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Crucial allies in region stifle fight for freedom
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Persian Gulf has been the slow burn of the Arab uprisings.
The fraternity of rulers in the oil-rich region has remained intact with tactics such as withering force in Bahrain and arrests of perceived dissenters in the United Arab Emirates.
It also has been accomplished with little serious blowback from their Western allies, which count on the region’s reliability as an energy supplier and military partner against Iran.
That now could be put to the test as Gulf states attempt to muzzle the voices of opposition by adopting sweeping measures such as bans on protests and clampdowns on social media.
“The Western governments have taken essentially ‘do what it takes’ policies with the Gulf regimes,” said Christopher Davidson, an analyst on Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University. “That requires a certain level of silence and a practice of looking the other way from the West.”
This month, however, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued unusually blunt criticism of a decision by Bahrain — a strategic island kingdom that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet — to temporarily outlaw all protests against the government amid rising violence in the nearly 21-month-old uprising against the Western-backed monarchy.
On Nov. 4, protesters rained homemade firebombs on at least three police stations in another sign of deepening tensions.
Kuwait also could bring further questions from the West over its widening clampdowns on an Islamist-led opposition ahead of Dec. 1 parliamentary elections, including bans on public gatherings of more than 20 people.
Protesters have defied the order, and authorities on Nov. 4 warned that a planned anti-government rally was illegal and would face a stiff backlash from security forces.
The UAE, meanwhile, angrily challenged a European Parliament resolution this month that denounced “assaults, repression and intimidation” against rights activists and suspected members of an Islamist group that officials consider a threat to the state.
More than 60 people have been detained in the past year in one of the quietest ongoing crackdowns of the Arab Spring, rights groups have said.
Saudi Arabia said last month that it was “insulted” by a British Parliament inquiry into suspected Saudi human rights violations and its military assistance to Bahrain’s embattled monarchy.
Saudi forces also have waged an ongoing battle against groups from the kingdom’s Shiite majority, which claims systematic discrimination.
A mutual arrangement
Across the region, bloggers and social media activists face increasing pressures from laws against direct criticism of the sheiks and monarchs who control the Gulf. A Bahraini man recently was sentenced to six months in prison for a conviction of insulting the king.
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