Thursday, April 14, 2011

And Then There Were None

What's better than arresting the leaders of all opposition groups except for al-Wifaq if you're the Bahraini government? Evidently, arresting the leaders of all opposition groups except for al-Wifaq and then BANNING al-Wifaq (along with the Islamic Action Society) so that no official opposition remains at all. And THEN, presumably, you can arrest the leaders and members of al-Wifaq as well (those of al-'Amal al-Islami have been under arrest for a while now) for involvement in an "illegal society." That's what we call a win-win.

The government statement, though short on details, says it all:
"The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs announced it is raising legal action to dissolve the Islamic Action [Society] and al-Wifaq Society. ...This is because of major violations of the constitution and laws of the kingdom, undertaking activities that harmed social peace, national unity, and inciting disrespect for constitutional institutions."
Current (or former?) MP 'Abd al-Jalil Khalil confirmed the measure but did not say more.

The ironic thing, of course, and the thing that must be hard to swallow if you're an al-Wifaq supporter or member, is that the bloc existed explicitly for the purpose of "taking part in the political process," as we like to say. And for that they took no little heat from ordinary Shi'a and their own would-be constituents, leading ultimately to the al-Wifaq/al-Haqq split back in the run-up to the 2006 parliamentary elections. (And yet even with this intra-Shi'a schism al-Wifaq still managed well over half the popular vote in both the 2006 and 2010 elections.)

Ever since, those who chose to remain loyal to the original al-Wifaq principle (now represented by al-Haqq, al-Wafa' al-Islami, and others) of total disengagement from the regime have pointed to the group as a symbol of political co-optation. "What good has participation done us? The government will continue its same policies regardless of whether we participate," people would say mockingly. Doubtless those same people are reiterating this position today, perhaps with no little sense of vindication.

As for the other side, pro-government Bahrainis seem to be saying, "It's about damn time!" Such is the jist of this thread on the pro-regime Kingdom of Bahrain forum. One can infer the view of al-Wifaq from its detractors from this popular photoshop of Sh. 'Isa Qasim, who if not the official head of al-Wifaq is still assumed to be its spiritual leader:

One has ask about the timing, however. Today is Thursday, making tomorrow Friday, making tomorrow the day Arab governments everywhere have hoped to avoid for the past 3 months. Perhaps the logic is that, "If neither the opposition nor their supposed patron Iran will respond violently to our provocations, perhaps we should give them a real reason to be angry." (See Hussein Ibish's related argument in Foreign Policy.) Just as people aren't fired from work on Monday, it seems strange to announce this today.

Or, maybe the Bahraini authorities are just looking to pull an administrative coup on al-Wifaq such as they did on Al-Wasat. Maybe we will see Sh. 'Ali Salman replaced with, say, Sh. Jasim al-Sa'idi.

If any good should come of this newest escalation, perhaps it will serve as the final straw in pushing the U.S. toward a more critical stance in Bahrain. After all, it is easy for the Obama administration to defend an ally facing mass protests; less easy but still doable to defend an ally while it carries out sweeping crackdowns in the name of security; but it's hard to see how the U.S. can remain silent as Bahrain makes no effort at all to conceal its now-clear political intentions--which obviously do not include "dialogue," as there is now no one left to dialogue with--and to drive the region further toward a sectarian abyss.

Until now, the U.S. could always fall back on the position that, "Well, the protesters should be expressing their frustrations through the proper political channels, not through mass demonstrations and general strikes." No longer is this true. As one of my Bahrain survey respondents said when asked his opinion of the current political situation in Bahrain, "ما في سياسة في البحرين"--"There is no politics in Bahrain."

Update: Sure enough, the U.S. has been quick to condemn this, and the Bahrainis have responded with the most convoluted (or most poorly translated) statement possible, the jist of which is that the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs is waiting for the end of its "investigation" into al-Wifaq and al-'Amal before doing anything. Now if only Bahrain TV would run an exposé about plagiarized articles on al-Wifaq's website, the government would have an open-and-shut case.

Also see this piece in the Christian Science Monitor I helped inform titled "Why U.S. Silence on Bahrain's Crackdown Could Backfire."


  1. Yes it's definitely interesting. Moving a big chunk of society to the "underground" to further ferment is not a smart move - and certainly even the hawks in the government understand this.

    Therefore, if we assume they are acting rationally with some strategy the only reasonable deduction we can reach is the following:

    Turning the GCC security alliance to a political confederation to effectively re-engineer socio-economic status and cement absolute power in the gulf region.

    Unless.... Hijaz and Qatif revolt.

    is it far fetched!?

  2. Or the Yemenis could invade from the south!

  3. I believe that Bahrain rulers, under the strong influence of Al Saud and Al Nehayan hardliners, do not wish to see anything called “Moderate Shia” and by God there are thousands of them.

    Many or perhaps the majority of the Shia are quite happy to live happily under a regime that basically assures their well-being , provided they live in dignity and, given equal job opportunities . Some might go up one notch by demanding for some political rights like the right to vote and elect a proper parliament with teeth.

    Al Wifaq was the closest thing to this moderate rational. They have not called for violence, nor arm struggle , nor strikes , or any hostile act , and that does not please the rulers. What they want to see is everything with any Shia connection to be seen as violent and aggressive influences so that they justifies their own use of brutality , murder , human right violation but much more serious than all that , the ethnic cleansing.

  4. I'm impressed.. You know more about Bahrain and how things work here than some Bahrainis (especially pro-government) who are, put in one word, clueless..

    Any Bahraini, though, will appreciate the humor in the Al-Sa'idi comment.. Made me laugh despite how grim the situation is

    Please keep writing :)


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