Bahrain, or the Revolution that will not stay silent.
The expression “Business as usual” could resume the feeling and statements regarding the revolution in Bahrain by nearly the whole world from the Bahraini authorities, to the Western governments, passing through international Medias such as Al Jazeera and finally the Gulf states of the region. The Formula 1 Grand Prix (GP) has been confirmed by the International Automobile Federation (IFA) and its CEO Bernie Ecclestone. They actually declared that the decision to reinstate the Bahrain GP “reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain”. The Bahraini government has indeed tried to portray the 2012 Bahrain GP, set for April 20-22, as part of a national reconciliation process and has branded it under the slogan “Unified: One Nation in Celebration”. On February 19, Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, the head of the so called independent commission of inquiry appointed by the ruling royal family to investigate events in the early days of the Bahraini uprising, has joined the chorus of support by sending a letter to the chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), Zayed al-Zayani, for plans to host the Bahrain GP. The King Al Khalifa of Bahrain actually told Der Spiegel magazine in February that: “There are no political prisoners as such in Bahrain. People are not arrested because they express their views, we only have criminals”.
These discourse and GP event have the objective to show that the uprising of the Bahraini people is something of the past and not current anymore.
The reality on the ground is totally different. The uprising that started last year never really stopped, despite the repression and the so called opening from the regime. Demonstrations continue nearly on a daily basis throughout the island, while protest actions are still taking place. Opposition to the ruling regime has not ended. On March 9, a demonstration honoring the martyrs of the 1965 March uprising, turned into a huge demonstration against the regime. Over half the population came out carrying placards which read ‘No Dialogue with Killers’, ‘No to Dictatorship’, and ‘No to Sectarianism’. On this same week, the February 14 Youth Coalition have designated this week as ‘The National Week of Resistance against the Occupier’ to commemorate the Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) militarily intervention in the country on March 14 2011, in order to crush the popular movement with the assistance of Bahrain security forces.
The February 14 Youth Coalition and other various popular organizations and groups have also organized almost daily protests aimed at the Formula One race scheduled for April 22. They have called for “three days of anger” from Friday to Sunday, in order to obstruct the GP. The opposition wants to take advantage of this event to raise their demands for democratic change in Bahrain.
International civic groups and local human rights and political organizations have initiated a number of popular campaigns, to pressure various racing teams to boycott the Grand Prix.
In the same time the repression continues, activists continue to be tortured and suspected dissidents are still dragged from their homes in the middle of the night, without warrants. Security forces are firing more and more tear gas at protesters and in villages sympathetic to the opposition, with two thirds of gas-related deaths occurring since November. Of the 25 people killed by tear gas inhalation during the unrest, 18 of them actually died after this date.
As late as last November, nearly 3000 workers in the public and private sectors had been dismissed because of their participation in the uprising. Head of various unions have been the target of the regime and imprisoned. According to the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU), only 134 workers had been reinstated in November. Many of these workers had to agree to unacceptable, indeed illegal, conditions in order to get their jobs back – including agreeing not to take part in any future political activity, waiving the right to participate in legal cases against the government and agreeing not to re-join their trade union.
In November, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) released its report upon the widespread abuses of the preceding eight months. Despite some flaws, the report denounced the many cases of torture and arbitrary detention by the state, as well as sectarianism and other issues. The recommendations of the report were nevertheless not implemented by the regime and
As a reminder, since the beginning of the Bahraini uprising in 2011 more than 80 civilians have died and from 1,600 to 4000 protesters have been detained.
Al Khawaja or the symbol or resistance
The Al Khawaja has been on hunger strike for now more than 65 days, which he has declared as “freedom or death”. He was moved to a military hospital on April 6 because of his rapidly deteriorating health. On April 17, Al Khawaja told his wife that he will stop accepting IV and any fluids other than water.
Al Khawaja was arrested on April 8 of last year, in his home by masked police officers and armed men in civilian clothing. He was kicked, brutally beaten to the ground, and pushed down the stairs to roll in his own blood. He and other leadings activists, was tried before a military tribunal and given a life sentence for allegedly ‘organising and managing a terrorist organisation’ (in other words, Directing a human rights centre). The BICI Report documents Mr Al-Khawaja’s subjection to physical and sexual torture.
Western collaboration in the repression
Bahrain holds particular importance to the United States as the host of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which Washington sees as the main military counterweight to Iran’s alleged efforts to expand its armed forces and reach into the Gulf. It is also these 5th Fleet aircraft carriers that launched the jets that patrolled the no-fly zone in southern Iraq in the 1990s and the bombers that struck Baghdad in advance of the 2003 invasion.
Bahrain is also located in the region where two thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves lie, and ensuring that the precious liquid flows to global consumers with minimal interruption is a primary US goal.
The western powers has not only silence regarding the repression of the regime against the Bahraini popular movement, it has participated to it directly or indirectly. The tear gas used by the security forces are from the US. The Bahraini government purchases its tear gas canisters from Combined Systems, a company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. Bahrain is also being supplied with weapons imported from the UK and advice from former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates. Britain has actually sold over £1m worth of weapons including rifles and artillery to the kingdom during last year’s unrest.
None of the Western governments have of course called for regime change or threaten for sanctions.
Authoritarianism and capitalism: a strong link
The reinstatement of the Formula one GP despite the repression shows as well where the priorities between democracy and capitalism lie. Since the GP race was first introduced in 2004, revenues have continued to expand! The last time Bahrain hosted the event in 2010, it reportedly raked in around US$300 million.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who is also the chief executive of BIC, predicted that the revenues for BIC alone in hosting the Grand Prix will reach US$500 million. The US$500 million figure does not take into account the lucrative television broadcast rights or the revenue generated by a large influx of tourists and other associated industries.
Despite the GP’s growing profits since 2004, many of the income levels of the local Bahraini population have not been radically altered in real terms, with poverty still being one of the key issues driving the protests. 21.9 %of the total Bahraini households – about 27,177 households – are actually earning an income below the poverty line.
Bahrain’s government also spent millions of pounds on public relations, particularly with Public Relation companies in Britain and the US, with which the regime has close diplomatic, military and commercial links, in an effort to try and improve its bloodied image.
The list of companies or individuals hired by or linked to the Bahrain government since the start of the uprising includes for example: Qorvis, Bell Pottinger Group, Potomac Square Group, British military general Graeme Lamb, United States House of Representatives member Eni Faleomavaega, American Democratic campaign consultant Joe Trippi, David Cracknell and Big Tent Communications, Earl of Clanwilliam Paddy Gillford and Gardant Communications, Good Governance Group, Sorini, Samet & Associates, Sanitas Internationa, New Century Media, Dragon Associates, M&C Saatchi, Barbour, Griffith and Rogers (BGR Group).
The use of sectarian discrimination by the government against Shia citizens has even been condemned by the BICI report.
As a reminder, the regime elaborated sectarian policy by hiring hundreds of former soldiers from Pakistan to serve in its National Guard. In the past, protesters have demanded an end to the government’s controversial practice of recruiting foreigners in to the security forces.
Bahrain’s police, military and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.
In 2003, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) conducted a study of discrimination in government employment policies that included an analysis of 32 ministries and educational institutions, and found the following: “Out of 572 high-ranking public posts, Shiite citizens hold 101 jobs only, representing 18% of the total. When the research was conducted, there were 47 individuals with the rank of minister and undersecretary. Of these, there were ten Shiites, comprising 21% of the total. These do not include the critical ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Security and Justice. In 2011, before the beginning of the uprising, there were only four Shiite ministers out of 23 cabinet positions (plus one out of the four deputy prime ministers), and those ministries run by Shiites have been considered of low importance.
Discriminations against the Shia community is also present in education. The current curriculum is actually based solely on the Maliki school of Sunni Islam. Proposals to include units on Shia Ja’afari jurisprudence have yet to materialize.
This does not mean that we do not found poor Bahraini Sunnis, as well as opposition members that are also from this same background. In the same time, rich Bahraini Shias linked to the royal family exist also. The regime is first of all an authoritarian and clientelist regime playing on sectarian divide to prevent people of uniting against it. It is also characterized by its high level of corruption developed through neo liberalization policies and privatization of public lands and companies.
The protesters in Bahrain are nevertheless far from developing a sectarian discourse. Despite the fact that the Shias in Bahrain have suffered the most from the regime’s intransigence, frustrations cut across sectarian lines. The slogans have continually been inclusive calling for unity between Shia and Sunni, as well as for social justice.
Despite the silence of the International Community and International Medias, the participation of some Western powers to the repression by selling arms and weapons to the Bahraini regime while advising it as well to deal with world opinion to improve its image, and the last but not least the military intervention of the Saudi forces to crush the popular movement, the result is still not satisfying for them. Indeed the Bahraini people will not step down! The uprising is ongoing and nor the Al Khalifa regime and neither the silence of the world will put an end to the resistance of the citizens of the Kingdom! The voice of the Bahraini people is still being voiced and will continue to be voiced until the demands of the popular movement for democracy, social justice and independence are met!
Viva the Bahraini revolution!