Clinton called Bahrain a ‘Model Partner’ in December, Foreign Minister Touted Freedoms in January

Feb 17, 2011 8:39am

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Given Thursday's early morning crackdown on sleeping protestors in Bahrain, it's worth looking back to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said about its key ally before the demonstrations started, and how Bahrain's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, touted his country's freedoms as an example for the region. Secretary Clinton was in Bahrain last December to attend the "Manama Dialogue." During a press conference with her Bahraini counterpart on Dec. 3, Clinton called the tiny Persian Gulf state a "model partner" and congratulated them on the elections six weeks earlier. She said she was "impressed by the commitment that the government has to the democratic path that Bahrain is walking on." "It takes time; we know that from our own experience. There are obstacles and difficulties along the way. But America will continue working with you to promote a vigorous civil society, and to ensure that democracy, human rights, and civil liberties are protected by the rule of law, because we view Bahrain as a model partner for not only the United States, but for so many countries that are looking to see the way that Bahrain decides about its future," she said. The two met again in Doha, Qatar last month, speaking on the same panel where, a day before Tunisian leader Ben Ali was forced to flee, Clinton delivered her big speech warning Arab governments to reform or see progress "sink into the sand." This time, Foreign Minister Khalid spoke of the growing civil society sector in his country and expounded on the freedoms in Bahrain, including freedom of expression and assembly. "This flourishing of civil society has been underpinned by the guarantees in Bahrain’s constitution and laws of rights such as the freedom of assembly, freedom to demonstrate, and the freedom to open public expression and debate. And these guarantees have also ensured the continued progress and consolidation of our democracy and democratic institutions, enabling political institutions to hold political meetings, campaign for public support, select candidates, and act as parliamentary blocs," he said. He added, however, that: "We are committed to freedom of expression, but we recognize also the potential – the harm that inflammatory information can have on inciting divisions between people and disrupting social harmony. It is important that this fundamental right is exercised constructively and responsibly.‬" In light of the recent violence against demonstrators calling for an overthrow of the country's 200-plus year-old monarchy, those words seem even more ominous. Sheikh Khalid continued a bit later, saying: "I want to mediate on the rule of law and our commitment to it. The rule of law helps the democratic process thrive. It protects and promotes not only the rights of the individual, but also the participation of civil society. If civil society feels that the law needs to be reformed, then the democratic process will ensure that proper avenues exist for such forums to be publicly debated, discussed, and effected.‬"

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