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Bahrain will pay heavy price for crackdown

  • Crackdown on protesters' encampment caused deaths in Bahrain
  • Fareed Zakaria calls it a rash move that will damage regime internally and internationally
  • He says example of Egypt is stirring up unrest in Middle East and Africa
  • Zakaria: Many regimes will have to offer their people genuine political reform

Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is an author and foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET Sundays and on CNN International at 2 and 10 p.m. Central European Time/ 5 p.m. Abu Dhabi/ 9 p.m. Hong Kong.

New York (CNN) -- The crackdown on protesters in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain is a rash move that will enrage many of its people and cost the regime international prestige, says analyst Fareed Zakaria.

Six people have died this week in the protests by demonstrators seeking political reform in Bahrain, a U.S. ally that is the base for the headquarters of the U.S Navy's Fifth Fleet. Police raided an encampment of protesters before dawn, firing pellets, rubber bullets and tear gas, according to witnesses. A majority Shiite country, Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim royal family.

"The Gulf states have tended to have a softer touch when dealing with political dissent," Zakaria said, "and the fact that Bahrain has been so tough tells you that they have been rattled. But ultimately this is a terrible mistake and they will pay a heavy price for it."

The author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" spoke to CNN on Thursday. Here is an edited transcript:

CNN: Observers are saying the Bahrain conflict is causing a real dilemma for the United States. Why is that?

Zakaria: Bahrain is another one of these places where the United States has deep geopolitical interests that tip it in one direction and values that tip it in the other direction.

The United States has a very important base in Bahrain, which is one of the principal mechanisms by which the U.S. maintains and projects power in the Persian Gulf. Remember that this is an area where 40 to 50% of the world's oil supply passes through. So maintaining the freedom of navigation and the free flow of goods and services is crucial to economic activity in the rest of the world.

And Bahrain has been a very loyal American and western ally. But protesters also have fair and legitimate complaints about the rulers of Bahrain.

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CNN: What do you think will be the impact of the crackdown on protesters?

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Zakaria: The regime in Bahrain is doing something very rash and unwise; it is trying to respond by using force and punitive measures. This is not going to work in the end, and my guess is that they will pull back when they realize that this isn't going to work, but alas the damage will have been done, and they would have both blackened their reputation in the world's eyes, but also created lasting animosity and enmity within their own country.

CNN: As you look at the trend of protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, where do you think this is headed?

Zakaria: I think Egypt is too central in the Arab world for this not to have an effect. I think it has awakened the consciousness of people throughout the Arab world.

These are often tough regimes. They have basically two methods of control. I would divide the Arab world into two groups of countries. There are those that use mass repression, and there are those that use mass bribery. The mass repression is of course the Syrias of the world, and the bribery tends to be done more by the Gulf States. Kuwait and Bahrain in recent weeks have given bonuses to every citizen -- Kuwait gave $3,000 and Bahrain $2,700.

All of these regimes are trying their own tactics, and I think in some cases they will work The Saudis have a long tradition of buying off their political opposition, but everywhere I think you're going to see an effect and a demand for accountability, for transparency, for better treatment.

CNN: What regimes are most threatened?

Zakaria: My guess is that the places that are most vulnerable are places like Yemen where the government is inherently weak, or Bahrain where a minority rules a majority. Ironically it is in places like Bahrain where you see the cracks most clearly, because it has been liberalizing and allowing enough openness that people are connected to the outside world.

The interesting one to watch will be Syria, which is of course deeply repressive, by some measures the most repressive. But yet, having done so little liberalization, the Assad family presides over a very stagnant country, where things seem less stirred up than in other countries where there have been some half measures at openness.

CNN: What about the situation in Libya?

Zakaria: Libya has a lot of oil money and (Moammar) Gadhafi has used that money pretty effectively to buy off the tribes, but he has also run the state in such a tough and arbitrary fashion that there are lots of discontented people there. My own guess is that is another place that we'll see some turmoil over the next few years.

The other place we should be looking is not just in the Middle East, but in Africa, because they, too, look at Egypt, and they claim it as an African country. And there are 17 elections coming up in Africa this year. That provides potential turning points in each of these countries, because you may just find that an election is rigged and that triggers protests. So that part, too, has to be dealt with.

CNN: You talked about the conflict between U.S. interests and values. How should the United States respond to what's happening?

Zakaria: I think that the United States has to recognize that in thinking about its geopolitics, and thinking about the case for geopolitical alliances, that allying with these regimes that have been very brutal and very tough on their people has a security cost on the United States.

By allying with the regime in Egypt we did not get security, because the Mubarak regime was a dictatorship. It had repressed all opposition. The opposition as a result was more extreme, more religiously oriented, and more violent. But here's the important twist -- it was also anti-American because it saw America as supporting the Mubarak regime. So in a very real sense by supporting the Mubarak regime we intensified the forces that led to the creation of al Qaeda and that made al Qaeda view the United States as the great enemy.

They view America as supporting all these dictatorships that oppressed the Arab people. So there is a cost to maintaining these alliances.

CNN: Should the U.S. end its support for these regimes?

Zakaria: The regimes have been good allies of the United States .They are in many cases very responsible people and we should be trying to work with them, but we should be pushing them to really engage in significant reforms, really address the demands of their people -- and by reforms I mean they will have to start sharing power in a much more significant way than they have done.

It is not simply handing people crumbs from the table. There will have to be a fundamentally different compact between the regime and its people and it will have to be one that makes those people citizens, not subjects.

Watch Fareed Zakaria GPS Sundays at 10am and 1pm ET. For the latest from Fareed Zakaria GPS click here.

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