Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back to Square One: What Has Changed in Bahrain since February?

I debated waiting to post until the results of today's vote were in, but since I'll be traveling--and, more fundamentally, since the actual results will make no difference anyway--I figured I may as well just go ahead now.

In the spirit of the timely return to the presidency of both 'Ali Abdallah Salih (thanks, Saudi) and Vladimir Putin, it's a useful question to ask at this point what exactly has changed in Bahrain since February? This is even more appropriate as among the main purposes of the by-elections is to do away with one of the remaining outward scars of the events of February and March, namely a dysfunctional--in the sense of lacking half its members, not in the sense that it is typically dysfunctional--lower house of parliament. (For a useful overview of the by-elections see this Al-Jazeera English segment:)

In this regard yesterday's (and today's, according to organizers) attempted "Return to Marytrs' Square" is instructive. Certainly, the timing and scale of the events of late February are orders of magnitude greater than this latest try at restarting mass protests. All the same, the similarities in response to the events are striking. The main difference seems to be that the police and military have been much more resolute in preempting rather than reacting to planned protests, sealing off the rally paths (which of course are all well-advertised online) before events can spiral out of control. A similar thing happened, to name one other example, with the planned February 14 movement protest outside of the U.S. Embassy back in late July.

Thus, as summarized in The Washington Post:
Bahraini police set up checkpoints and patrolled key roads Saturday in a massive show of force during highly charged parliamentary elections that Shiite-led opposition groups have vowed to boycott.

The heaviest security was around Pearl Square in the capital Manama, which was once the hub for Shiite protesters demanding greater rights from the ruling Sunny monarchy. The area was ringed by barb wire and lines of armored police vehicles amid calls by anti-government factions to try to reclaim control of the site.

Unfortunately, however, the dissimilarities with February--when Bahrain's police and military required a confidence boost from Saudi ground forces in order to take decisive action against protesters at the Pearl Roundabout--seem to end here. As in February, riot police yesterday continued their standard tactics of firing tear gas at close range and into peoples' homes in the already-claustrophobic Shi'a villages, as one sees in the following video:

Also as in February, Bahrain TV was quick to return to its Friday sectarian programming schedule, which included bringing back the same personalities used to shame "national traitors" (as documented well in AJE's "Shouting in the Dark"). One such individual, Sa'id al-Hamad, hosted a program yesterday in which he urged "loyal citizens" to identity protesters--actually, "agents of a foreign country"--from among photographs aired in the segment. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the director of Bahrain TV is today reported to have resigned/been sacked without explanation.)

Similar appeals have appeared on pro-government forums (I don't have a Facebook account so I can't speak to that). This thread, for example, posts dozens of photos and says, "My brothers and Sisters, I expect all of you to try to identify these people from the Pearl Roundabout and mention their names, regions, and addresses."

One can find similar threads with additional photos as well.

Here: let's try one of our own. Can someone please identify this individual seen terrorizing women and children at the City Center Mall yesterday??? Please provide mobile number along with home address (including all private islands and/or palaces owned):

Much like the cancellation of student scholarships, harassment of teachers/professors (see the new HRW report on this), mass sackings, trials of doctors and lawyers, and other post-February events, the Bahraini government is also exploring more creative ways to punish those responsible for spoiling their glorious by-elections. An article in Al-Ayam, for example, cites a high-level source as suggesting that monetary and other penalties may be imposed for those who fail in their national duty by refusing to vote, noting that "tens" of other countries around the world have similar laws. Yeah, "tens" of other countries like Kazakhstan and Belarus.

In addition, authorities have also threatened prosecution for Twitter and Facebook posts calling for protests and other anti-government activities (including, presumably, electoral boycott), and have banned photography or video-taking "in the vicinity" of polling stations, presumably to mask dismal voter turnout.

Really, then, with the indiscriminate use of force against protesters; witch-hunts on Bahrain TV and pro-government social media; and threats of punishment for online activity and electoral boycott; all that is left to recreate the atmosphere of February, March, and April is an op-ed from Yusif Al Bin Khalil claiming that the United Sates and its Iranian ally is trying to overthrow the Bahraini regime.

Oh wait, here we go:

What is it that set off Al Bin Khalil this time? Another vaguely-critical sentence from Obama, of course. He writes,
To the U.S., apart from Al Wefaq, other Bahrainis have no demands; their view points and interests are not important. In short, in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama summed up the American attitude. He said he would like to strengthen the ties and cooperation with Bahrain. He would like, though, that some change happen, mainly the relating to Al Wefaq demands.

Otherwise, how can we can we explain Obama’s statement when he says: “In Bahrain, steps have been taken towards reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that, but more is required.” The expression “more is required” is in my opinion the heart of the American attitude.

Is the royal family departure required so that Al Wefaq could govern Bahrain?
So three little words from Obama--"more is required"--are enough to show government supporters that "Washington is determined to overthrow the Bahraini regime." Al Bin Khalil would have done better to criticize Obama's sentence on semantic grounds, since the notion that "more is required" implies that ANYTHING AT ALL has changed in the first place. Whereas clearly nothing--fundamentally-speaking--has.

Thankfully, Glenn Greenwald of Salon offers a more accurate interpretation of these same words from Obama in his tongue-in-cheek article "U.S. not 'standing idly by' in Bahrain."

He writes in conclusion,
In fairness, the U.S. is fulfilling President Obama's pledge that it will "not stand idly by" in the face of a tyrant's oppression of his own people, as the U.S. is actively feeding that regime new weapons; that, by definition, is not "standing idly by." In his U.N. address, President Obama praised the regime ("steps have been taken toward reform and accountability") but then powerfully added: "more are required"; he also then equated the two sides: the government's security forces and democracy activists on whom they're firing and otherwise persecuting ("America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc – the Wifaq – to pursue a meaningful dialogue"). I think it's important to remind everyone that the reason there is so much anti-Americanism in that part of the world is because they're primitive, ungrateful religious fanatics who Hate Our Freedom.
Indeed. And they can't even speak American.


  1. I think this is the same guy when he was younger:

    Did I win the competition?

  2. @Anon: The Godwin's Law competition? Yeah, I'd say you did.

  3. Justin, actually a better translation of that piece from the forum would be, "animals/beasts of the Pearl Roundabout".

    بهايم is actually بهائم and the singular is بهيمة

    Also, a few things to look at:

    - Sh. Ali Salman's speech in the unity gathering in Tubli (9/22) -- (note: Sami Seyadi from Wa'ad also gave a speech, who comes from a Sunni family):

    - Excerpts from Sh. Ali Salman's press conference (9/25):

  4. Justin, and for the speech by Sami Seyadi from Wa'ad:

  5. Justin, a recent TV debate between Sameera Rajab & Khalil al-Marzoog:

    Look out for Ali al-Aswad's TV debate on BBC with AbdulHalim Murad... It still hasn't been uploaded but it's a matter of time, I suppose.

  6. Justin, the "debate" between Ali al-Aswad and Abdul-Halim Murad:


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