As more than 100,000 protesters descended into the streets on Friday, women uniformly dressed in black flowing robes carried signs saying, “Revolution: The only solution.”
Three weeks of pro-democracy protests in this island nation have followed the pattern of those in Egypt and Tunisia, with cellphones and Facebook posts propelling the movement and a botched, deadly crackdown by security forces two weeks ago serving to embolden the demonstrators.
Yet those who lead and take part in the nearly daily demonstrations here say they fear at least one key difference: The United States may not be fully on their side.
“The U.S. is not acting like they did in other countries,” said Ali Najaf, who marched on Friday amid a sea of red-and-white Bahraini flags. “We thought they would support the people.”
Unlike in the case of Egypt, where President Obama promised to “stand up for democracy” and called for a change of power “now,” Washington has backed the royal family in Bahrain with statements supporting the country’s still-undefined proposal for dialogue with the opposition.
Obama administration officials say they believe the royal family has earned the right to try to navigate this period, after heeding the United States’s plea to call off the security forces who shot the protesters, killing seven of them. The president’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, has conferred with the country’s crown prince, Sheik Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, whom an administration official described as sensible.
On Sunday, Mr. Obama said he welcomed a “commitment to reform” by the king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
But opposition parties say they do not believe there is enough pressure to produce genuine change.
After weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world, the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait.
Instead of pushing for immediate regime change—as it did to varying degrees in Egypt and now Libya—the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling “regime alteration.”
The approach has emerged amid furious lobbying of the administration by Arab governments, who were alarmed that President Barack Obama had abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and worried that, if the U.S. did the same to the beleaguered king of Bahrain, a chain of revolts could sweep them from power, too, and further upend the region’s stability.