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Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy

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Technical Report

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Congressional Research Service Washington United States

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The uprising against Bahrains Al Khalifa ruling family that began on February 14, 2011, has diminished in intensity, but continued incarceration of dissident leaders, opposition boycotts of elections, and small demonstrations counter government assertions that Bahrain has returned to normal. The mostly Shiite opposition has not achieved its goal of establishing a constitutional monarchy, but the unrest has compelled the ruling family to undertake some modest reforms. Reflecting some radicalization of the opposition, underground factions have claimed responsibility for bombings and other attacks primarily against security officials. The Bahrain governments use of repression against the dissent has presented a policy dilemma for the Obama Administration because Bahrain is a longtime ally that is pivotal to maintaining Persian Gulf security. The country has hosted the U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf region since 1946 the United States and Bahrain have had a formal Defense Cooperation Agreement DCA since 1991 and Bahrain was designated by the United States as a major non-NATO ally in 2002. There are over 8,000 U.S. forces in Bahrain, mostly located at the continually expanding naval headquarters site. Apparently to address the use of force against the uprising, the Obama Administration limited new weapons sales to Bahrain to only those weapons systems that are tailored for external defense, and sharply curtailed U.S. assistance to Bahrains internal security organizations led by the Ministry of Interior. Bahrains opposition asserts that the United States is downplaying regime abuses in order to protect the security relationship.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science

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