Friday, August 12, 2011

Bahrain Pro-Governments to Deploy London Shield Force

For many Bahraini supporters of the post-February 14 crackdown, what is said about karma is proving once again to be true. Having endured months of criticism for excessive force in dealing with a disgruntled segment of society claiming economic and political exclusion, they have wasted no time in returning the favor in kind to a U.K. government that was perhaps the most outspoken in its condemnation of Bahrain.

Several stories in recent days have highlighted the jeers of various countries usually on the receiving end of human rights critiques, including China, Libya, and Iran. An article in The Atlantic, for example, offers the headline: "For Iran, Libya, and China, U.K. Rioting Is a Time to Taunt." And likewise in The Washington Post: "London riots used by Iran, Bahrain to justify government crackdowns." Being mostly interested in Bahrain--though I am certainly not adverse to a good Ahmadinejad quote--I found that the latter story, despite its headline, is actually short on details about the overall reaction in Bahrain, quoting a few lines from a GDN op-ed.

So I thought that, especially given the unlimited potential of the new Al-Watan English site, there must be a treasure trove of good material to pick from here. And I was not disappointed.

First, we may look at the op-ed referenced in the Washington Post piece, which is titled snarkily: "'Arab Spring' has finally sprung ... in London!" It says in part:
The hallmarks of everyone's favourite uprising were there for all to see as, sparked by the shooting of a civilian by police, the downtrodden masses took to the streets to challenge the British regime.

Cars and buildings have been torched, innocent people and police have been attacked, roads have been barricaded and the capital is like a battleground.

Rioters are using modern technology such as Blackberry and Twitter to mobilise, just as they did in Bahrain, and video footage is being posted on YouTube. ...

And while they would not condone what is happening in London, there are more than a few who would argue that Britain got what was coming following its criticism of Bahrain and the antics of its media.

The irony is that if the UK hadn't been so occupied fraternising with the political opposition in Bahrain, co-managing a coup in Libya, retreating from its misadventures in Iraq and playing hide and seek with the Taliban in Afghanistan - all at a time when the country's national debt is higher than ever - then it might have realised all was not well in its own backyard.

The fact is that people in the UK have legitimate reasons to be angry.

Etc. etc. If the U.K. is justified in attacking its protesters why aren't we justified in attacking ours? Why should a double-standard be employed against Bahrain simply because its uprising and response happen to be qualitatively different from the situation in London? Straightforward enough, right?

Even better is the report of a meeting with the Bahraini FM Sh. Khalid, who took some time out his rigorous Qatar- and Al-Jazeera-bashing schedule to meet with the British Ambassador to express his solidarity with the U.K.'s efforts to stamp out its own Shi'a-led uprising. Oh, they aren't Shi'a? Well, anyway. The GDN summary of the meeting begins:
Bahrain yesterday firmly backed Britain in its efforts to confront street violence. Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told the UK's new ambassador to Bahrain Iain Lindsay that "freedom of expression should not mean insults or offending any leadership or government in the public media." ...

Meanwhile, a major Bahraini political movement has criticised the British government's crackdown on rioters.

The National Unity Assembly also called for an urgent investigation into unrest in London and other cities.

"We now ask the British government to investigate what is forcing their citizens to riot on the streets," secretary-general Abdulla Saad Al Howaihi told the GDN yesterday.

"They (rioters) should be given a chance to air their views and speak out. This is exactly what they (the UK) told us."

So now it's the Bahraini government playing the role of the steadfast and understanding ally while the National Unity Gathering criticizes the British for its crackdown. For the record, then, that's: crackdown in Bahrain, good; crackdown in Syria or Britain: bad. I guess the presumption is that most of the London protesters are Sunna. Really, it's too bad that the British, Syrian, and Qatari (to say nothing of the American) Embassies are so far apart, or else the National Unity Gathering people could hit them all in one giant demonstration procession. One hopes that its followers are in good shape.

Last but not least, of course, are our friends at Al-Watan English. Will they disappoint? Of course not! At least not with Hesham al-Zayani (from the same family as the GCC Military Chief, no less) on the watch!

In true American evangelical Christian fashion, al-Zayani writes that "what [is happening] in London looks like [a] sett[l]ing of scores, a divine response to England's attitude towards agitations that recently occurred around." Hrm, I wonder where this "around" is? He continues on to refer to everyone arrested as "political prisoners," and asks:
London is trying to block the social networks “Twitter” and “Facebook”. You, who boast to be defending freedom, aren’t you cloning what happened in Tunisia and Egypt? You are Xeroxing the same experience that happened there and you don’t preach what you teach. London arrests an 11-year–old boy, the youngest political prisoner.

Aren’t you witnessing what the English police are doing when it comes to security and to law enforcement? Aren’t you racist when you shot the black young man dead? Aren’t you also racist against minorities when you target the black and the Turkish?
Anyway, you can read the rest for yourself. And if there are other good stories along this line that I missed feel free to send them along.

Wouldn't you love it, though, if the British Foreign Ministry released a statement criticizing last night's deployment of tanks and armored vehicles to block demonstrators from the February 14th Movement from reaching the Pearl Roundabout?

Update: In yet another attempt to draw parallels to the Bahraini case, Al-Ayam is running a Reuters story (Arabic) on Qaddafi's response to the riots: "Libya: Cameron Employs Mercenaries from Scotland and Ireland to Put down the Riot." Just wait until they find out about the Gurkhas.

Update 2: As some sort of make-up for the "Shouting in the Dark" documentary, Al-Jazeera English aired a 30-minute debate last night touching on the February uprising and crackdown, the National Dialogue, and the BICI. It featured Shura Council Deputy Chairman Jamal Fakhru representing the government position. The video is below:

And if you were looking for a London riots taunt mixed with a reference to Plato's Republic, who else but Al-Watan could deliver? Faisal al-Shaykh's new column:

Update 3: So much for the supposed dialogue between senior members of the Al Khalifa and al-Wifaq. The latter reaffirmed its boycott of the by-elections at its rally today in Bu Quwah as well as "a return to the street [protests] to put pressure on the regime for real reform." Or in the words of former MP Jasim Hussain: al-Wifaq "declares existing parliament is void, not reflecting popular views, calls for [constitutional] assembly or referendum." Bloomberg has more.


  1. Justin. Where's your sense of humor?
    Get a life man! SA

  2. Not sure if that is sarcasm or not..

  3. Thanks for the details. I was mostly interested in the see-we-told-you-so responses to the London riots, but I thought I would note the AJE documentary. Not surprised about Fakhru's refusal to be seen alongside Maryam al-Khawajah, given the government position on her.

    I'd never heard of this "Stream" program before, so thanks.

    I was also looking for outside confirmation of the resignation of the BICI SEcGen and some administrative staff. A few people sent a story from the Daily Tribune, which I didn't see corroborated anywhere and has now disappeared from the website. But there was also mention of it in the AJE debate with Fakhru. So I'm not sure what's going on there.

  4. BICI stuff, go down on S. Hadi's stream on Twitter and a conversation he was having with some tweeps:!/SHalMosawi (it's not that far down)

    He seems to say that it was a mistake..

  5. Thanks. That's what I figured and why I was wary of posting about it.

  6. Nope, a number of people working on the BICI resigned during the week and left immediately. The Sec Gen Kareem Choudray is the most notable of these.

  7. Right. That's what I'd heard. But any official acknowledgment of or statement about this anywhere?

  8. I think there is something in the GDN.........

  9. Right you are:

    Meanwhile, a BICI spokeswoman confirmed that its secretary-general Kamran Chaudhary resigned and left Bahrain on Wednesday.

  10. The full fallout from Bassiouni's ill-judged comments in multiple interviews has not been seen but is already serious. It makes it harder for people to come forward when the head of the commission says that he already thinks a senior security figure was never part of a systemic policy of abuse of torture. People are already frightened and this makes them more reluctant to speak about their experiences.

  11. Jason, I'm doing some leg-work for you here :P So I dug up some information about Kamran:

  12. I am sure globe-trotting man of action and influence Sal Rahim will be in here soon to give us his fantasy take from his highly-placed contacts on the latest developments, reassuring us what he has read on twitter is exactly what we have already read!

    Take it away Sal...............

  13. Lol (to ".. reassuring us what he has read on twitter is exactly what we have already read!")

    Justin, we also have a live broadcast of Lua Lua tv now:

  14. DT pulled the original - perhaps due to a bureaucratic mistake - here is an update:

  15. Justin, some more events for your next post:!/sacked_bh/status/102078706792673281

  16. Justin - Update 3: doesn't it make sense not to partake in September when unofficial talks MAY be underway. Note the F1 has been moved to Nov 2012 also.

    And you didn't pick up on the AJE show when they invited on a Saudi to talk about Bahrain politics?

  17. No I didn't see the AJE show, although AJE seems to be running all sorts of Bahrain interviews now to try to balance out its perceived anti-Bahrain bias as represented in the documentaries. So I guess a Saudi makes sense, as I can imagine his positions.

    As for September, I was debating about whether to write again about this, but in short, you're right: it doesn't really make sense, since al-Wifaq's demands at this point have been reduced to: some sort of electoral redistricting or changes to the electoral system, some change in the way ministers are selected, and an increase in the authority of the majlis al-nuwab vis-a-vis the Shura Council, though this latter point hasn't really been stressed lately. So joining the existing parliament would really signal that they don't expect any of these things to be accomplished, since they would be locked in to another 3 years of the existing system. And they are guaranteed to be a minority (with only 18 of 40 seats up for re-election), so there is no possibility of "change from within," as they say. In the end, if they agree to go back to the parliament, Bahrain starts to look at least on the outside a lot like the pre-February status quo ante. Especially now that al-Wifaq is said to have internal divisions and has competition from the February 14 people, that position would be untenable.

  18. I just re-read your comment and see that I didn't address your point, which is that the boycott announcement doesn't necessarily preclude the idea that talks may still be underway now, which I suppose is true. In that case, though, the question is what al-Wifaq is able to give the government in return for whatever concessions they are willing to offer. That is, if al-Wifaq cannot go back on its promise of boycott at this point, and isn't really "in control" of the street to the extent that groups like Feb. 14 etc. are holding independent rallies, what can al-Wifaq offer now in return for government concessions?

  19. OK, replying to your comment "I just re-read..." - and it''s a long post so get your coffee....

    Where you see 'government' I see 'ruling factions - and this is not news, we know all about it. I don't think there is a singular line from gov - at the moment, I see 2 lines. This in itself is more destabilizing than the current empasse between 'gov' and opposition.

    And in relation to the post above that one, I think Wefaq's demands are more than you suggest (and especially as of today's rally): fully elected government. that means all positions including PM.

    You ask: so "What can they give the gov?" to me means 'what can they give King/CP?"

    Simple, an end to:

    1. the crushingly toxic global PR that is killing the country's reputation and parts of the economy,
    2. the increasingly souring diplomatic relations all over the world, especially in US & Europe,
    3. an end to the peaceful weekly protesting from the overwhelming majority of opposition that back Wefaq that stokes the toxic PR and keep the narrative rumbling in global news agencies,
    4. an exit plan out of the disastrous 'cleansing' practices of sacking workers from their jobs, removing students from their studies, arbitrary detention and abuse of detainees, state TV and press witch hunts and the ongoing damage to the fabric of society this is causing.
    5. A chance - no more than that - to heal the internal divisions between sects, friends, even in families. I have never seen it so bad or so deep or so hateful, especially among younger adults.

    You also have to see that Wefaq have made a significant and bold concession on the "1 constituency" electoral district proposal that could see them not be the majority party as would happen under equitable boundary changes to redress gerrymandering. It would allow the likes of Wa'ad - who have very little natural electoral support and other individuals not affiliated to main opposition or regime factions to gain seats. It would be a more representative parliament of the people.

    The threat of the looming UN investigation increases over the King re: the ICC case the longer the crackdown goes on and the more Mr Bassiouni undermines his own remit. This ICC case is a real problem, especially for the King (not CP by the way) and has not had the attention it deserves locally. Bassiouni is only here in order to fend off that UN investigation.

    I would also make 2 further points and here I want to say that you should regard this as my own idle speculation - unlike the oracle super hero Sal Rahim.

    1. Talks after 14 Feb never stopped. They went in to the background, were conducted with increasing difficulty, had 'pauses' but were NEVER terminated. Perhaps now they may have regained a head of steam.

    2. Whatever the daily movements in Wefaq's stock price, there is one thing they will not do: abandon those who lost their lives and suffered through the crackdown. My own view is they would prefer to be in permanent opposition than concede ground that undermines what they see as the sacrifices made by Bahrainis over the past 7 months.

    And finally some unfashionable comments that will irritate many from both sides: I believe the King/CP axis is desperate to solve the current problems and this is derived more from their personal integrity (and suffering) as it is from any politically apt out-turn. Many see the King as a regime figurehead but he is a caring and concerned man who may not have all the tools he requires in the box nor the loyal workforce or clout to implement his directions. And however fashionable it may be to knock and mock, NEVER underestimate Ali Salman, nor underestimate the respect CP and King have for him. I predict he will be in the winning frame alongside King & CP at the end of the day.

  20. I agree (pending rebuttal by Sal Rahim) with most of your points. But they seem to depend on two critical assumptions that at least deserve some mention:

    1. The idea that al-Wifaq commands enough of the Shi'a "street" that things would calm down to tolerable levels if it threw its weight behind some agreement or compromise (whatever it might be) with the King/CP.

    2. The idea that the King/CP are in an internal family position to offer anything substantive to al-Wifaq, whether redistricting, changes to the way ministers are chosen, etc. This is especially so after the outcome of the National Dialogue, whose main upshot was to give the PM power of the selection of ministers. Any King concession to al-Wifaq on this point would generate a ton of blow back not only from the PM and his allies within the ruling family but from the National Unity Gathering and likeminded people.

  21. On point 1: they do command the street - but the young street does not like to admit it. I admire the ingenuity of Feb14 group because they have managed to keep a low-level civil confrontation going literally ever night. But is is just kids, in the streets of their villages, some nightly migration to support neighbouring villages, but still - just kids. And their demands are not that different from Wefaq. There is some frustration with Wefaq because of the perceived slowness of their actions - but what political party has 100% support for all its actions? They are still commanding the opposition platform and agenda, I don't see that changing - in fact after today's rally I see their hand strengthened a little.

    The nightly village strip-tease in front of exhausted security personnel is losing some traction as it is not going anywhere. Once wefaq have a strong deal on the table, this will fold, IMO - but i await to be slapped down and corrected by Sal.

    On point 2. I speculate - wildly - that they have put many of their eggs in Bassiouni's basket and would like to use his report as a game changer. They had no other choice as they had no internal support for their line. That is why Bass' recent rather controversial comments are a big disappointing - and incidently just serve to undermine his stellar career achievements. There is more news to come on BICI, this incident is not over. The ND outcomes are not yet approved by King. And their content is not a surprise - if PM did not come out with stronger powers then it would have been a failure for him and the team he ran under the Min of Justice at the ND. I would not be too worried by NUAA - I would be more concerned with elements to the right of NUAA who see their only chance to hold their line is through the lens of an armed street militia. There are worrying signs what I just typed is becoming a reality.

  22. Whatever guys. We need peace on all sides. Wrongs on boths sides. We need somebody to mediate. I am very sad at the whole shinnanigans. The apparent allegations towards the Kings son of torture and some Royal Princess is way too disturbing.Should be investigated and the King needs to push for this. The son did go on the airwaves and threaten us all and I mean us all. It was scarey even to sunni who had Shia friends.


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