"The uprising that began in Bahrain on February 14, 2011, at the outbreak of the uprisings that swept several Middle Eastern leaders from power, began a political crisis that has defied resolution. [...] The bulk of the Shiite majority in Bahrain says it demands a constitutional monarchy in which an elected parliament produces the government, but many in the Sunni minority government of the Al Khalifa family believe the Shiites want outright rule. In March 2011, Bahrain's government rejected U.S. advice by inviting direct security assistance from other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, declaring a state of emergency, forcefully suppressing demonstrations, and arresting dissident leaders and pro-opposition health care workers. Although the state of emergency ended on June 1, 2011, a 'national dialogue' held in July 2011 reached consensus on only a few modest political reforms. […] The U.S. position on Bahrain has been criticized by those who believe the United States is downplaying regime abuses because of U.S. dependence on the security relationship with the Al Khalifa regime to containing Iranian power--an objective the United States and Bahrain share. Bahrain has provided key support for U.S. interests by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years. Beyond that facility, the United States signed a formal defense pact with Bahrain in 1991 and has designated Bahrain a 'major non-NATO ally,' entitling it to sales of sophisticated U.S. weapons systems. Partly to address criticism from human rights advocates and some Members of Congress, the Administration put on hold a proposed sale of armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons. However, in mid-May 2012 the Administration announced a resumption of other arms sales to Bahrain that it can potentially use to protect itself and support any military effort against Iran."
CRS Report for Congress, 95-1013