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Bahrain: the king, the revolutionary and criminalization of democracy

Catherine Shakdam

The sentencing of Shaykh Ali Salman may prove the undoing of the Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain.

Shaykh Ali Salman, a prominent Bahraini scholar and political figure was handed a four-year prison sentence on June 16. This act of injustice is likely to turn Bahrain’s “quiet” revolution into a torrential storm, leading to profound changes in Arabia’s political map.

Fidel Castro once said, “A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.” These words could not ring truer in Bahrain, where since 2011 an entire people has struggled against the two-century imposed rule of the Aal Khalifa monarchy, determined to reclaim what it perceives as its most basic, inalienable and inherent right: political self-determination.

Put on the media backburner by Western powers for the sake of political expediency and geopolitical interests, the crisis in Bahrain has seldom made the headlines, thus allowing the Bahraini regime to crack down and slash at the opposition in whatever way it sees fit. The regime has acted thus because it holds the belief that its actions, however reprehensible and illegal, would remain cloaked from the broader public and its system would be protected and legacy preserved.

And while it appeared, for a time at least, that the “little guy” proved no match before the might of the power that be, the arrest and subsequent condemnation of one man — Shaykh Ali Salman, the head of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society — could soon prove one offense too many.

An outspoken critic of the monarchy in Bahrain, Shaykh Salman has come to represent more than just the Bahrainis’ democratic aspirations. For hundreds of thousands of other Bahrainis, this charismatic and determined scholar and political figure has come to embody the very spirit of the revolution.

If Bahrainis ever needed a catalyst to carry them across that last fear barrier and fuse together all segments of the population, beyond class, religious affiliations and political affinities, in one giant revolutionary wave, the sentencing of Shaykh Salman to four years in jail on account of his campaigning against the regime could just be it.

As often happens under tyrannical rule, despots are too blinded by their own rapacious ambitions and paranoia to realize that it is their own violence that is stoking the flames of dissent and will ultimately bring about their undoing. For every empire and every broken ruling system there will always be that tipping point where the “future” will come to annihilate the “past” and see manifest popular will triumph over that of the elite. For Bahrain, the hour already seems to have arrived.

Within hours of Shaykh Salman’s sentencing, al-Wefaq, alongside prominent rights organizations were up in arms in condemnation, decrying Bahrain’s decision as a travesty of justice. In a statement published on its website, al-Wefaq wrote, “Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society considers the verdict against Shaykh Ali Salman as void and lacks legal and judicial bases as defined by Salman’s defense panel, which is made up of a group of well-known lawyers.”

The human rights group, Amnesty International labelled the Aal Khalifa regime’s move as “shocking.” The rights group wrote about the sentencing, “Shaykh Salman’s detention and prosecution violate Bahrain’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party.”

Interestingly Shaykh Salman, who has been in jail since his arrest last December, was acquitted of the charges he was initially arrested for: incitement against the ruling system. In a clear attempt to cover their legal bases and perpetuate the illusion of a fair and unbiased system, Bahrain’s judicial authorities chose instead to change their charges against Shaykh Salman to “collusion with foreign governments and instigating unrest.” This alone should have resulted in his acquittal.

Maryam Moosa Ali, a Manama-based rights activist, warned that the imprisonment of Shaykh Salman will only incense the revolutionary spirit further and harden the youth’s resolve to bring down the monarchy. “While we remain committed to our principles of nonviolence, the regime’s ruling against our main revolutionary figure has sealed the monarchy’s fate. There is no more room for debate. If Bahrainis were willing to negotiate and compromise before, it is no longer the case,” she said.

With anger running high in the island-kingdom, mass demonstrations are already getting organized. “Bahrainis will not tolerate further encroachment on their freedom of expression and human rights,” said Maryam Ali.

But beyond the anger of one people against the despot, lies another dimension to this revolution — Bahrainis are not just calling for representative governance, they want to abolish state-sanctioned religious apartheid. Bahrain’s struggle is not all political!

While Bahrain’s “Sunni” governing elite went to great lengths to deny any “sectarian” wrongdoing, arguing that all Bahraini nationals, regardless of their religion and ethnicity stood equal before the throne, reality clearly paints a different picture.

For 200 years, except for a few years’ respite under late Amir Hamad Aal Khalifa in the 1990s, discriminatory policies against Bahrain’s Shi‘i population have largely been the hallmarks of the monarchy. Under the guise of restoring order, King Hamad has authorized and directed the destruction and raiding of Shi‘i masjids, schools, residences, and businesses. Since these were not deemed sufficient to curb the revolutionaries’ resolve, the authorities then resorted to diluting the Shi‘i population by both “importing” Sunni foreign nationals into Bahrain and stripping Shi‘i Bahrainis of their nationality. In September 2014, Maryam al-Khawaja, a prominent rights defender and Shi‘i Bahraini, was told upon her arrival at Manama airport that her nationality had been recalled by the king. While her case made headlines, countless others were not as lucky. Their cases have gone largely unreported. Such practices are completely unlawful and morally perverse. They reflect the true nature of Aal Khalifa’s mentality and ire against its own people.

A vassal of oil-rich “Saudi” Arabia whose citizens use Bahrain as a watering hole (the 15-mile long causeway linking mainland “Saudi” Arabia becomes clogged with traffic each Thursday evening. Saudis flock to Bahrain to partake of the forbidden drink! Bahrain’s monarchy is but an extension of Bani Saud’s corruption in the Arabian Peninsula. As such its anti-Shi‘ah, anti-representation campaign has been but an expression of Riyadh’s Wahhabi legacy that now dominates Bahrain as well.

While the monarchy, representing a tiny minority on the island, continues to indulge in unchecked violence against peaceful protestors, tightening the lid on their legitimate demands, it would do well to remember one simple law of physics: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unremitting oppression of the people is likely to lead to such strong reaction that it will blow up in the monarchy’s face, consigning it to the dustbin of history.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 5

Ramadan 14, 14362015-07-01

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