Blood on the streets, UK weapons in the Middle East

It’s not often you see doctors and other medical staff shouting and screaming with anger, but that’s exactly what’s been happening in Bahrain.

Staff at the Salminiya hospital in Manama have been expressing absolute outrage at the Bahraini security forces’ lethal attacks on protestors at the Pearl roundabout. Even medics themselves were badly beaten in the very triage tent they’d set up to treat those wounded on the streets. See this (distressing) Al Jazeera video from the hospital.

Meanwhile, in this audio clip you can hear one doctor desperately describing the “chaos” of dead and dying people in and around the hospital. “The hospital is full of casualties”, he says. “There are people on the road … it’s unbelievable, it’s like we’re in a war”. And so it goes on. It’s painfully hard to listen to. (You can email the Bahraini embassy about the crackdown here).

The violent crackdown on protestors in the supposedly “stable” island state of Bahrain, strategic ally of the West and venue for the Formula 1 race season opener on 13 March, is definitely shattering a few myths. Myth number one being that Bahrain was somehow a “trouble-free” Gulf “miracle” (only last week Amnesty published a report on the country’s recent history of repression including, yes, the security forces shooting protestors).

According to Channel 4 News, the UK government has this evening revoked some 40 or so export licences for transfers (of stuff like tear gas, assault rifles and machine guns) to Bahrain in light of this week’s violence, which is only right (Amnesty had called for full suspension immediately). But you have to wonder whether they were wise to send this equipment in the first place, something the delegates at a major UN arms meeting in New York are likely to be considering next month. (Follow Amnesty’s arms man on Twitter @OllySprague for updates on the NYC meet-up as well as unfolding events in the Middle East and North Africa).

As the world hurriedly reshapes itself around the new realities of assertive populations demanding their rights across a vast swathe of the Middle East and North Africa, arms exporting countries like the UK are also hurriedly re-evaluating their “markets”.

The precise mechanics of risk-assessment are a complex business which I’ll leave to arms control experts like Olly Sprague. But suffice it to say, we shouldn’t be sending arms and other equipment to regimes whose habitual response to peaceful demos is violence and yet more violence.

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