Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Protests spreads to some unexpected places .... is Bahrain in a pickle?

As Bahrain enters its fourth day of protest, I've put together the following quick items below, mostly extracted from the Congressional Research Service report dated January 5, 2011, available via the website of the Federation of American Scientists.

Bahrain is a tiny archipelago of 33 islands with an area of 257 square miles, larger than the Maldives but slightly smaller than Singapore.  Take a look at its neighbors.

Map from CIA World Factbook/Regional Map

  • Its total population as of April 2010 is at 1,234,596 with 54% or 666,172  composed of expatriates.
  • Has a vibrant middle and working class, largely composed of majority Shiite Muslims -- about 70% of the citizenry who are envious of the “ownership class” mostly of Sunni Muslims.
  • About 25% of the population is age 14 or younger.
  • The Al Khalifa family, which is Sunni Muslim and generally not as religiously conservative as the leaders of neighboring Saudi Arabia, has ruled Bahrain since 1783.
  • The country is 81% Muslim, 9% Christian, 10% account for other religions
  • The U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, opened in September 1971. J. Adam Ereli was sworn in as the 15th United States Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain on June 28, 2007. He is due for a rotation but is still listed in as US Ambassador to Bahrain. US Embassy Manama currently lists Stephanie Williams as ChargĂ© d'Affaires.
  • Bahrain (and UAE) have been the only Gulf states to deploy their own forces to provide aid to Afghanistan.
  • On March 2002, President Bush (Presidential Determination 2002-10) designated Bahrain a “major non-NATO ally (MNNA),” a designation that facilitates U.S. arms sales.
  • In September 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA). Implementing legislation was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169). In 2005, total bilateral trade was about $780 million, suggesting that trade has expanded significantly following the FTA. In 2009, the United States exported $668 million worth of goods to Bahrain, and imported $463 million in goods from that country.
  • February 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of a U.S. naval command presence in Bahrain; MIDEASTFOR (U.S. Middle East Force), its successor, NAVCENT (naval component of U.S. Central Command), and the Fifth Fleet (reconstituted in June 1995) have been headquartered there. The Fifth Fleet headquarters is a command facility that now covers over 100 acres, and about 2,300 U.S. personnel, mostly Navy, are assigned there.
  • The US Congress and successive Administrations, citing Bahrain’s limited income, have supported military assistance to Bahrain’s small force. The main recipient of such assistance is the relatively small Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), which has about 13,000 personnel (plus about 1,200 National Guard).
  • Bahrain’s total government budget was about $5.6 billion in 2008.
  • In December 2008, the government made numerous arrests of Shiite demonstrators and accused some of being part of a foreign-inspired “plot” to destabilize Bahrain.
  • Allegations of torture against Shiite opposition figures are widespread.
  • Former Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri, now an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, referred to Bahrain as Iran’s 14th province.

Here is the February 16 notice from US Embassy Manama:

As of 1600 hours local time on 16 February, there are no major infrastructure disruptions and demonstrators are neither threatening nor targeting westerners. We are not currently advising extra precautions beyond those listed in our last Demonstration Notice, the Country Specific Information for Bahrain, or the Worldwide Caution available at We will continue to monitor the situation and send out further information as warranted.

Demonstrations are currently expected at:
  • An ongoing demonstration at the Pearl Roundabout remains peaceful but has disrupted traffic in the area. This demonstration is expected to continue at least through the coming weekend.
  • A pro-Government demonstration is scheduled from 1500 - 1700, originating near the Diplomat Hotel, crossing the Shaikh Hamad Causeway along Airport Ave and ending in the vicinity of the airport. Expect heavy traffic delays.
Read the whole thing here.

Related items:
CRS: Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy | January 5, 2011 (via FAS)

WIKILEAKED: US embassy cables: Guide to Bahrain's politics

Reuters: Factbox: Demands of Bahrain's protesters

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