Monday, June 11, 2012

The End of "Bahraini Hizballah"?

As you've no doubt noticed if you're visiting this site, I haven't updated in a while. This is because, as some of you already know, I've been offered and have accepted a position with the Government of Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, and this blog will soon be replaced by a new one related to my work there. (Update: As I've now gotten several e-mails about this, I'll be clear that this was/is a joke. I thought it was obvious enough given the beginning of the next paragraph.)

Actually, I've been spending all of my free time attempting to finish a long report on Bahrain before traveling to a conference tomorrow. It doesn't look like I'll be able to do so, however, so I likely won't have a chance to write something of any length until the last week in June. Not that the Intertubes will run out of Bahrain analyses in my absence, but I just thought I would offer a note about my extended silence.

In any case, developments in Bahrain are relatively limited and obviously continue to be overshadowed by violence in Syria, which by all accounts seems to be only one or two more days away from successful implementation of Annan's peace plan. Not.

The main action in Bahrain is on the political societies front, with the Islamic Action Society being dissolved in what is a clear warning to al-Wifaq. The language used by the Ministry of Justice to justify the move--that Amal follows "a marja'iyyah that advocates violence"--is taken almost verbatim from the Prime Minister's recent threat directed at 'Isa Qasim, to the effect that the latter's support of "violence" via Friday sermons, etc. will not be tolerated. Does that mean we will see Round 2 of the government's attempt to ban al-Wifaq (the first being in April 2011), presumably to appease those advocating a more hard-line stance against protesters? Perhaps.

Others I've spoken to have alluded to a new sooper secret "dialogue"--isn't there always one?--in which the government is attempting to coerce al-Wifaq participation. But it's difficult to see why the government would have any inclination to restart talks given the current lack of outside pressure, al-Wifaq's current position of weakness, and the problem posed by Sunni demands for participation in any potential dialogue.

More likely, then, is that Bahrain is simply harassing al-Wifaq because it earns itself points among a certain (Sunni) societal constituency, and because no one--i.e., no one in the American or British or Sri Lankan Embassy--seems to be complaining about it. So why not, say, go ahead and bust out 'Ali Salman's security cameras at his house for no reason? They're probably in violation of some law or another, right? Sure.

Political dialogue, social reconciliation, and police reform: a winning combination for Bahrain.

Update: A day after the vandalization of his house, 'Ali Salman goes off in a speech to opposition rally-goers in Saar. If the state had been attempting to force some concession on the part of al-Wifaq with its threats of legal action and physical harassment, I don't think it worked.

If you're looking for good tidbits, he calls out al-Mushir by name at around 17:00 and proceeds to taunt him, saying of mass protests in February and March, "We didn't use 50% of our power. ... We could have marched in our akfan (white funeral shrouds), but we didn't wish to spill our blood and yours. ... You know that with two words of a fatwa we could have brought the masses to the streets ready to die. ... Whatever you use to [try to] crush us will not work. ... Even if you use the [GCC] Peninsula Shield [force] or even more forces, you could never make us surrender." Ok then. Time will tell whether that's a good way to go.

Update 2: Behold! Phase 2 of the (U.S.-backed?) Crown Prince Salman political revival project: The Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Dialogue.

Update 3: King Hamad responds to 'Ali Salman, even busting out the ol' military uniform.

Update 4: A highly-recommended paper by the well-informed Jane Kinninmont: "Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse."

Update 5: Al-Mushir gets the last laugh as 'Ali Salman is shot in the shoulder and back with tear gas canisters and/or stun grenades during Friday's march.

Update 6: News comes via the Bahrain Mirror that long-time friend of the blog and author of the last summer's insightful "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain" series Yusif Al Bin Khalil has been tapped as the next editor-in-chief of Al-Watan! Congrats! All of that U.S. scare-mongering paid off. The U.S. must be happy to know that the Bahraini Royal Court thinks so highly of its staunch American ally.

Update 7: New penetrating investigation reveals systematic links between al-Wifaq and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard:


  1. There are some people who claim that the recent development between Ali Salman and King Hamad is nothing but a new Conspiracy to make the people believe in Alwefaq. What do you think of this Conspiracy Theory?

  2. A US official involved in Bahrain once expressed the same theory about the Al-Watan campaign against al-Wifaq and "Bahraini Hizballah"--i.e., that by making the group look "radical" and allowing it to "stand up" to authorities, it would help gain it support among people who don't currently support it and have never supported it. In this context I suppose the intended aim would be to secure wider support for 'Ali Salman in the run-up to the new secret dialogue initiative that is supposedly ongoing.

    I don't disagree that this public "spat" might be an engineered one. (And notably Salman's most direct target was not the king but his competitor Khalifa bin Ahmad.) But whether it stands a good chance of convincing people to support al-Wifaq, which many people have rejected for nearly a decade now, is another question.

  3. I can assure you that the radicals in the opposition did not like the speech of Ali Salman (Just have a look at Bahrainonline forums, and you will see tens of threads against Alwefaq)

    The government have prevented Alwefaq from doing its weekly protest twice (that is on June 15 & 16) and it might continue to do so...

    One woman got arrested in this protest, and she was subject to sexual harassment in the police station... So if Alwefaq is really involved in the alleged conspiracy, then it is responsible for hurting its own supporters.

    I believe that most of Alwefaq supporters do want the regime to fall just like the hardliners in the opposition, but they just don't have a choice.

  4. Justin, note that Ali Salman made that comment only after this was published in Bahrain Mirror about al-Zayani saying that the demolition of one mosque is enough reason to remove Khalifa bin Ahmed from his position.

    In other words, al-Wefaq has no leadership at all and just responds to whatever pushing happens around it... the same scenario as the roundabout. The way al-Wefaq dealt and continues to deal with the roundabout should be enough precedent for people to understand al-Wefaq.



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