POMED Responds to Resumption of Arms Sales to Bahrain

June 29, 2015
Contact: Arwa Shobaki, Project on Middle East Democracy

The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) is dismayed by today’s announcement that the Obama administration has elected to lift holds on arms sales to the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) and National Guard. This decision to resume long-held sales is counterproductive and not in the interest of the United States. Furthermore, the damage done by the decision is only exacerbated by the accompanying public statement, which inaccurately gives credit to the Bahraini government for “meaningful progress on human rights reform and reconciliation.”

In fact, the political and security situations in Bahrain have continued to deteriorate, there has been no progress at all toward political reconciliation, and the Government of Bahrain has refused to implement the kind of meaningful reform desperately needed in the country. Before today, this reality had been acknowledged by the U.S. administration. The State Department’s Human Rights Report — released only last week — paints a bleak picture, expressing serious concerns with the lack of reform and limitations on the rights to free expression, assembly, association, and religion.

While there have been some modest positive steps taken, these have consistently been outweighed and outnumbered by additional rights abuses. For example, while the recent and long-overdue release of imprisoned opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif is welcome, it has been overshadowed by the recent sentencing of opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and the continued detention of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, both imprisoned for peaceful expression of their political views.

When the administration suspended weapons sales in 2011, the message was that sales would not resume in the absence of meaningful political reform. Today’s decision represents a reversal of this policy, sending a negative signal both to Bahraini officials and to the nation’s citizens.

“Today’s announcement will further erode U.S. credibility on human rights issues in Bahrain and across the region,” said POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney. “It will confirm suspicions across the Middle East that legitimate concerns about human rights abuses and political repression will inevitably be trumped by short-term security concerns.”

Bahrain’s government and military remain important partners of the United States, but the country’s dangerous and unsustainable trajectory threatens its own stability as well as its capacity to remain a reliable strategic partner.