editor’s Note: Joost R. Hitlermann is Deputy Program Director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group.
By Joost R. Hiltermann, Foreign Affairs
Ever since the Arab Spring began, Washington has been faced with the question of how to ease autocrats from power. After former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in February, President Barack Obama said that the United States had been on the “right side” of history, suggesting that that is where Washington would position itself in the Arab world’s transition to democracy. What exactly this should mean in practice remains an unsettled question – especially in states presided over by dictators whose stable rule and pro-U.S. orientation were long-standing cornerstones of U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
This dilemma is particularly salient in the case of Bahrain, a small island kingdom in the Gulf and a longtime U.S. strategic ally. For months now, Bahrain has been engulfed in protests against the repressive rule of the Khalifa family; the most recent demonstrations in late August claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy, the latest casualty in the regime’s drive to restore order.