So I was supposed to go watch (and then write about) a panel discussion today at the Capitol. That, uh, didn’t work out. On the plus side, the unexpected free time allowed me to have the glorious experience of actually taking a nap. On the downside, I took that nap on the couch and now I can’t turn my head so good. You take the good with the bad.
Something interesting but kind of under-the-radar happened on Monday, when Bahrain declared Tom Malinowski, the Assistant US Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, persona non grata and expelled him from the country. Malikowski apparently committed the mortal sin of talking with members of Al-Wefaq, the Shiʿa opposition party that pulled out of parliament in 2011 just because they got tired of Shaykh Hamad’s police killing Shiʿa protesters (talk about making mountains out of molehills, am I right?), without a government chaperone.
Malinowski used to be the DC director of Human Rights Watch, and in that capacity he also seems to have taken a negative view of the whole “killing protesters” thing (sheesh, thin-skinned much?), so the Bahrainis were probably gunning for him anyway. Meeting with an opposition political party is not an uncommon thing for US diplomats to do, and the Bahraini government claims that it’s trying to negotiate Al-Wefaq’s return to the political process, so this over the top reaction (usually you only declare someone persona non grata when you catch them spying on you) lends credence to the idea that Malikowski was already on their radar.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this, if anything does. Bahrain obviously feels pretty confident that the US values its Fifth Fleet base there too much to really make any waves over this, and America’s muted response to Shaykh Hamad’s misdeeds over the past couple of years is probably fueling that confidence. But expelling any diplomat, let alone someone as high ranking as an Assistant Secretary of State, is a big deal.