The persistence of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in the face of brutal repression may be giving Washington second thoughts about its unwavering support for the royal rulers of the strategically important Persian Gulf Kingdom. Are we about to witness a cosmetic regime change, not so much for the genuine sake of democratic rights in Bahrein, but more to save Washington's vital interests across the region? The tiny island situated between Saudi Arabia and Qatar serves as a base for the Navy's Fifth Fleet, comprising 16,000 personnel and 30 vessels, is staging ground for US military projection across the Middle East and Central Asia. It also monitors the sea-lanes of the Persian Gulf, through which some 30% of the world's oil passes every day. Since the mainly Shia population of Bahrain took to the streets on February 14 in protests against the unelected Sunni monarchy of the Al Khalifa dynasty, Washington has given unrelenting support to the regime, invariably describing Bahrein as an important ally. Apart from the US Fifth Fleet, the US has a free trade agreement with Bahrein, selling some $20 million in weapons every year to the kingdom, and Bahrein is a financial hub for American and global capital.