Image via WikipediaThe State Department issued a new Travel Alert for Bahrain dated January 23, 2012 which warns U.S. citizens to the potential for unrest in the country. Security concerns due to traffic disruptions caused by spontaneous demonstrations also caused the US Embassy in Manama to relocate its employees and family members to different neighborhoods in the capital city. Excerpt:
All travelers to Bahrain face increased scrutiny from Bahraini authorities, and the Government of Bahrain has refused to allow some U.S. citizens permission to enter Bahrain. The airport remains open and operational.Read in full here.
Spontaneous and sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations occur in some neighborhoods, particularly at night and on weekends. These demonstrations have included blockades of major highways, trash can fires, and establishment of unofficial checkpoints. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and used various other homemade weapons. The Ministry of Interior maintains official checkpoints in some areas and routinely uses tear gas, stun grenades, and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. The violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators can make travel in and around Bahrain dangerous without advance warning.
The U.S. Embassy restricts its employees from traveling to specific areas and advises all U.S. citizens to do the same. The recent increase in violent demonstrations along the Budaiya Highway corridor has led to traffic disruptions, effectively restricting travel for those living in the area. The resulting inability to leave one's home for an extended period poses significant safety and security concerns. As a result, Embassy employees and their dependents are being relocated to different neighborhoods. We continue to urge U.S. citizens to follow the latest security guidance and to avoid demonstrations. Please check our Demonstration Notices where the latest information and security guidance along with the latest map outlining the recommended areas of travel can be found.
There are no indications that Westerners or U.S. citizens are being targeted directly, but recent isolated examples of anti-U.S. sentiment have been seen on the streets and U.S. flags have occasionally been burned during demonstrations. U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security by knowing the locations of police and fire stations, hospitals, and the U.S. Embassy.
Not everyone, of course, is pleased with this security precaution. Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute writing in Commentary magazine has this to say:
"While the State Department is right to worry about the security of its employees, removing diplomats at the first sign of trouble undercuts diplomats’ ability to gather information.[...] When the going gets tough, that is the time for American diplomats to be on the street, in local markets, and generally outside embassy walls or the confines of posh neighborhoods."I don't know that you'd call this "the first sign of trouble." The demonstrations in Bahrain have been on and off since last year. And really, the mission is relocating staff housing in this arid archipelago, it's not like the embassy is shut down for business.
Perhaps there is something to this that Mr. Rubin may not have considered. Our diplomats in Bahrain continue to meet with their local contacts; feeding the fish in Washington, D.C. three times a day, plus snacks becomes urgent and absolutely necessary. But how effective can our diplomats do their job if they are constantly worried about the safety of their family members who go about their lives in this chaotic and dangerous environment? They do not have security escorts and drivers, you know. Diplomatic spouses and kids, at least, deserve to have snacks and dinners without a serving of tear gas.