Reem Khalifa
and Brian Murphy

MANAMA, BAHRAIN: During one of the nightly clashes with Bahrain’s security forces, a new chant broke out among protesters: “The U.S. is the great Satan.”

A few days later, pro-government marchers also waved their fists against Washington.

In a place with almost no common ground left after more than 15 months of Arab Spring-inspired unrest, both sides in the Bahrain meltdown are finding a shared target in the United States.

Their gripes are vastly different — protesters claiming the United States has ignored them, government backers expecting full loyalty from their longtime allies — but the across-the-board potshots at Washington’s policies point to the deep complexities of U.S. attempts to navigate the crisis in the tiny Gulf kingdom.

Bahrain tugs at just about every critical Gulf issue for Washington. Atop the list: America’s relations with Saudi Arabia as the main patron for the embattled Bahraini monarchy, and the stability of the Bahrain-based headquarters of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is one of the Pentagon’s main counterweights to Iranian military influence in the Gulf.

At the same time, the nonstop clashes in Bahrain — and at least 50 deaths since February 2011 — have brought critical remarks from Washington about alleged human rights abuses and claims of heavy-handed police tactics.

“But there’s really only so much Washington can say,” said Toby Jones, an expert on Bahraini affairs at Rutgers University. “There’s just too much at stake for U.S. interests.”

This is the slow-drip anger building up among the protesters led by Bahrain’s Shiite majority. Their demands began last year with calls for a greater say in the country’s affairs, which are tightly run by the ruling Sunni dynasty. The protest cries gradually sharpened to urge for the downfall of the Western-backed king and his inner circle.

In a similar way, the demonstrations once reached out to America for the same moral support given to uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere. In recent weeks, however, the tone toward the United States has darkened as protesters feel abandoned by President Barack Obama.

Banners at an anti-government rally earlier this month denounced America’s “double standard.”

“Obama supports the killers, not democracy and freedom,” said one message. Another carried a picture of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with the lines: “U.S. interests comes before our freedom.”

“Obama is the one who had people chanting about change and to fight for what’s right,” said Naba Ali, 35, a woman who works as a sales clerk. “We Bahrainis were inspired by him. And now he has turned his back on us.”

The State Department has issued many statements critical of Bahrain’s crackdowns, such as arrest sweeps and job purges, and use of temporary martial law-style rule last year to convict activists in a special security court.