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Analysis: Bahraini views on US terrorist listing

The US State Department’s decision to list two affiliates of the Al Ashtar Brigades on a terrorist list was strongly welcomed by many Bahrainis. The organisation which is backed by Iran was responsible for the deadliest attack on Bahraini soil that left three policemen dead in March 2014.

There was a notable tendency for Bahrainis to welcome this new readiness by the US to get tough on terrorism in the GCC and to take a stronger approach on Iran. However, many people raised other concerns about American policies towards the region and Muslims more generally. Below is a range of opinions on how Bahrainis viewed the recent decision by the United States:

“US needs to go back to its role as a world leader”

“People would mostly agree that the Obama Administration’s foreign policy was completely ineffective, especially towards the Middle East. We hope that President Trump keeps taking action when required and plays a bigger role in global security affairs;” said Sarah, age 28, from Manama.

“For years Bahrain and the GCC have been warning Americans about Iranian interference, but they ignored us because of the nuclear deal. It didn’t fit with their policy vision. The fact that America now recognizes that there are terrorists in Bahrain and that they are funded, armed and trained by Iran is a very big step,” said Mohammed, age 28, from Riffa. 

“We might agree or disagree with some of Trump’s policies, however the US is required to have a certain level of involvement in international affairs. All we’ve seen from the US was just talk during the past eight years and when action was taken such as the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq it was a complete disaster;” said Khalid, age 32, from Isa Town.

“A step in the right direction”

“Trump bans Muslims from visiting, because we’re all terrorists – apparently. He wants to move the Jerusalem Embassy; and in interviews and debates he didn’t seem able to give the simplest answers to questions about Iraq and Syria. I don’t understand why leaders in the region have high hopes of this man. For different reasons, the last three US presidents have all been disasters for us. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states should be making their own policies and not waiting for the Americans to get us out of trouble every time;” said Faisal, age 36, from Muharraq.

“The US needs to go back to its role as a world leader and a proper foreign policy strategy is certainly a requirement for being a world leader. The State Department’s listing of the Iran-backed Al Ashtar Brigades as a terrorist organisation is a step in the right direction. We need more acknowledgment of the existence of different patterns of terrorism in the region by the US and others;” said Salman, age 30, from Riffa.

“The media can criticise President Trump all it wants for the insensible things he says, but if he will fight terror and take tough stances on Iran, then his decisions are sensible and he will be building stronger relations with his allies in the Gulf;” said Maryam 32, from Saar.

“US has been very lenient with Iran”

“Trump says he wants to get tough on Iran. But what does that mean? It doesn’t feel that the US now has a Middle East policy, or a clear way forward for addressing Iranian interference in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain… I worry that American policy could be very unpredictable over the next few years, instead of there being a clear strategy for countering Iran and helping Arab states to be strong and independent;” said Mona, age 42, from Hamad Town.

“The US has been very lenient with Iran. Now it’s time to show the Iranian regime that the world has opened its eyes to its support for terror. The regime in Iran has been playing around with the region and the GCC countries tried for long to keep diplomatic ties with Iran as a neighbour, however the tides have shifted and we in the Gulf have no tolerance for a neighbouring regime that supports terrorism in our countries… The US should continue being a partner and a strong ally by addressing Iran’s terrorism attempts;” said Abdullah, age 29, from Muharraq.

“The step taken by the US State Department shifts public opinion on the US and Trump in the GCC. The Gulf states and the US have been allies for long and we have shared interests. We are a part of a coalition to fight terrorism and we need to work more closely to overcome the challenges faced by both the US and the GCC;” said Ahmed, age 30, from Manama. 

“Security comes first”

“When leading Iranian generals recently threatened to bomb the American Navy and port facilities in Bahrain, why didn’t we hear any response? This is one of the most dangerous threats we’ve heard in a long time and this time it’s not just against Bahrain, but against American interests too. So it’s good that Trump takes symbolic measures against terrorists in Bahrain, but there should be a clear plan for defending the sovereignty of GCC states from Iranian threats. Does America not think these are serious?” said Marwa, age 41, from Saar.

“Security comes first. The United States and Britain are the allies which have helped keep Bahrain and the GCC safe and secure. Since the 2011 unrest, Britain has played a major role in working with Bahrain to overcome security challenges and support further reforms to keep the country stable, however as Bahrainis we haven't seen much being done by the US since the unrest and we hope that the new US administration will do more to support Bahrain;” said Fatima, age 28, from Budaiya.

“Even before 2011, America seemed very close to Bahrain’s opposition and had very close ties with Al-Wefaq and others who rejected the political process totally. So should we see these measures against Al Ashtar Brigades as a major policy change? It’s too early to tell, but we hope that this means a more honest and straightforward US policy towards Bahrain from now on,” said Hanan, age 31, from Budaiya.

“I wish we could hear a clear foreign policy vision”

“I read Gulf newspapers and they see the US Administration as very tough and very serious. Then I watch CNN and Trump seems like a clown who doesn’t know what he’s doing and only cares about his ratings. It’s still very difficult to tell what Trump means for the region and I wish we could hear a clear foreign policy vision;” said Abdulrahman, age 39, from Saar.

“The relations between the GCC and the states are heading in the right direction. I don't think that there has ever been an era of no cooperation between the two, it’s just that the recent terrorist listing by the State Department builds on America’s cooperation with Bahrain and the Gulf in fighting terror and facing Iranian intervention;” said Yousif 36, from Riffa.

“Iran had the opportunity in scoring a nuclear deal and taking control of Iraq and Syria while directly intervening in Yemen and supporting terrorism in Bahrain. The lack of firm steps by the former US administration left Iran in control of terrorism in the region and today we see an honest forward looking step by the new US administration which will hopefully challenge Iran’s high hopes of taking control of the whole region;” said Ali, age 32, from Manama.

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