The theocratic dictatorship is flexing its muscles, via the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain, now murdering its own citizens just days after a visit by Bob Gates. Marc Lynch sees the significance of the Saudi move:
The sectarian framing in Bahrain is a deliberate regime strategy, not an obvious “reality.” The Bahraini protest movement, which emerged out of years of online and offline activism and campaigns, explicitly rejected sectarianism and sought to emphasize instead calls for democratic reform and national unity. While a majority of the protestors were Shi’a, like the population of the Kingdom itself, they insisted firmly that they represented the discontent of both Sunnis and Shi’ites, and framed the events as part of the Arab uprisings seen from Tunisia to Libya. Their slogans were about democracy and human rights, not Shi’a particularism, and there is virtually no evidence to support the oft-repeated claim that their efforts were inspired or led by Iran.
The Bahraini regime responded not only with violent force, but also by encouraging a nasty sectarianism in order to divide the popular movement and to build domestic and regional support for a crackdown.
It appears that the Saudi theocrats, observing the threat of peaceful democratic protests throughout the Arab world, have decided to change the subject to the Sunni-Shia divide, rousing sectarian passions, and moving Iraq more firmly into Iran’s Shia camp. It’s called distract, divide and rule. In my view, it is short-sighted, inflammatory and in the end will make the regime more hated and less stable. And this, unlike Libya, requires an American response. Because Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet.
We should back neither Sunni or Shia, but democracy and human rights. Which means, in this case, moving the fleet, if necessary. The Obama administration cannot and should not back this brutality or this sectarian provocation.