Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's the Plan, Ya Abu Salman?

In the "non-crackdown" crackdown witnessed in Bahrain since the arrival of GCC forces some weeks ago:

Demonstrations have been crushed, public gatherings of any sort banned.

The very symbol of the February uprising, the Pearl Roundabout, has been razed, and the 500 fils coin bearing its image removed from circulation.

Nearly every identifiable political opposition leader not associated with al-Wifaq has been arrested, including most recently long-time dissident and founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights 'Abd al-Hadi al-Khawajah. (And it looks like Nabeel Rajab is next in line for arrest.) At least 400 other detainees remain in state custody, two of whom died yesterday in their cells.

Just a few months into its new 4-year term, Bahrain's parliament has ceased to be a functional political institution, having lost 18 of its 40 members to resignations (though only 7 of these have been accepted) and seemingly unsure of how to proceed.

Some 500 to 1,000 employees of public organizations and corporations have been fired for their suspected participation or complicity in anti-government protests, with several investigations still ongoing.

Bahrain's only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, was taken down in an administrative coup, its founder and long-time editor-in-chief Mansur al-Jamri (who also happens to be the son of the late Shi'i marja' and spiritual leader of the 1990s Shi'a uprising, 'Abd al-Amir al-Jamri) ousted along with several other editors and journalists, the latter being deported altogether. Al-Jamri now faces criminal charges.

Insufficiently-"loyal" bloggers, Twitter-ers, and forum-goers have been targeted and arrested, and pro-government websites have sprung up to circulate disinformation.

Students, teachers, and administrators have been expelled from Bahrain's only public university, and those studying abroad who expressed anti-government views have had their scholarships revoked.

More generally, it is clear that many university and secondary school students have not returned to school, with attendance put at 55% as of April 1. (And since "the rate of secondary students [in] both Muharraq and the Southern Governorates" is said to be "normal," we know that most of the absentees are in Shi'a-dominated regions.)

And yet, for all this, not one step has been taken in the direction of resolving the underlying political conflict that put Bahrain in this mess in the first place. Indeed, rather than address the nation's growing rift between ordinary Sunnis and Shi'is, King Hamad took the time last Wednesday to promulgate five new royal decrees (Ar.). A first approved Bahrain's accession to a 1986 Convention on the Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (though it abstains from Paragraph 2!), which should improve safety at each of its zero nuclear facilities. A second ratifies the Carthage Protocol on Bio-Safety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed in 2000. And so on. Clearly, then, political reconciliation falls startlingly low on the list of national priorities.

Instead, the operative mentality seems to be one of denial. Members of the Saudi Shura Council told a Telegraph reporter that "there has been 'no crackdown' in Bahrain." The Arab News states proudly that the "Bahraini crown prince won't let society split," an vow the latter made a constant theme of his Thursday night television address in which he reaffirmed his commitment to "reform." Any volunteers to tell him that he is a few weeks and a few arrests too late to avoid a "split?"

Even more worryingly, the continued ambiguity surrounding the substance of timing of this "reform" makes one wonder whether the final product might not be reminiscent of the much-lauded but ultimately-illusory "reform" project initiated by King Hamad in 2001 shortly after his ascension to the throne. Aimed at ending a half-decade-long Shi'a uprising, his National Action Charter (NAC) outlining the framework for political liberalization was approved overwhelmingly by popular referendum, only to be followed by a new Bahraini Constitution promulgated unilaterally almost exactly a year later. Not only was the document drafted and issued without outside consultation, it reneged on a number of central promises made in the run-up to the referendum on the NAC, principal among them the notion that Bahrain's primary lawmaking power would reside in an elected lower house of parliament. And we see how that turned out.

So, then, assuming that the present "non-crackdown" crackdown represents Plan A, seemingly one calculated to bait opponents
into the sort of violent responses that might be used to justify the portrayal of them not as political reformists but as terrorists*--and of Iran as an instigator--what should we expect for an encore? What's the plan, ya Abu Salman?

* Indeed, many individuals and opposition forums have reported receiving inflammatory mass e-mails and messages calling upon "fellow Shi'is" to undertake violent action against the government.


  1. Your articles are so biased (pro-Shi'ite) that any semblance of neutrality, honesty and truth have long since evaporated.

    People have lost their jobs for not turning up to work, no other reason. This is a fairly normal and routine practice in most parts of the world. In fact, Bahrainis have more job security and protection compared to the USA where virtually all employees can be terminated without any notice and "at will". If you were an employer and your workers were not turning up to work, what would you do? Keep paying them ad-infinitum?

    The Crown Prince (to his credit) offered talks without restrictions just a few days after the "peaceful protests" started. The opposition rejected them and made unreasonable demands, even BEFORE any talks. If protesters in the USA sat on the White House lawns for a month, stopped traffic, pulled children out of schools and involved them in protests, poisoned their minds with sectarian hate, took over and used a hospital as a base for protests, attacked university students, prevented people from reaching their places of work and then tried to shut down Wall Street, how do you think the authorities would act and how long would they tolerate it? A few days, a week, a month?

    Why have you never commented on the poor, innocent labourers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other places who have been attacked and killed by "peaceful democrats and protesters"? Are they not newsworthy because they are poor? They were just trying to earn a living and had nothing to do with the security forces. I guess their killings deviate from the script that you are regurgitating parrot fashion from the Shi'ites?

    As for the overseas university students that have had their scholarships stopped, GOOD! A condition of their scholarships was not to bring the name of Bahrain into disrepute. The government pays for their higher education (do many other countries do this? Does your government pay for your studies?) yet they bite the hand that feeds them. If they were so repressed and denied opportunity, they wouldn't have been given scholarships in the first place.

    As for discrimination, should Sunnis complain that Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Electricity Directorate and many others etc are mainly employing Shi'ites? Where are the cries of discrimination there?

    Americans that think they know best have been responsible for most (but not all) of the conflicts and problems in the region. The best thing they could do is keep their noses out of a Bahraini and GCC matter!


    P.S. The nonsense about Karbala right at the top of your page makes it fairly obvious to anyone with half a brain cell as to where your loyalties and sympathies lie. Most Bahrainis I know look to the future and are progressive, not looking backwards nearly a millennium and a half!

  2. one of the Bah ppl reaction

    After arrest of her family, @angryarabiya announces hunger strike in letter to Obama: #Bahrain

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. The plan is, as always, to sweep the "dust" under the carpet and pretend that everything is just perfect. Naturally, the dust gathers with time and as much as you try to stamp on the
    carpet you can never get it flat again.

    Bahrain TV is the embodiment of this reality plan. The natural water springs in Bahrain are still flowing and the million date palms are flourishing.

    Everyone sings songs of praise. To be detached from reality is a bliss, so long as you don't wake up!

    Without love, benevolence becomes egotism :)
    Martin Luther King

  5. Thanks for your comment, Rod.

    I suppose the difficulty in maintaining a site like this is trying to balance the results of academic research on the one hand with political commentary on the other.

    I will say, however, that the purpose of this site is not to be a replacement for the BBC or Al-Jazeera or Bahrain TV or whatever. I assume that most visitors are already well aware of the headlines before arriving here. Thus, as you might have noticed, I generally aim to write semi-focused articles based on specific events or developments, not summarizes of everything that's occurred since the last post. Does this imply that these events will necessarily be selective and fit a specific narrative (i.e., of the article)? Yes. But that is the nature of the beast.

    The main point of this article, for example, is not that the Bahrain government is BAD and protesters GOOD but that given the long list of things that HAVE occurred since protests began in mid-February, one thing that has NOT occurred is any real movement toward solving the underlying political problem in Bahrain. Thus I offered some thoughts on what we might be able to expect given recent history, if perhaps in the tongue-in-cheek way that I tend to write.

    In the end, if you think the commentary here is biased, or that it's no business in any case of Americans (though it's hard to see how internal Bahraini politics are any more of a "GCC matter" than a U.S. matter), then there are many other websites in the sea. If you think Tocqueville was an orientalist for daring to study American politics, don't read him. If you think I am an agent of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights because I link to news stories from the New York Times and the BBC, you're free to find another source of information.

    Either way, best wishes.


  6. Rod..The fundamentals of many noble and ethical principles go back to the very beginning of civilization. To go back a millennium and a half on an ethical issue from which there is much to learn cannot be possibly deemed as backwards. Indeed there are lessons to be learned from history my dear "progressive" friend.

    I beg to ask if your progressiveness allows you to acknowledge that the right to differ? Does your progressiveness allow you to accommodate an opinion that is different than your own? Has your progressiveness allowed you to be fair? Has your progressiveness allowed you to stop being selective and to be critical of all your faults?

    Can you speak of the abuse of migrant workers in Bahrain in terms of pay and rights, working conditions, pay structrure as well? Can you look into how many people got scholarships that they don't qualify for academically and why?

    Can you speak of how many people get guaranteed jobs and promotions through no hard work or credit?

    can you speak of the loans that are written off without shareholders knowledge? Can you speak of grants or lease of land for peanuts?

    can you conduct a referendum to reflect public opinion and respect the results?

    Can you speak of the torture of people prior to a court finding them guilty?

    Can you speak of the concept innocent until proven guilty?

    can you speak of accountability?

    Exactly how progressive are you, I fail to understand? At least our American friend can speak from a position of principle.

    The header quote of Karbala for any person of understanding is metaphorical.

    You can kill people but you cannot destroy their souls or what they stand for and that is why we remember Imam Hussein till this very day.

    You can wipe out our scholarships, you can wipe out our jobs, you can wipe our faces across the floor and shatter our homes, and finally bury us in the sand; but you will never be able to wipe out what we stand for. Not now.. not ever.

  7. Justin,

    As a Bahraini citizen I would like to thank you for your articles.

    Your articles and replies reflect professional scholarship that address core underlying issues of the political atmosphere of Bahrain. Your arguments are well supported and balanced and you have always gracefully accepted criticism from your readers.

    For the observed reader, it is clear that you are not biased but unfortunately in our part of the world we are not open to criticism and view even constructive or factual criticism as an attack.

    Its amusing that you should be labelled as "pro-Shi'ite" just because your line of argument is not fully in line with the official "analysis" of events, but I am sure your article on the demography of Bahrain and the percentage of Shiites being lower than much circulated 70% was to their liking.Strangely, nobody said you were "pro-Sunni" then!

    I enjoy visiting your blog as it addresses issues rather than the red herring rhetoric that is used to throw off pursuing "hounds".

    Thank you for devoting a lot of your time and effort.

    Much appreciated.

  8. Thanks for the additional comments.

    Just to be clear (since others have brought this up), the point of the 'Ashura' banner quote in the header is nothing more than to illustrate the theme of this entire site, which is the intersection between religion and politics in Bahrain. Obviously as an American non-Muslim I have no reason to choose between the "Yazid camp" or the "Husayn camp"--nor am I suggesting that this is a Manichean choice that people must or do make. It simply reflects the topic of this site--and it fits perfectly in three lines which is nice!


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