Ahmad Mazhar Sa`du interviews Muhammad Ali al-Mahfuz, the secretary-general of the Bahrain Islamic Front, the organisation at the forefront of the uprising against the Bahraini regime.
Sa’du: We would like to ask you first about the latest political developments in Bahrain.
Mahfuz: Now that the popular uprising in Bahrain has overcome many challenges from the authority, we are in a sensitive stage. This stage is characterized by the authority’s rejection of all the demands of the uprising. The uprising was launched to demand the activation of the 1973 constitution and the revitalization of the parliament and the National Assembly. The popular uprising also demanded the release of prisoners, the return of political exiles and those banned from entering Bahrain, and the employment of jobless people.
We have reached a sensitive stage - the stage of comprehensive political change - which we are trying to entrench. This means the implementation of comprehensive democracy. Nobody is above the law. Therefore, we, together with brothers in the opposition, have found the way to political change. This political change is represented by the comprehensive implementation of democracy, the holding of elections and the establishment of liberties and political pluralism in Bahrain.
How are the conditions of detainees in Bahrain? Is there hope they will be released?
Reports from the brothers inside reveal that their conditions are very tragic. Some detainees have broken jaws and deep wounds and suffer from very miserable conditions. So far, thousands have been arrested. Some even say there are 10,000 men, women, children, clerics and intellectuals in Bahraini jails. We have asked for the immediate intervention of human rights organizations. However, the Bahraini authorities are still preventing any responsible international human rights group to enter Bahrain in an attempt to conceal the suffering of those detainees.
Are there attempts or is there hope to release the detainees?
On the contrary, the Bahraini authorities continue to arrest activists. The Bahraini authorities arrested many people 10 days ago in various parts of Bahrain. We do not believe the government intends to release political detainees. The issue has reached a deadlock because the government insists on the security solution.
Have you asked the Arab Organization on Human Rights or Amnesty International to help in this matter?
We spoke to the Arab Organization on Human Rights and Amnesty International, as well as the anti-torture organization based in America and some religious and political figures in Arab and foreign countries. The Bahraini government, however, turned a deaf ear to all this and did not want to hear anything about the issue.
Some describe Bahrain’s intifadah as a Shi’i intifadah which has Iranian connections. What is your reply to this?
Perhaps, Shi’is are the overwhelming majority in Bahrain. This, however, does not mean that the issue is a sectarian one. This is because the intifadah did not claim the rights of the Shi’is but the rights of the people in Bahrain. The intifadah also talks about justice, freedom and equality, not as sectarian demands which only concern the Shi’is but as issues that concern all the people in Bahrain whether they are Shi’i or Sunnis.
It is true that the Shi’is are the overwhelming majority in Bahrain?
This, however, is not an issue for the Shi’is in Bahrain; it is an issue highlighted by the authorities for media consumption to distract attention from the true events in Bahrain.
The Bahraini opposition is not sectarian and the slogans it raises are not linked to a certain sect, but to the people. We reject this accusation now just as we rejected it before. Moreover, we accuse the government and the authorities of working to foment sectarian sedition. This attempt at sedition have so far failed, praise be to God.
What is the level of coordination between the Islamic Front and other Bahraini opposition factions?
Coordination exists, praise be to God. It, however, needs constant promotion. The opposition should promote its way of action, practice and call for changing the existing situation in Bahrain politically.
I called before, and I still call, on the opposition to rise up to the level of the challenge we are facing in Bahrain. We are facing a government which is very far from democracy, which rules through tribal norms, and which is not willing to make any concessions.
Therefore, I called on the opposition to assume its responsibility and demand a political change that will secure for all citizens in Bahrain, whether Sunnis or Shi’is, their full rights within the framework of democracy and public freedoms.
Courtesy: Friday Journal
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996