Thursday, August 18, 2011

The People Want the Fall Reform of the Regime—and Not Just the Shi'a

Fresh off al-Wifaq's decision to boycott the upcoming by-elections, Sh. 'Ali Salman caused a stir yesterday when he suggested in a lengthy press conference that the opposition's slogan moving forward should not be the familiar "The people want the fall (isqat) of the regime!" but the more measured "The people want the reform (islah) of the regime." Many were quick to criticize al-Wifaq's seeming abandonment of the principles of the February 14 uprising and what they view as but the latest evidence that the group is falling into its familiar role as government-co-opted opposition. Discussion forums are still buzzing with explanation, discussion, and invective surrounding 'Ali Salman's remarks, as seen, e.g., here, here, here, and here. One thread even characterizes the entire event as a "press conference for the Al Khalifa family."

Slogan semantics aside, however, the substance of the address was much less compromising, with al-Wifaq proposing to put to popular referendum its demand for an elected rather than appointed government. Not that such a vote would ever happen, but the fact remains that the opposition's specific constitutional demands, if perhaps not amounting to "the fall of the regime," go far enough in their substantive reforms that one would be hard-pressed not to deem the resulting political system an entirely new one in practical terms. That is to say, al-Wifaq's "reforms" cut to the core of the principle of monarchism in the Gulf.

With the government already warning election boycotters "against plotting potential acts of treason and intimidation," one can only guess what will be its response to the proposed referendum.

Yet, in a continuing development that must be orders of magnitude more worrying for Bahrain's ruling family--or, rather, for certain factions of it--al-Wifaq is not alone in seeking a basic revision of the political status quo. Angered by the king's perceived leniency toward the perpetrators of the February uprising, including the transferal of court cases away from the military's jurisdiction; the BICI probe into the actions of the police/military and the recent (resulting) arrests of security personnel; and the perceived marginalization and lack of appreciation of those citizens who took an active role in "defending" the country in February and March (followers of the National Unity Gathering, for example), many Bahraini Sunnis are openly questioning their position within the country's political system and, more fundamentally, their relationship with the ruling family.

On the first point, the newly re-Jamricized Al-Wasat ran a well-circulated story yesterday reporting that, "in direct violation" of the king's June royal decree that transferred prosecution of uprising-related cases to civilian court, the military prosecutor is "moving to restart criminal cases." Al-Jamri himself also wrote an op-ed on this topic today titled "Mysterious and Frustrating Complexities."

As regards the BICI commission, despite the current feigned support for it among pro-governments in the wake of this week's attack on the BICI offices by a mob of frustrated protesters--see, e.g., this and this in Al-Watan (English)--still its mandate to probe the actions of police and military personnel has struck a nerve with many. This is illustrated to good effect in the most recent columns of Yusif Al Bin Khalil. He tells,
Two days ago, dozens of citizens gathered in front of the house of Sheikh Abdullatif Al Mahmood, the president of the National Unity, and demanded the release of a number of security men arrested under investigation. The discourse was only characterized with anger. Enthusiasm overwhelmed. It is a result of a feeling of injustice and resentment towards who defended the homeland among security men. Away from the circumstances and the complexities of the issue, the emergence of such a spontaneous assembly [i.e., the National Unity Gathering] which may not be legally licensed, reflects the political movement in the Sunni community today.
This "feeling of injustice and resentment" in not limited merely to "security men," however.

The above-quoted article, titled "Bahraini Sunnis at the Time of Awakening," continues:
After the event had been held in the presence of security forces, the group was able to acquire considerable popular sympathy for their cause in various regions of the Kingdom. I asked one of the young participants in the sit-in about the reason for his presence. ... He spontaneously responded: ‘If anyone else thinks he is right and has demands to defend, we are also right and have demands to defend''. Such transformations will let us ask about the options available to the Sunni community as it is currently reshaping itself as a political force within the political Bahraini system. This pushes us to wonder about future options. It starts from the traditional path concerning the relationship between the community and the royal family, moving on to the radical path obsessed with its desire for confrontation with any party, ending with the rational path which seeks to establish a network of alliances for the community while ensuring the balance of the three main powers that affect the political system.
The first of these "follow-up" columns--"concerning the relationship between the community and the royal family"--appeared today.

Titled "Bahraini Sunni[s] and Future Options," Al Bin Khalil argues that the events of February has caused
the Sunni community ... to reconsider its options in light of the new developments. Now, it’s going through a stage of conflict on how to decide on future options. The question posed by Sunni elites today is whether to remain committed to their historic alliance with the royal family that dates back to the pre conquest era in 1783.
You may read the rest of the surprisingly blunt article for yourself, but the jist of it is that Sunnis must rethink their broad "alliance with the royal family on which the Sunni community was relying entirely in the management of its affairs before the 14th of February."

And if this is not hard-hitting enough for you, the Washington Times is shaking the Bahraini Twitterverse with its just-published interview with 'Abd al-Latif Al Mahmud in which the latter seems to suggest the prime minister should step down, and this only a few months after National Unity Gathering ralliers were heard chanting "The people want Khalifah bin Salman" at their counter-demonstrations at the Al-Fatih Mosque.
“The crisis needs management and [Prince Khalifa] is seen as a main party in managing the crisis,” said Mr. Mahmoud, a former opposition figure but now a strong supporter of King Hamad‘s. “If the crisis is over, we might feel comfortable telling him, ‘Thank you, you have done what you needed to do, and we need a fresh face.’”
The National Unity Gathering has already attempted to explain away the comments in a statement (English via BNA) made just hours after the article appeared, saying Al Mahmud's words were taken out of context. But the author, Ben Birnbaum--who I hope for his sake is now outside of Bahrain!--has said he will upload the audio of their conversation, which everyone seems quite eager to hear:

So I guess we will soon find out how "out of context" Al Mahmud's quotations really are. In any case, there is doubtless to be an awkward meeting with the prime minister in Al Mahmud's future. Something like this maybe:

In or out of context, the Washington Times piece has served to raise the one truly unspeakable topic in Bahrain--that of the prime minister. And when viewed alongside the recent anti-state protests of "military men" outside Al Mahmud's house earlier this week; the resumption of military prosecutions despite the apparent wishes of the king; and the Al-Watan article asking if ordinary Sunnis should "remain committed to their historic alliance with the royal family," it seems that the Bahraini government has considerably more to worry about than a mere electoral boycott from al-Wifaq.

One might speculate that the internal Al Khalifa divide is once again rearing its ugly head, with the so-called khawalid--the partisans of Royal Court Minister Khalid bin Ahmad and his brother (and defense minister) "the Marshall" Khalifah bin Ahmed--taking their competition with the king and prime minister up a notch. But feel free to disagree.

Update: the Arabic Al-Watan website (which is updated much more often than the English) is running the National Unity Gathering's denial of the Washington Times piece as its top story:

Update 2: the audio of the conversation has now been released by the Washington Times author, to everyone's approval.

If you can't open the file directly, the Manama Voice has an embedded player here. Either way, both Al Mahmud and the Arabic-to-English translator can be heard clearly, and the quotations from the article seem to be legitimate. The very opening of the audio, for example, is (with a slight omission after "If the crisis is over,") the line: "If the crisis is over, we might feel comfortable telling him, ‘Thank you, you have done what you needed to do, and we need a fresh face.’”

Update 3: the Ministry of Interior is reporting that it has summoned Nabeel Rajab for questioning "for publishing wrong news and information through social media websites." One is surprised only that it has taken this long. (Update: he's now supposedly been released.)

Update 4: the Bahrain Mirror has an interesting interview with newfound Bahraini celebrity Ben Birnbaum titled: "Washington Times Reporter to Bahrain Mirror: The National Unity Gathering's Response Didn't Deny What Al Mahmud Said, and I Think What He Said Is His [Actual] View."

And in case you haven't yet downloaded the new al-Wifaq Android app, here you go.

Finally, Al-Jazeera is reporting that members of the BICI have been making "surprise visits" to the sites of recent demonstrations (i.e., to the villages) to "witness the actions of both protesters and the police." The implication is that the committee's investigators are scrutinizing not only the government side (as is its mandate) but also the alleged provocations of demonstrators. I predicted something like this a month ago--i.e., that the group's final "report" will tend to attribute guilt to both sides--and was criticized by commenters as being ignorant of the BICI's purpose. How's that prediction looking now?

Update 5: Khalil al-Marzuq tells the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Dar that Bahrain may see a "civil war" if real reforms are not enacted (via the Manama Voice.) Pro-governments are taking his judgment to be a threat:

Update 6
: Al-Wasat has a revealing update on the impending by-elections. It seems that only half of the 18 districts have any candidates running at all given the boycott of al-Wifaq and Wa'ad. I guess those pro-government Shi'a parties (which now include the 'Rabitah al-Islamiyyah' group of al-Madani, another prominent pro-government Shi'i) are not working out so well.

Update 7: very much in line with our article here, the Bahrain Mirror asks: "Is the Marshall Winning [the Competition] for the [Position of the] Prime Minister?"


  1. I must say I was rather surprised when I read Ben Birnbaum's article; although I've got to admit that it makes me happy to see all the ethnosectarian Sunni Arab chauvinist beasts devour each other. Only in the third world would people (such as the Sunni Arab supporters of the Khalifa dynasty) throw a fit when sadistic torturers are merely slapped on the wrist as opposed to given medals.

    On a side note, speaking of Ben Birnbaum, his articles on Bahrain have been par excellence. And I'm not just saying that because my university is his alma mater :D

  2. Still, don't you wonder about the apparent relationship between The Washington Times and the government. First they published the king's op-ed way back when; then they had the scoop on the Al Asfour pro-government Shi'a party; now this. What gives?

  3. It's clear the Washington Times has a highly placed source(s) feeding them these scoops, but the question is what is the Bahraini government benefiting by going to the Washington Times with these stories as opposed to say, the New York Times or WPost?

    This is especially perplexing given that Ben Birnbaum's articles don't have a pro-government theme a la al-Watan articles (for example, his article regarding Asfoor's government sponsored party did mention something along the lines of it being a no-go among most Shia); so one has to wonder what exactly the Bahraini government is getting out of this seemingly exclusive relationship with a Western media outlet.

    I'm wondering whether the relationship will sour now with this most recent article which has put the Bahraini government in an awkward position publicly as well as having created division within the pro-government camp. Looks like this is going to get more and more interesting...

  4. Justin you are right. The government has handled and mismanaged this whole mess beyond belief. Their political strategies are a relic from another era and their sophistication is so lacking it is beyond concerning. This nonsense about the King's decrees not being fully implemented whether on those left without jobs or the move of cases from military to civil prosecution, is just bizarre! Either its pure incompetence on the part of the executive, or we truly do have a "shadow" government running the country!!! Dont worry about Al Mahmoud he will be put in his place very quickly.

    Equally, we see clear stupidity and incompetence on the other side. The product of another set of inexperience and puppet mastering.

    Al Wefaq has recently reacted with a moderation in tone, because if it keeps up the same type of language it will very soon be an illegitimate organization, an outcast, another dumpster for the poor, like Haq and all those products of the Ayotallah. But at the same time, they want to appear to be serving the cause and keeping up the pressure on government, right now those tactics remain relegated to the same type of "violent and nilhistic" youth that caused havoc on the streets of England, we know them well. What have they got to offer, oh how predictable!?!? We will burn tires, spill garbage on the streets (physical matter they bathe in!!), blow up gas canisters, graffiti.. oh are we so sophisticated and mature that we can face the government with a strong political argument? Of course not, we are the village people, we are childish inbreds (talk about the number of cousins married to each other) who are stupid and blind to the fact that all our acts are futile. They produce nothing, no change, because no one even recognizes their existence to begin with, has anyone recently checked out the quality of infrastructure in a village compared to everywhere else in the country??

    We have an inexperienced government and an equally inexperienced bunch of muppets (yes Jim would be proud!?) calling themselves the opposition. All quite comical really. At the end of the day, the mantra still holds that he who holds the gun continues to rule.

  5. Sal Rahim said:

    "(talk about the number of cousins married to each other)"

    Yes, the sophisticated Sunni Arab Khalifa royal (my ass) family is way above that:

    Crown 'Prince' Salman bin Hamad:

    "Prince Salman is the eldest son of the current king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his first wife Queen Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa [the cousin of 'King' Hamad]."


    'King' Hamad the 'sophisticated' inbred himself:

    "His parents were Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa who in 1950 was the Crown Prince and Hessa bint Salman Al Khalifa."


    What about the head uncouth bedouin of them all, Prime Minister Khalifa bin 2airi Khalifa, you may ask? Well... :

    "the 2nd son of Sheikh Salman ibn Hamad Al Khalifa, Hakim of Bahrain, and wife Sheikha Mouza"


    Turns out "Sheikha" bint ras 2airi Mouza's full name is Shaikha Mouza bint Hamad Al-Khalifa! As per the official announcement of her death by BNA

    Turns out all three of the head uncivilized bedouins of the Khalifa family (from the Prime Minister to the King to the 'intellectual' Crown Prince himself) are the products of inbreeding.

  6. Everybody be quiet, everybody be quiet; Sal Rahim just made a joke:

    "We have an inexperienced government and an equally inexperienced bunch of muppets (yes Jim would be proud!?"

  7. This is an audio version of the interview:

  8. When Sal's attempts to convince everybody here about the Iranian \ Hezbollah conspiracy theory in Bahrain failed, he has now moved to trying so hard to insult the opposition \ demonstrators. How lame. All what I have to say is: Hahaha! :D

  9. Ben Birnbaum on Twitter:

    "Coming next week: My interviews with Ali Salman, Abdullatif Al-Mahmoud, Cherif Bassiouni & Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa"!/Ben_Birnbaum/status/102469402389254145

    Honestly, is this guy married to an Al Khalifa or what?

    Also: no one has commented on the speculation in my post about the possible political maneuverings of the khawalid.

  10. No one in the right frame of mind can call publically for the almighty Prime Minister to step down , and get away with it. The King has tried to dislodge his uncle, the crown prince did, and rumors even suggest the Obama has tried as well , yet they all failed. When a commoner like Abdul Latif Al Mahmood comes and say it so plainly, then we need to dig really deep. Assuming that Al Mahmood has not lost his sanity and is not medically declared as a lunatic, then there must be some kind of logic behind it.

    There is no question that Bahrain is ruled by different factions of Al Khalifa clan and the power is shifting from one faction to another as events develop. When the King declares that all those who have been sacked should be returned back to their jobs and when he orders by decree for the cases handled by the Military Courts to be transferred to civil ones, and NO one seems to give a hoot , then one wonders , who is actually ruling Bahrain?

    Is it the so-called Al Khawalids? The only logical explanation is that they (AlKhawalid) have enough confidence in their powerbase and perhaps enough support within the family to suggest such a bizarre idea and publicly announce it, albeit through a crony of theirs. It is a sign of their ambitions to take over power from their cousins. This type of power mongering is embedded in the Bedouin culture, where sons overthrow their fathers, cousins kill cousins, friends , allies and relative of yesterday become enemies of today all for the sake of power and ruling the tribe.

    Of course , there is another bizarre reason for Abdul Latif’s Al Mahmood statement. Perhaps Einstein Jr. , (cleverly disguised as Sal Rahim )was right after all. It is another flagrant proof of the Iranian meddling into Bahrain’s affair , since Al Mahmood has Persian ancestors.

  11. @Anon: "Is it the so-called Al Khawalids? The only logical explanation is that they (AlKhawalid) have enough confidence in their powerbase and perhaps enough support within the family to suggest such a bizarre idea and publicly announce it, albeit through a crony of theirs. It is a sign of their ambitions to take over power from their cousins. This type of power mongering is embedded in the Bedouin culture, where sons overthrow their fathers, cousins kill cousins, friends , allies and relative of yesterday become enemies of today all for the sake of power and ruling the tribe."

    ^------ This would be my uninformed guess.

  12. Justin, I've noticed you've always been fond of the "al-Khawalids".. Haha.. Perhaps the civil war Khalil al-Marzoog was hinting towards was not between the protesters and the "government" (or lack thereof, as it seems), but between the "government" and the "government" (different factions of the ruling family).

    We shall see because it seems like the opposition is more or less united in appearance even though disagreements about the "fall" and "reform" still remain.

    As for Sal Rahim, it seems like those villagers he so profusely described have better brains and understanding than the lovely Princes he so admires to call for better representation. What use is a gun when you cannot use it? At this point, any use of "gun" is suicide. You know what? Use your gun.. This mismanagement you speak of is nothing but a product of the "gunning".

    It also seems like the waves are moving towards the CP and the moves relating to the job situation and military trials are ways to discredit him and show him and his followers to watch their moves.

    And Al-Mahmoud? He's just a blind fool.. Doesn't know any better.. For somebody like him to publicly question the motives of a whole sect like that, as he did, and now say this, he's committed social suicide.

    It seems like things are beginning to crumble.. Maybe al-Marzoog was right about this civil war scenario.. God knows..

  13. Also, add to that the recent al-Ayam article by that British military official.. pretty significant! Powers are shifting..

  14. Same article

  15. re Washington Times...

    Al Khalifa > Al Saud > Waleed Bin Talal > Murdoch > WT


  16. A new article by BahrainMirror:

    I think it raises more questions than it answers, but certainly sheds some light on possibilities.

  17. Thanks; I agree it's a good article. I'll add it to the post. Maybe the Bahrain Mirror reads this site =P


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.