In private, U.S. officials are harsher. One, who's not in Bahrain, said that by bulldozing Shiite mosques and persecuting the political opposition, the government was treating its people like a "captive population."
Another U.S. official visiting the area described the Sunni leadership as "vindictive" and indicated the Obama administration was deeply worried about Bahrain's rapid downward spiral. Both officials asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Shiites have long complained of bias and discrimination here, despite massively outnumbering the entrenched Khalifa dynasty, whose prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman al Khalifa has held the office for the past 40 years.
In mid-March, the government, after a month of protests, abandoned dialogue with moderate Shiites and Sunnis and invited Saudi Arabia to dispatch some 1,500 troops to help quell the unrest. The government imposed a state of emergency and began a crackdown on dissent. Among the first government acts after Saudi troops arrived was the destruction of the iconic Pearl Square, the traffic circle where demonstrators had camped out for weeks.
The government even recalled the half-dinar coins that featured the roundabout.
Most ominous is that hate speech of the sort that preceded the 1994 Rwandan genocide is now allowed in public. The pro-government English language Gulf Daily News recently gave prominence to a reader's letter that compared Shiites to "termites" that should be exterminated.
"The moral is: to get rid of the white ants so they don't come back . . . " said the letter, signed only, "Sana P S."
Bahrain television has carried the canard that the Shiite sect allows its followers to lie, implying that what they say can't be trusted.