Why the U.S. is worried about protests in Bahrain

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have sparked numerous uprisings in the Arab world, including tiny Bahrain. But as AOL News reports, due to the strategic location and the large U.S. military bases on Bahrain, the political unrest there has U.S. officials worried:

Most Americans couldn’t find Bahrain on a map before this week, but the escalating violence unfolding in the tiny island monarchy could do more damage to U.S. interests in the Middle East than the more high-profile revolution in Egypt.

Bahrain is a tiny group of islands that could fit nearly six times over into Rhode Island. The country has been the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet since shortly after World War II and is a major resupply and refueling depot for warships supporting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.

It is also a strategic listening post for keeping tabs on Iran and its navy

The military issued warnings to U.S. personnel in the area and is also monitoring the situation in Djibouti, the location of another U.S. military base:

The Navy said it is monitoring the situation and stressed that the demonstrations are not aimed as the U.S. government. Still, the Navy has warned uniformed personnel, civilian workers and their families to stay clear of the area where the protests are taking place.

U.S. forces in Bahrain aren’t the only ones on heightened alert. The Pentagon has several strategic military bases scattered around the gulf. It also is watching closely as protests heat up in the small nation of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, where the only U.S. military base on that continent is located.

Al Jazeera coverage of the uprising in Bahrain:

Global Research posted an article on the social and political roots of the uprising in Bahrain:

“Have you ever seen an island with no beaches?” The question posed by the young Bahraini taxi man standing among thousands of chanting anti-government protesters seemed at first to be a bit off the wall. But his explanation soon got to the heart of the grievances that have brought tens of thousands of Bahrainis on to the streets over the past week – protests which have seen at least seven civilians killed amid scenes of excessive violence by state security forces.

Why no beaches?

In the early hours of Thursday, up to five thousand Bahraini protesters were forced from the main demonstration site at the Pearl Roundabout, a landmark intersection in the capital, Manama. The Bahraini authorities deployed helicopters, dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers, with army and police firing teargas and live rounds. Among the protesters were hundreds of women and children.

At the centre of the site is the Pearl Monument, which alludes to the country’s traditional pearl diving and fishing industries – industries that were the mainstay of communities.

Within view of the monument are the iconic skyscrapers of Bahrain’s newfound wealth, including the Financial Harbour and the World Trade Center. Only a few years ago, this entire area of the capital was sea, the land having been reclaimed and developed. Up to 20 per cent of Bahrain’s total land area has been reclaimed from the sea over the past three decades.

However, this vast reclamation and development drive has, according to local environmental groups, devastated the island’s marine ecology and fish stocks in particular. The rampant development – which has made fortunes for the country’s elite – has had an equally devastating effect on local communities who have depended on the sea for their livelihoods. While these communities have suffered the blight of unemployment and poverty, they also have witnessed roaring property development, land prices and profits benefiting the ruling elite.

And these destabilizing social conditions are linked to the U.S. military interests in Bahrain:

Bahrain’s unstable social formation is underpinned by unwavering US diplomatic and military support. The island serves as the base for the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. The latest wave of state repression has tellingly elicited only a subdued, ambivalent comment from Washington, urging “all sides to refrain from violence” – Washington-speak that translates into support for the government. Last year, Bahrain received $19.5 million in US military aid, which, on a per capita basis, equates to greater than that delivered to Egypt.

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