Elliott Abrams: Is Trump Cool About Despotism in Bahrain?

A family member cries out at a funeral of an anti-government protester on February 18, 2011 in Sitra, Bahrain. Three slain protesters were buried Friday. Security forces opened up with live ammunition on demonstrators in fresh clashes in the early evening, resulting in unconfirmed reports of four dead and undetermined amount wounded. John Moore/Getty

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

The government of Bahrain has just shut down the main secular opposition group in the country, the National Democratic Action Society or "Waad."

Deutsche Welle tells the story:

A court in Bahrain on Wednesday ordered the largest secular opposition group to dissolve and its assets seized for supporting terrorism and failing to recognize the constitution.

The closure of the National Democratic Action Society (Waad) is the latest blow to dissenting voices in the Sunni-led kingdom, which has cracked down on the Shiite majority and pro-democracy reformers since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The court said Waad glorified as "martyrs of the homeland" three men who were executed earlier this year for a 2014 bomb attack that killed three police officers, according to the Bahrain News Agency.

The court also said the social and political association showed solidarity with the country's largest Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq, which was dissolved last year for organizing protests and "harboring terrorism."

Sadly, the government of Bahrain is simply shutting down all political life and criminalizing all criticism of its actions. I'm unaware of any real evidence that Waad actually supports terrorism and in fact it has even criticized any form of violent protests. What's going on here is the end of freedom of speech or association in Bahrain.

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Why does it matter? For one thing, the Fifth Fleet is headquartered there. The United States therefore has a continuing interest in political stability in Bahrain. But stability and repression are two entirely different things.

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These steps by the government of Bahrain, which is to say by the royal family, silence criticism and opposition, and silence the country's Shia majority, for a while. But this is a pressure cooker, and the pressure will build as long as legitimate grievances exist—and grow. And they will.

Who will benefit? Iran, which is already engaged in a program of subversion in Bahrain. The government of Bahrain is steadily squeezing out the center—eliminating legitimate opposition groups and moderate voices, and assuring that more radical groups will grow in influence. It's entirely self-defeating, and it's a gift to Iran.

If there is any awareness of this danger in the U.S. government, it is at the moment invisible. But I wonder: are the relevant officers in the U.S. Navy as relaxed about repression in Bahrain as the White House appears to be?

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.