With the 2014 parliamentary elections a mere 28 months away, Bahrain's Salafi bloc al-Asalah is making a strong push for the hearts and minds of the country's God-fearing (and Shi'a-hating) citizens. Looking to improve on its disappointing performance in 2010, al-Asalah has adopted the Obama strategy of campaigning outside of your home country. Then-candidate Obama delivered rousing speeches in Berlin, London, and other capitals; al-Asalah is in Syria hanging out with the Free Syrian Army.
The above photo was posted to Twitter "from inside Syria" by two-term MP 'Abd al-Halim Murad, showing the latter along with al-Asalah's former head Sh. 'Adal al-Ma'awdah and current deputy Hamad al-Muhannadi. All are shown posing and breaking bread with rebel fighters.
More notable than this, however, is the language Murad uses (again on Twitter) to describe visit, which he says is in support of "the falcons of al-Sham [i.e., either the Levant or Damascus itself]" against "the hated Safavids" [i.e., Shi'a]:
The irony here hardly needs pointing out: al-Asalah, which has spent the last 18 months complaining of foreign interference in Bahrain's affairs, and of al-Wifaq's supposed collaboration with Shi'a groups abroad, is now openly--indeed proudly--involving itself in another country's political-military conflict in collaboration with co-sectarians. After campaigning to have al-Wifaq disbanded for violating Bahrain's Political Societies Law, which bars society members from also being affiliated with any "foreign organization," the bloc is now seemingly treading this same line itself.
The even greater irony, if such is possible, is that both al-Asalah in general and Murad in particular have turned their attention more recently to the political "interference" of the United States, especially via its double agents at Embassy Manama. One will recall, for instance, this photo from less than two months ago, captioned (in Al-Watan) with Murad's accusation in parliament: "[The U.S. ambassador to Bahrain] is either a Wifaqi or the ambassador for Tehran!"
Except, wait: who is it again that, according to a recent New York Times headline, is "focused on forcibly toppling the Syrian government," including via "increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries?" That would be the United States. I'm afraid that for his next outburst in parliament Murad is going to need a larger sign, one big enough to fit the qualification: "Ambassador: Leave Us Alone (unless we're talking about Syria in which case it's fine but seriously stay out of Bahrain)."
On the other hand, all of this cross-border cooperation between Gulf Sunni Islamists in the wake of the Arab Spring should be fodder for an interesting research project for someone who wishes to undertake it--a sort of Sunni companion to Louer's Transnational Shia Politics. In the Bahraini case I am thinking, e.g., of Kuwaiti professor 'Abdallah al-Nafisi's address at a Sahwat al-Fatih rally during the February 14th anniversary festivities in 2012. But see also Kristian Ulrichsen's article yesterday on the recent crackdown undertaken in the United Arab Emirates, where it is not transnational Salafism but the Muslim Brotherhood that poses a challenge to the state.
Update: My sources inside Syria can neither confirm nor deny that al-Asalah's presence in the country precipitated the defection today of the Syrian prime minister.
Update 2: CNN Arabic has picked up this story in an article titled "Manama: Controversy Following Bahraini MPs' Visit to Syria." It lists a fourth individual--Faysal al-Gharir--as another al-Asalah member who made the trip. Aside from that, I had also forgotten that al-Ma'wadah is the current vice president of parliament, which the article notes. Probably not the best role model for Bahrain's budding democrats.
Update 3: The government finally speaks, though says little. A BNA statement:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the entry by a number of Bahraini members of Parliament (MPs) to Syrian territories had taken place without any prior knowledge or coordination with the Ministry and without their having submitted any application for permission nor informing the Ministry ahead of that visit.Which boils down to: "Next time, let us know--and stay safe!" What, no Ministry of Justice investigation into al-Asalah? Shocker!
And emanating from the Kingdom of Bahrain's keenness on the safety of all Bahraini citizens abroad, the Ministry urged all citizens and officials in the Kingdom to avoid travelling to armed conflict zones and to take the necessary precautionary measures to ensure their physical safety which is of paramount importance to the Kingdom's Government.
Update 4: In a public lecture in Hamad Town, 'Adal Ma'awdah tells of his harrowing exploits with the Free Syrian Army, including the time they ate lunch together, and posed for a photo together, and that other time they posed for a photo while eating lunch:
Update 5: Bam! Three months later, The Washington Post slams the U.S.'s entire Crown Prince Salman resuscitation strategy in Bahrain.
Update 6: Syrian state television has picked up on the Bahraini MP story, airing a 2 1/2-minute segment titled "Al Khalifa Terrorism in Syria":