When I was invited to visit Bahrain by members of the royal family, I hesitated. They had crushed peaceful protesters last year, and their police had used tear gas against human rights activists. Like everybody else, including some of the Bahraini policemen I later spoke with, I was appalled at the violence and thought the monarchy had blood on its hands. But I felt that declining the offer was irresponsible. I wanted to know the monarchy's side of the story. So I accepted the invitation — on the condition that I was free to meet Bahrain's opposition.
Bahrain is a tiny island nation of 600,000 citizens, with a Parliament of only 40 members, and it cannot be understood if looked at in isolation. For one thing, it stands at the forefront of a regional cold war. Saudi Arabia lies to the west, connected by a 25-kilometer causeway built jointly by the Saudis and Bahrainis. To the east, across the waters of the Gulf, lies Iran. Both Tehran and Riyadh have major stakes in Bahrain.
En route to Bahrain, I stopped by in Riyadh and had many conversations with top government officials, journalists and academics. Their views were clear: Saudi Arabia would not stand by and see Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family fall from power. The Saudis sent in soldiers to help the al-Khalifas regain control of Bahrain in March 2011 and are prepared to do so again.