENDUM: I've just seen this post at Richard Seymour's blog, which mentions further British links with Bahrain.
ADDENDUM #2: Since I posted the above, Bahraini police and/or army have opened fire (with live ammo according to some reports) on protestors who were conducting the funerals of those killed in the earlier protests. There are reports of helicopters spraying bullets into the crowd. Meanwhile, in Libya, Gaddafi has been desperately trying to stem the growing revolt by launching brutal attacks on protestors, killing many. (However, he seems to have lost control of large sections of the country - and has had to draft in mercenaries to do the slaughter for him because the army is reluctant).