Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mystery Solved: Bahrain Crackdown Actually "A Bureaucratic Mix-up"

The head of the BICI, Cherif Bassiouni, is being credited with having accomplished what many a lawyer and U.S. State Department official have been unable to do: secure the release of imprisoned al-Wifaq MPs Matar Matar and Jawad Fayruz; the high-profile defense attorney Muhammad al-Tajir; and 144 other detainees. This comes in addition to the release of 41 prisoners announced last week.

In an interview with The Washington Times--which incidentally also ran an op-ed attributed to King Hamad back in March; not sure what is going on there--Bassiouni tells that he was "promised" their release, explaining that
all 147 had been under the custody of military prosecutor general, accused of misdemeanors, and that the king had agreed to his request that they all be transferred to civilian courts prior to the royal order establishing the commission last month. Due to a bureaucratic mixup, however, he said the cases were not immediately transferred and he realized that most would linger in jail due to the onset of Ramadan, in most cases exceeding the maximum 6-month sentences for their alleged crimes.
Oops! Well, you know how those crazy Bahraini bureaucracies work: sometimes you're given access to a lawyer and charged with actual crimes and allowed to talk to your family while in prison for several months, and sometimes due to some clerical error you're not. That's just the way things go.

It's strange, moreover, that all of a sudden the two most prominent defendants (who by the way are only free pending trial) are now being accused of mere misdemeanors. Are people accused of misdemeanors usually chased through the streets along with their wife and kids by masked commandos brandishing machine guns? (See the story Matar Matar's wife tells Al-Jazeera English in the video below.)

Notably, finally, today's announcement sits in stark contrast to Bassiouni's widely-circulated comments to Reuters just two days ago, when he seemed to attempt once again to lower the expectations for the BICI investigation:
The investigation itself, he warned, cannot right relations between Bahrain's rulers and its Shi'ite population, which says it is systematically denied access to land, housing and state employment on sectarian grounds.

"This doesn't address the endemic problems, doesn't address the need for political change, for a new constitution, the economic disparities or the political division of Sunnis and Shi'a. All the underlying problems remain," Bassiouni said.

"That's not going to solve the problems of power disparities between the Shi'ite population and the Sunni rulers, nor the feeling of injustice the Shi'a community has."

He also seemed in the interview to offer a prelude to the likely findings of the inquiry, namely that while there were obvious mistakes made by individual police and military personnel, "there was never a policy of excessive use of force or torture...that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I think it was a case of people at the lower level acting, and there not being an effective chain of communication, control." That is to say, no one at high levels is (or will be held) accountable.

Well, in any case, some 185 people awaiting opaque military trials have been released from prison over the past week or so and will at least be tried under more reasonable circumstances. We can all agree to be happy in that, right? You would think so, wouldn't you?

Except that many on the pro-government side are not. Already pissed off by the Al-Jazeera English documentary and by the State of Qatar more generally, they are in no mood to welcome this newest development that smacks of BICI "interference in Bahrain's internal affairs." Quick: can someone check to see if there is a city in Iran called Bassioun?

Thus, for example, we have this commentator, who is representative of the general lot (although admittedly there are some who say if this is what the king wants then we should support him):

"Bassiouni needs to be thrown out of the country before there is no more country.

There's nothing left but for Bassiouni to bring us an elected government too; that's what was missing."

Perhaps this is why the Prime Minister "has instructed all ministries and government bodies to speed up the implementation of the visions agreed upon at the National Consensus Dialogue," according to the BNA. The sooner he can take over more power the better!

On the subject of bureaucratic mix-ups, finally, there seems to have been another apart from the one that affected Matar Matar et al. Qatar's The Peninsula is reporting that "Bahraini authorities are so upset with Doha-based Aljazeera TV Channel that they are reportedly not allowing the Channel’s staff — both Qatari nationals and expatriates — into the country." This comes a day after the Bahraini Foreign Ministry denied any diplomatic rift. I'm sure their immigration paperwork was just misplaced!

Perhaps not, however. Both of today's top Al-Watan columnists are running anti-Qatar stories. The first, by Faisal al-Shaykh, is explicitly so, going so far as to group Al-Jazeera as a state-sponsored propagandist along with Al-Manar and Al-Alam; and even to accuse Qatar of using the documentary to get back at Bahrain for taking the al-Hawar Islands. For these and other staggering revelations, see here:

The second, by our friend Al Bin Khalil, is a bit more subtle but addresses the issue of "The Electronic Sectarian War."

Moreover, pro-government forum-goers are even planning some sort of rally in front of the Qatari Embassy. A vote about whether to hold one reveals around 75% in favor.

Where is the National Unity Gathering when you need it most?!

We end, finally, with two strange news items, even by Bahrain standards. The first is an 'Ali Salman sighting. His extended time outside the country has led many to speculate about his whereabouts. So, is he in London starting the new Lulu TV channel? In Beirut hanging out with Nasrallah? In fact, he is in ... Turkey?

Anyone want to take a crack at a conspiracy theory for this one?

The second news item is the unlikely reappointment of Mansur al-Jamri as editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat after a shareholders' meeting today. The decision evidently has the blessing of the government (see comments section). Now everyone can thankfully stop saying the terrible name Obaidly al-Obaidly.

Update: Al-Jazeera English is actually running a segment on the new London-based LuLu TV channel, which evidently has begun airing after all. Al-Wifaq still denies any relationship with it.

Update 2: You have to feel for the pro-governments. Not only are they unhappy about the Al-Jazeera documentary, unhappy about the prisoner release today, but now they are also unhappy about the rumor (which I suppose is now all but confirmed; see the comments section below) that the crown prince directly intervened to help Mansur al-Jamri return to the head of Al-Wasat. Muhammad Khalid says: "Some official from His Highness the Crown Prince's court needs to confirm or deny the news of the crown prince's phone call to help Mansur al-Jamri, because it is provoking Bahrain's Sunnis and they aren't happy." If only there were some less compromising members of the royal family to take over leadership of the country!

Also, as another one of our informed commentators predicted, 'Ali Salman is said to be back in Bahrain.

Update 3: Matar Matar and Jawad Fayruz tell the BBC that they were tortured while in custody. What was that headline in Al-Watan English again? I think it's time Matar Matar got a new lawyer!

Update 4: yet more hilarity is ensuing--or rather issuing--from Al-Watan English on the topic of its newest enemy Al-Jazeera. First we have "The Despicable Jazeera TV" which is rather self-explanatory. But there is also a new offering from Yusif Al Bin Khalil in which he charges Qatar with aiding and abetting the February 14 uprising. He writes in part,
One of the coup d’├ętat leaders, who wanted to establish the Bahraini Islamic Republic, was caught red-handed in an abandoned area on the Southern Coast of Bahrain. As soon as the forces of Peninsula Shield put an end to the occupation of the Gulf Cooperation Council Roundabout, he was arrested before secretly leaving the country on board of a Qatari boat. Suffice me to mention these two anecdotes to talk about the Qatari foreign policy towards the Gulf countries and in particular towards Bahrain. This policy is so biased and dishonest that it provokes not only the feelings of Bahraini people but also Qatari people themselves. Al Jazeera Channel coverage of the events in Bahrain is not innocent either. Its sneaky methods and dirty tricks are dubious. The Qatari foreign policy towards Bahrain and the role of Doha in the last February and March events in Bahrain have been veiled in secrecy due to the sensitivity of the relations between both countries. But it is so obvious that some people want to damage these relations. Therefore, it is high time we identified the agenda ,put forward in our relations and analyzed its future trends so that we can reach a more in-depth understanding of the nature of our relationship.
Update 5: The ever-entertaining Lee Smith at The Weekly Standard has a new piece on Bahrain titled "The Bahrain Crack-Up."


  1. My heads in limbo over bassiouni one minute he says something like "it was a Bureaucratic mix up" the next he helps release 150 prisoners. I think i will just wait for the final report.

  2. Justin, allow me to offer the following translation for the last segment of the translated forum entry:

    There's nothing left but for Bassiouni to bring us an elected government too; that's what was missing."

    As for Mansoor al-Jamri, his reinstatement is confirmed. There was a meeting today with all the shareholders, as opposed to yesterday's exclusive meeting with only the board members, and they rejected the resignation of the board members that wanted to resign (Farooq al-Moayyed, Fuad Kanoo, Obaildy al-Obaidly, AbdulHussain Dawani and Adel Fakhro) and confirmed Mansoor's reinstatement with the presence of a government representative from one of the ministries:!/manamavoice1/status/100193121991790592

    My sources tell me that apparently Farooq al-Moayyed and his clan were keeping Mansoor out for their own good, even though at this point, there was no further reason to keep him out. In fact, Mansoor had received assurances from government sources (Mohamed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa & the CP) that if he is reinstated, there would be no objection from the government's side.

    I will fill you in more details about today's meeting once I receive them.

  3. Here are some more details:!/SMohsinAlalawi/status/100254830358044672!/SMohsinAlalawi/status/100255032859045888

    The government representative present at the meeting was from the Ministry of Industry & Commerce.

    Also my source told me yesterday that the shareholders were going to stand united today with the return of Mansoor al-Jamri, especially that they realized it was a ploy directed by Farooq al-Moayyed.

  4. Inside info. always appreciated. Thanks.

  5. And thanks for the translation; my Najdi forum-speak dialect is somewhat lacking.

  6. The news are that Shaikh Ali Salman was in Turkey on a medical trip for his wife.

    And he should be back today.

  7. every day i go out of home i pray not to get arrested and tortured in custody due to a "Bureaucratic mix-up" and i pray for not getting killed by "case of people at the lower level acting"

  8. Quick: can someone check to see if there is a city in Iran called Bassioun?

    That was a classic … Kudos to you Justin , you really made this miserable soul laugh madly, where there is so little to be cheerful about.

    Obviously , I don’t have the tools to verify my claim , but from my own little fact finding exercise albeit including diverse factions of Baharini community/society , there was and probably still is , very little confidence and trust in the Bassiouni investigations. Very few believed that he will acheive anyting significant or ensure that justice is carried out and the real culprits will be identified.

    What he has achieved in releasing the prisoners, is one milestone that must have raised quite a few eyebrows. I am pleasantly surprised myself, but good on him.

    As far as identifying those responsible for deaths, torture and unjustified imprisonment of the protesters, well…All I can say is what Martin Luther King once said “I have a dream”

  9. Lol.. In regards to Update 4, I have a feeling this English version of al-Watan is going to backfire against these people. I mean, when you title a series in your column, "The Smurfs’ democratic kingdom!" and make-up dramatic Qatar-runaway stories & newer conspiracy theories, because nobody bought into the Iranian conspiracy theories.. then all I have to say is, "Thank you." Or as those Qatari-Safavid-American-Zionist-Hezbollah agents said in the "dawwar", "shukran lakum.. shukran lakum.."

  10. @Anon: Indeed. The best part about Al-Watan English--better even than the headlines and content itself--is the obvious guiding assumption that such headlines and articles cannot fail to win over skeptical Westerners once made available in English.

  11. It is all obvious now that the potentate of Bahrain and his cronies must go

  12. Greetings fellow blog watchers, I have not been able to keep up given my international travel schedule, but I am taking some time to do this.

    In short:

    1) Bassiouni has discovered that he has the "ear" of the King and CP and intends to use it, but hold that thought, because my sources tell me the recent release of the so called MPs is merely a coincidence to another development

    2) Matar's arrest was probably not the sharpest act on the part of our security forces. However, there is ample justification for Fairooz's arrest, he has proved time and again to be an effective intermediary between Wefaq's foreign stakeholders and the puppets they control

    3) Ali Salman's trip to Turkey is not an innocent summer vacation or a medical trip for his wife. He was meeting with his handlers on neutral soil, Iran and Syria (read Hezbollah here) are only a stone throw away. Besides he did not go to great pain to even hide his meetings with the Zeinab Foundation, an undisputed Iranian backed Shii Organization in Turkey.

    4) The Al Watan paper and pro government media organizations generally, lack standards and it is all becoming comical. I am sure even they dont believe half the crap they write.

    4) Mohd Khalid - an irrelevance, a gimp, a pathetic excuse for a person. No matter what side of the fence you sit on, he symbolizes everything that is wrong with Bahrain. His Pakistani Taliban heritage doesnt help either.

    5) The Qatar saga is a sidenote and will disappear quite quickly, now that Tamim and Salman have spoken, my sources assure me that AlJazeera will be put in its place.

    Now, the important part and you may quote me on this. There is in fact a dialogue taking place between the King and CP and the so called opposition. As a prelude to this dialogue commencing and a gesture of goodwill the wefaq MPs were released. The timing with Bassiouni's annoucement is pure coincidence. There is alot of action taking place behind the scenes is actually inspiring as it is promising. Watch this space, because a few surprises are around the corner.

  13. @Sal: things were getting lonely in here without you. As for your final bit, I've heard the same about the dialogue behind the scenes. I wrote long before the National Dialogue started that high-level talks will be the only way things will (and do) actually get done. This is the Gulf after all; let's not kid ourselves. That said, there seems to be a lot of speculation about the likely outcome. Why don't you enlighten us as to these "surprises." Post anon if you must.

  14. Yes, I've heard the same thing about the king being out of town. Not sure about the CP though..

    I'm surprised Sal, that you keep calling Wefaq an Iranian thing or whatever, especially that you acknowledge they're talking behind the scenes. Man.. we're so sick of being constantly bombarded with this stupid rhetoric. No wonder we can never get things straight in this country. I'm surprised you didn't mention any Prince arguments here. Seems like the winds in Bahrain are moving against the current of your desires.

    Anyhow.. setting all that aside, yes I confirm the meetings take place behind the scenes and everyone is keeping their mouth shut about it, perhaps even more than the previous meetings in late February and early March between Wefaq and the CP.

    And of course.. as you may have read, Sh. Ali Salman met with the Turkish foreign ministry's undersecretary for ME affairs, whom saw eye to eye with many of the opposition's demands, putting in mind that Kuwaiti & Turkish mediation schemes were rejected by the gov't back then.

    Of course, in Sal's world, any Shia organization is instantaneously labeled as Iranian. Now it seems, the whole world is an Iranian agent or everyone's falling for Iran's agency. It's funny how you make fun of Moh'd Khalid or al-Watan but you use the same rhetoric. It was much clearer in your earlier posts, but perhaps you ridiculed yourself so much that you decided to back down. This country will never heal if you will continue to see half of its population, including Wefaq, as Iranian agents.. and let me say this: history is not on your side (historical facts about Bahrain disprove your Iranian theory, but who is there to listen).

  15. To the woman, man or other that hinds behind the veil of anonymous:

    1) Iran is to the Shia, what the vatican is to catholics, or what the USSR was to communism or what Nazi Germany was to the fascists.

    2) Even the USSR and the US negotiated. The Israelis and the Palestinians negotiated. Negotiating with your enemy does not preclude you from stating the obvious and truth about them, that they are not even competent enough to be independent Iranian sponsored actors. No No No.... Wefaq is a wholly owned subsidiary, the cleric in Tehran says dance monkey dance, and they shake it.

    3) Mohd Khalid remains an ignorant gimp. I just hate that guy.

    4) Al Watan is a good paper, may be for fish n chips, but thats about it

    5)Ali Salman in Turkey had the public meetings and then the ones held in the dark corners of his lobby. Ask about Mohammed Reza Mehdi and all will be revealed!!!

    Enough with the spoilers! Let this movie play out, if I can share more I will Justin.

  16. @Sal.. Whatever bro. This Iran crap is more nonsense than anything.

    Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing Society by Emile Nakhleh


    "The book is a study of political development in Bahrain during the first five years after its independence in 1971. It is based on field research done by the author as the first senior Fulbright scholar in that country. The book was banned in Bahrain for 30 years but was allowed to be published in Arabic in that country in 2006. The study focuses on the tribal structure of Bahraini society and the rule of a minority Sunni government by al-Khalifa family over a largely disenfranchised Shia majority. To examine the making of the new state, the book analyzes the nature and characteristics of the Bahraini tribal society, the educational system of modern Bahrain, the nature of the political system, and popular demands for participation in decision making. The book also examines the making of the new constitution, the first ever national election to both the Constitutional Assembly and the National Assembly, and the electoral campaigns and candidates. The book also discusses the restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly, the denial of women the right to vote, the banning of political parties and the role of clubs as surrogate political gathering places, the exclusion of the Shia majority from the economic and political centers of power, and the absence of government accountability and transparency. The February 20ll popular uprising in Bahrain underscores some of the key challenges discussed in the book, especially the autocratic nature of the regime and the urgency of political reform for domestic stability."

    And when was the Shia Iran established? Read your own country's history, and if you are aware of it, then stop laughing at yourself.

    I'm surprised you find al-Watan being good for fish & chips and Moh'd Khalid a hated individual. Your rhetoric is not very different than theirs.

    To keep crying Iran as an excuse to tramp on peoples' rights is of the past. Your wolf crying has led to you being ridiculed, even by the government's strongest allies. IRAN IRAN IRAN!!! Bolulululululu!

    As for the veils that I hide behind, I'm sure you watched the al-Jazeera documentary and you are aware of the Facebook campaigns in detaining people for their political views. Since Bahrain has not returned to normalcy, I would rather remain anonymous. You have the luxury of selling yourself.. We have a little more dignity than that.

  17. “He’s a Hezbollah agent [in reference to Matar Matar],” one Bahraini MP visiting Washington recently told me. “What is your evidence?” I asked. “Believe me,” he replied.

    Sounds like our friend Sal here.. Lol.

  18. I don't know if you got a chance to look at this:

    "Now, a word about Bahrain. There too the police have been shooting at unarmed protestors and even at random civilians in the street (I know -- they shot at me on July 7)."

  19. Al Jazeera Changes Plan to Rerun Documentary:

  20. Well we have had the Iran and Hizbulla conspiracy. The USA and Iran conspiracy and now the Qatari conspiracy. Will the Scottish Nationalist Party be next in the CONSPIRACY. I am greatly amused. I do like the CP though.