Bahrain Declares War on the Opposition

via IPS News

The special session of the Bahraini National Assembly held on Sunday Jul. 28 was a spectacle of venom, a display of vulgarity, and an unabashed nod to increased dictatorship.

Calling the Shia “dogs”, as one parliamentarian said during the session, which King Hamad convened, the Al-Khalifa have thrown away any hope for national reconciliation and dialogue.

The 22 recommendations approved during the session aimed at giving the regime pseudo-legal tools to quash dissent and violate human and civil rights with impunity. All in the name of fighting “terrorism”.

Watching a video of some of the speeches during the session, one is saddened by how low official political discourse has become. Students of Bahrain yearn for the days when parliamentary debaters were civil and when Shia and Sunni parliamentarians engaged in thoughtful, rational, and tolerant debates despite their political or ideological differences.

In the early 1970s when the Constituent Assembly debated the draft constitution, Bahrainis followed the speeches by their elected and appointed representatives with much respect and hope for the future of a modern, tolerant, and civil society.

Such parliamentarians as Rasul al-Jishi, Jasim Murad, Ali Saleh, Abd al-Aziz Shamlan, Ali Sayyar, Isa Qasim, Qasim Fakhro, and others made their countrymen proud with the quality of debate that characterised Bahrain’s first ever elected parliament.

Even such ministers as Muhammad bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, Ali Fakhro, and Yusif Shirawi participated in those parliamentary debates and worked jointly with elected members to chart a more hopeful future for all the people of Bahrain.

As I sat through those parliamentary sessions in 1973 and followed the lengthy discussions on a myriad of constitutional amendments, I envisioned a democratically prosperous Bahrain for years to come. The National Assembly, however, was dissolved two years later, and the constitution was suspended. Al-Khalifa ruled by decree ever since.

The parliamentary special session last Sunday showed a divisive, intolerant, and fractured country that is rapidly descending into chaos. It’s as if civility, rationality, and moderation have become relics from the past.

King Hamad and the Crown Prince welcomed the recommendations, and the powerful prime minister urged his ministers to implement them immediately; in fact, he has threatened to fire any minister who slows their implementation.

According to media reports, the recommendations were prepared before the meeting and were disseminated to the media a few minutes after the session ended. They were not even debated meaningfully or rationally during the session.

The regime’s fear that Bahrainis would have their own “tamarud” (rebellion) civil disobedience movement to confront the regime on Aug. 14, Bahrain’s actual independence day, drove the timing of the session. The Bahraini opposition hopes to emulate the Egyptian “tamarud”, which indirectly led to Morsi’s removal.

Like other autocratic regimes, whether under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt or Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Al-Khalifa justified the draconian recommendations against all forms of opposition and peaceful dissent in the name of fighting “terrorism” and incitement of “all forms of violence” (Recommendation #3). The regime will likely use these recommendations to ban all peaceful demonstrations and protests.

The regime is prepared, according to Recommendation #2, to revoke the citizenship of Bahraini citizens “who carry out terrorist crimes and those who instigate terrorism”. The regime defines a terrorist as any Bahraini who is suspected of being a dissident or actively advocating genuine reforms. In fact, Recommendation #6 bans “sit-ins, rallies and gatherings in the capital Manama”.

The regime does not seem perturbed by the fact that citizenship revocation violates international legal norms and the Bahraini constitution. In fact, this might be a sinister way for the Sunni al-Khalifa to alter the demographics of the country by depriving the Shia dissidents of citizenship.

Viewing the entire protest movement through the security prism, as the recommendations imply, the regime seems bent on escalating its crackdown against peaceful protest and freedoms of speech and assembly, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Under Recommendation #7, the country could soon be ruled under martial law or “National Safety”, as the regime euphemistically calls it.

The recommendations have put the country on a sectarian collision course, have dealt a major blow to peaceful dissent and civil rights, and have raised serious questions in Washington about Al-Khalifa’s commitment to genuine reform.

In a direct rebuke to U.S. Ambassador Thomas Krajeski, Recommendation #11 requests “that all ambassadors to Bahrain to not interfere in the kingdom’s domestic affairs.”

Some die-hard Sunni parliamentarians, with the support of the Royal Court, have urged the regime to expel Ambassador Krajeski from Bahrain, claiming he has been meeting with pro-democracy Shia dissidents. Others have threatened his personal safety.

Still others, with tacit regime support, are hoping the ambassador would be transferred out of Bahrain, much like what happened to political officer Ludovic Hood in May 2011.

At the time, according to the “Religion and Politics in Bahrain” blog, pro-regime Sunni activists demanded Hood’s removal because they claimed he offered “Krispy Kreme doughnuts to demonstrators who had gathered outside the American Embassy” to protest perceived U.S. support for Al-Khalifa.

Now pro-regime Sunni activists are feverishly campaigning against the U.S. ambassador’s public support for human rights and genuine reform in Bahrain. The recommendation curtailing diplomatic activities in the country is squarely aimed at Ambassador Krajeski.

According to Bahrain Mirror, some have advocated banning him from appearing on state media and in pro-regime newspapers, even if the subject he is discussing is gourmet cooking, one of the ambassador’s hobbies!

The anti-Shia and anti-reform underlying theme of the recommendations is a naked display of tribal family autocracy, which Al-Khalifa are determined to preserve at any cost, including tearing the society apart. Adopting these recommendations reflects the regime’s nervousness about the ever-increasing precarious nature of their rule and the unstoppable demands for justice, dignity, and equality.

According to a recently leaked audio recording, Crown Prince Salman was quoted as saying, “The current situation is unsustainable, and the policy we are pursuing cannot continue. People are getting tired, and conditions could worsen any moment. Bigger dangers are threatening our society, and the future is becoming more precarious.”

Washington and other Western capitals should work diligently to disabuse the king and the prime minister of the notion that “securitisation” is the answer to Bahrain’s domestic ills. Engaging with the public on the future of Bahrain, including the Shia majority and the pro-democracy youth movement, is the only way to bring the country back from the brink.

Washington should make it clear to Al-Khalifa that media attacks and threats against Ambassador Krajeski should stop. Whipping the flames of hatred against the U.S. embassy to preserve the regime’s dictatorial rule is a dangerous game, which Al-Khalifa cannot afford to engage in.

As a first and immediate step, King Hamad should muzzle the hotheads in his Royal Court and in the prime minister’s office. In the meantime, the U.S. should initiate serious discussions on how and when to move the Fifth Fleet out of Bahrain to a neighbouring country or over the horizon.

Emile Nakhleh

Dr. Emile Nakhleh was a Senior Intelligence Service officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico, and the author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World and Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing State. He has written extensively on Middle East politics, political Islam, radical Sunni ideologies, and terrorism. Dr. Nakhleh received his BA from St. John’s University (MN), the MA from Georgetown University, and the Ph.D. from the American University. He and his wife live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.



  1. Sure sounds like it’s time to make a change over there. I might add that this seems like another unintended result of the U.S. stance of backing a regime or turning a blind eye to the suppression of the majority by the minority. Really show just how inept the U.S. planners are and have been about things in the Arab/M.E. With all the learned individuals available both here in the U.S. and elsewhere, their expertise has been muted by those who want continual war. It also doesn’t help that the majority is Shia which just happens to be the same as in Iran, Iraq.

  2. The article brings to light some important details about the way in which political discourse is developing in Bahrain – namely that political opposition are still being silenced and cracked down on through a variety of legal and political measures.

    Unfortunately, the article doesn’t provide effective commentary on the situation (due to its op-ed nature) and instead seeks to reminisce about the “glory” days of Bahraini politics. I have no idea why 1970’s politics are very relevant to what is and always has been an issue of democratization.

    Most media outlets love to hop on the sectarian bandwagon and portray Middle Eastern political conflict as a primarily sectarian one when that is simply not true. The conflict in Bahrain is not sectarian no matter how much international and local Bahraini media want you to believe. It has to do with the fact that governmental authorities are constantly talking about modernizing Bahrain and achieving prosperity through democratic ideals and practices, while on the ground, authorities continue to stifle political debate, peaceful protest and anything they deem to be “dangerous” or “threatening” to the regime.

    What is really needed from the US and Bahraini authorities is a genuine willingness to open dialogue, implement reform, and put a stop to conflict. The US has a tendency to make a few hollow statements expressing “concern” over various situations in the Middle East but never willing to put genuine pressure on states because the US fears for its own interests.

    The solution isn’t for the US to pull out of Bahraini completely, its to put genuine pressure on Bahraini authorities to enact and produce genuine reform whereby everyone will be satisfied. Why would the US want to lose its Fifth Fleet base in the first place? National reconciliation would be a much better outcome for the US in the region.

    Bahraini authorities have been committing and still are committing violations of international and national laws. THATS the issue here. THATS what needs to stop.

  3. let’s not forget that 98.4% of Bahrainis voted for the constitutional monarchy in 2000 with the two chamber system. More than 55% of Bahrainis voted for the 2002 constitution. The opposition Alwefaq didn’t take part in 2002 elections but shyly did in 2006 and forcefully in 2010.

    The 22 recommendations passed by the National Assembly on July 28 are therefore the output of a democratically elected parliamentarian system.

    One has to say present day social media and media in general along with flawed international policies created a situation where anyone can say anything he wants, unfortunately without any accountability. Doctored graphic footages, cut and paste articles, media deceits seem to have got into you. Things are not what they seem my friend.

    People like yourself who have basically zero ground information without the slightest knowledge of regional history are the biggest source of instability in the region. I acknowledge your academic qualifications but you can’t have access to more information than your US counterpart who have made a mockery of international politics with its double standard approaches particularly when a military coup in Egypt is not a military coup.

    The Shia opposition my friend enjoy the best standard of living in Bahrain especially when they consume 90% of state budget; occupy more than 95% of technocratic jobs of doctors, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, etc; agents of Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, VW, Crysller, etc; agents for most jewellery and watches of Cartier, Audemar Piguet, Hublot, etc; own the biggest construction companies; among them are ministers, undersecretaries, advisors. It’s the Sunnis my friend who are oppressed and not the Shias.

    Bahraini Shais, Sunnis, Christians, jews, Bhais, etc lived in peace and harmony for centuries under the Alkhalifa rule since the 17th century. It was the 1979 Iranian revolution that derailed the Shais into a political agenda and since everyone came to know of the sectarian divide. Add to this the Bahraini Shias are the subject of an eccentric literature that says they were the original inhabiters of Bahrain and along with the 1979 Iranian Welayat Faqih doctrine, they would like to restore the Shai rule in Bahrain.

    As you can see my friend and from our perspective, the Shai movement in Bahrain has nothing to do with Democracy, Freedom, Human Right, Wealth.

    I suggest you start understanding the history of the region and Bahrain better before starting to write academic articles.

  4. I think you are greatly misrepresenting the facts, Mr. Al Aagool. Sectarian related issues have been a staple of Bahraini politics since at least the 1920’s. Yes, the majority of Bahrainis voted for the constitutional monarchy but MAIN purpose of establishing a constitution in the first place was to reform the country’s legal and political systems whereby all citizens are made equal. A lot of this is part of a response to a similar conflict to the 2011 uprisings that occurred in the 1990’s.

    The 22 recommendations are the output of a democratically elected system but that doesn’t mean that they will always represent the interests of all the people in the country. The fact of the matter is, the recommendations are part of the continuing trend of “securitization” of Bahrain’s political conflicts. Instead of encouraging reconciliation, implementing reform, and stop human rights violations, Bahraini authorities spend more and more time and money on employing security officers, tear gas, arms and other hostile measures in order to discourage people from speaking out against the government.

    This isn’t a Sunni-Shia thing. This has to do with the fact that the government has a clear bias against political opposition, especially those who criticize the government’s policies, whether peacefully or not.

    I agree that Bahrain and more generally, the world has a problem with the way in which the media presents these issues to people. But just because YOU don’t think that the media is presenting Bahrain as the pinnacle of tolerance and equality, that doesn’t mean the media is misrepresenting the facts in favor of one side over the other. Both pro and anti-government media outlets cause just as much conflict.

    Also, its unfair to say that someone simply talking about an issue “is the biggest source of instability” because thats simply not true and I can see why you are so clearly not disturbed by violations of free speech and expressions committed by the Bahraini authorities – you share the same ideology. Talking about an issue is probably the best thing you can do about conflict. Not letting people talk about it only leads to unrest.

    You also cannot try to justify the government’s mishandling of the situation by saying that the Shia opposition enjoys the best standard of living. Just because many Shia enjoy prominent positions in society and politics doesn’t mean that there are no problems whatsoever.

    When it comes to allocation of resources for example, Shia communities are disproportionately focused on less by the government. They receive less urban development than any other part of the country. Shia are also disproportionately employed in the private sector – many people believe that this is due to institutionalized discrimination against Shia in the public sector. I don’t know where you are getting these statistics but they seem inaccurate.

    Furthermore, your point about Iran’s influence in the country only has marginal relevance, given the last major intervention by Iran in Bahrain was in the 1980’s. Calling Iran an interfering conflict starter is a stance taken by pro-government supporters who try to propagate the issue. This is not helping anyone and is not solving the issue.

    What you are attempting to do is deligitimize the genuine concerns of a section of the population who for the past two years have been jailed indefinitely, tortured, physically beaten, denied healthcare, denied legal consultation, and denied their right to freedom of speech and expression.

    The opposition is not formed by Shia’s alone. It is not religiously influenced, it is secularly influenced. The first political prisoner since the beginning of the uprising in 2011 is a Sunni, who was an advisor to the king.

    It serves no one to keep repeating the tired notion that Shia enjoy a good standard of living, because that doesn’t solve anyone’s problems. Meanwhile, cars are still being blown up, criminals (both from the political opposition and governmental authorities) are not held accountable, international and local law is violated, and people’s lives are impeded.

  5. Brother Bader, No one in his right mind will ever stand against reform. I am for one, have to say, welcomed the events of February 2011 because of the thought there was something good for everyone. Later on and soon afterwards, it was the view of the vast majority of Bahraini (almost all Sunnis and some Shias), based on ground events and rhetorics of “Down with Hamad” and “Time You Left”, that the unilateral Shai Alwefaq had other thoughts for Bahrain, regrettably of course.

    I am a fairly mature and experienced Sunni married to a Shia. My children are also married to Sunnis and Shias, thus I might be your best bet of a Bahraini with balanced and moderate views. I can’t be manipulated nor am I can be influenced by anyone. I am not from the Government nor with the Government. I am simply myself.

    Since you acknowledged the 98.4% and the 55% of Bahrainis voting for the constitutional monarchy with the two chamber system and the 2002 constitution, I think it can be safely argued that whatever are the nature of our differences, the venue for voicing them out is the elected lower house parliament and not through street mobs going on the rampage of arsons, killings, destruction, molotov cocktails, etc.

    I am assuming here that you also voted for the constitutional monarchy but probably not for the 2002 constitution. For your information Bader, I was never a supporter of the 2002 constitution. My preference has always been for the 1970 constitution- reason- the 40 seats of which 14 were government minister, in my view, was a more acceptable contractual agreement between the government and people. Now, that is history but on the strength of the 98.4% approval of the National Action Charter, I chose to vote for the 2002 constitution. The vast majority of Shias and very few Sunnis didn’t vote for the constitution. This is the democratic process which we have chosen for ourselves, and something we have to abide by and adhere to. We simply can’t engage in having second thoughts about such lifeline issues whenever we thought it didn’t suit us at a particular point in time. This is democracy. Franco Spain in 1974 and Salazar Portugal 1974 refers. Have to start somewhere.

    I will now address some of your comments. There is this continuous misconception in the international media of the “Sunni Alkhalifa Rule” and the “Shia Majority”. I agree Alkhalifa are Sunnis but their conduct and system of governance is very much secular, which I must say is the right system of governance.

    Bahrain has a Sunni population, Shias, Christians, Jews, Bhais, Hindu, etc. Very much a multicultural race, thus can’t have a government with an affinity towards one sect and not the other. This is now the main reason why people like me would argue, based on evidence and statistics, that Shias have a far better living standard than that they would have had in say Iran and Iran. Bahrain has always been known for its tolerance and equality, principally because of the philosophy of co-existence and mutual respect among Bahrainis.

    Concerning some references to discrimination against Shias, I would go back and quote the same statistics in my comments of yesterday. How could Bahrain have discriminated against Shias when 90% of the state budget is consumed by Shais? How could Bahrain have discriminated against Shias when more than 95% of technocratic jobs of Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Pharmacists, etc. are occupied by Shias? Who educated the 95%? Who sponsored the 95% for their higher eduction? who gave them jobs and allowed them to progress and prosper in life? Was it not the equitable system of governance?

    Shias are Ministers, Advisors, Undersecretaries, Ambassadors etc.; own the best and most profitable businesses in sectors of construction, trading, jewellery, retail, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, etc; As far as I am aware, Shias are the most liquid people in Bahrain. Historically Shias were known to have associated almost exclusively with fisheries and agriculture. This is why I resent the notion that development capital never found its way to the Shia populated northern territories thus the ancient proverb that “Can steer a Camel to a pond but can never be forced to drink”. Why do you blame the government when it’s you who vandalises public assets? Do you have any idea of the monetary size of your vandalism? The government has paid equal attention to all Shia areas as much as they did to Sunnis. This is the reason why I find your remark on discrimination totally unfair.

    Then there is this notion that the Shia movement is secular and not religious or sectarian. Just a couple of months before February 14, 2011, all Shias were raising the yellow flags and banners of Lebanese Hizbulla. Portraits of Hassan Nasrulla was and is in every Shia house. Every pillow in Shai cars used to have the picture and yellow background of Hassan Nasrulla’s Hizbulla. Yellow painted CD’s were hanging from every Shia car rear view mirror. Now, and all of a sudden they have been swapped with the Bahraini flags and banners. Come on Bader, you can’t expect us to be that naive to believe this sudden change of heart is genuine and not fake.

    In the 2010 parliamentarian elections, Alwefaq representatives scored 18 out of 18. In other words every Alwefaq representative won, against more competent Shai candidates and Sunnis. What do you call this voting? secular? Try to look at the front row of every Shia protest or gathering and you see nothing but a solid thick congregation of clerics wearing religious Abaaya and Qum black Turban. Your rhetorics of Freedom, Justice, Equality, Democracy, etc. are very nice but unfortunately are being chanted by the wrong people.

    The Bahraini Shia doctrine hovers around a literature that is vastly flawed and very much eccentric which basically says Alkhalifa stole the rule from Bahraini Shias. This doctrine is inculcated in your children from birth (reminding you I come from a multiethnic family thus well versed with Shia doctrine). I agree that the resistance movement in Bahrain was national and secular in 20’s but they were targeted against the foreign colonial occupying British and not against fellow countrymen. It’s totally different today my friend. As a direct result of the 1979 Iranian revolution, all Shias became very much militant and embarked on a political agenda. Prior to 1979, Shias and Sunnis were intermarrying and living in total peace and harmony. Today it is nothing but a sectarian divided society to the teeth. Shias and Alwefaq in particular, thought they could ride on the Arab Spring bandwagon using the same rhetoric of freedom and democracy but with the hidden agenda of toppling a 250 years of legitimate rule of Alkhalifa, and they failed and will always fail owing to the ingenuineness nature of the movement.

    One must also understand Bahrain can never be Egypt. Bahrain has two distinctly different sects of ethnic backgrounds as opposed to Egypt’s one. Bahraini individuals are far more well off than most Egyptians. You can’t simply copy cat everything they do in Egypt.

    When we say your loyalty is doubtful its because of the Hizbulla Yellow flags and banners you used to raise prior to February 14, 2011. It’s because of the chantings of allegiance rhetoric towards Lebanese Hassan Nasrulla. It’s because of your “followings” to either Iranian Khamenaie or Lebanese Fadhlulla or Iranian Born Iraqi Sistani, or Khouei. When we say Alwefaq is nothing but a religiously driven sectarian movement it’s because of their religious voting and chantings and mindset.

    In order for Bahrain to enhance its democratic process, it must also have a strong and solid opposition movement to provide the checks and balances. Unfortunately Alwefaq is not.

    You chaps have a serious identity problem, and by the way what is the name of the ex Advisor to the King who is imprisoned?

    P.S. Some historical input for our academic writer Mr. Emile Nekhleh

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