Saturday, July 27, 2013

Advocates of New Security Crackdown in Bahrain May Finally Get Their Wish

Following months of stalled -- or more accurately never begun -- political "dialogue," and amid ever more deadly tactics deployed against police by holdout revolutionaries, it appears that Bahrain's fractured political and social systems once again are poised to reach a breaking point.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the immediate impetus would seem to be an event not unlike the one that preceded the decisive deployment of the Saudi-led Peninsula Shield force in March 2011: a perceived attack on the Royal Court in al-Rifa'.  Thirty months ago, the action came in the form of a mass march that aimed to reach the royal compound itself, a demonstration famously repelled by a Sunni mob backed by uniformed security services.  In the present case, the attack is a July 17 "car bombing" of (the parking lot of) a Sunni mosque in al-Rifa' located in the vicinity of the Royal Court.

Importantly, beyond the inherent menace of a vehicle packed with explosives targeting civilians -- and Sunni civilians at that -- the mosque bombing entails an additional layer of threat, as the culprits are claimed by officials to be a previously-unknown terrorist group called the Ashtr al-Shiraziyya Brigade, a group "closely linked to Iran."  Predictably, members of the opposition, including the radical opposition, have mocked such claims as government theater, including on the group's supposed Facebook page.  And certainly one might pose any number of perplexing questions: why the attackers managed to breach the layers of security checkpoints surrounding al-Rifa', why a Shirazi-based organization would have ties to the government against which Shirazi Shi'ism is explicitly and fundamentally opposed, or why this Shirazi faction would have any relation to the supposed mastermind of Bahrain's violent opposition activities, the decidedly non-Shirazi Sh. 'Isa Qasim and al-Wifaq.

Yet the upshot in any case would seem to be the same: the climax of a popular- and royal-led agitation for a redoubled security crackdown ongoing ever since the end of the three-month State of National Safety in mid-2011.  Since that time, King Hamad has come under varying levels of pressure for his perceived leniency and/or plain lackadaisicalness in dealing with politically- and economically-debilitating protest activity.  Now, it seems, he either no longer can or no longer cares to hold the line against the growing chorus of voices.  Al-Wasat reports today of a royal decree dated July 15, two days before the bombing in al-Rifa', that expands the powers of the National Defense Council and directs it to "agree [new] strategies and programs to promote national security."

Separately, the National Assembly will end its summer recess to hold only its second-ever extraordinary session tomorrow in order to discuss the "'dangerous' escalation in violence."  Ironically, the measure requires the approval of the Royal Court to proceed.  If the present months-long Al-Watan campaign (newly joined by Al-Ayam) for the arrest of 'Ali Salman and 'Isa Qasim is any indication, I think the sponsoring MPs will be ok.  Already 'Ali Salman is anticipating his arrest, telling supporters at a rally in Karbabad that protests should continue if and when he is detained (see his remarks below).

All this comes in the shadow of a month promising sustained protest activities, culminating in a day of "rebellion" (tamarud) on August 14 sponsored by all major opposition parties.  Not happy to wait two more weeks, however, the February 14th folks are getting started early, taking advantage of the annual anti-Israel Quds Day to launch a pre-emptive rally on August 1. It's electronic posters like these that really help the cause of ending talk of "Iran's role in Bahrain":

Finally, the anti-activist (and more explicitly anti-Shi'a) vigilantism witnessed in the early days of the uprising are also reappearing.  The militant Twitter account @mnarfezhom is back on the scene after some lull, threatening 'Ali Salman, 'Isa Qasim, and other protest leaders, and raising concerns about Sunnis who might again attempt to take "security-promotion" into their own hands.

Update: The special session of parliament has now concluded, and the recommendations are in.  Among the more interesting ones: to revoke the passports of demonstrators and arrest 'Isa Qasim (Jasim al-Sa'idi); kill 'Isa Qasim ('Adal al-Ma'awda); impose martial law (Sawsan al-Taqawi); bar "interference" by foreign diplomats ('Adal al-'Asumi); and so on.  You probably get the idea:

Perennial contrarian Usama al-Tamimi gave a spirited defense of the opposite point of view, asking whether demanding an elected government makes one a terrorist.  Predictably, this put him into conflict with many of his fellow MPs, in particular Sawsan al-Taqawi, precipitating an argument worth viewing:

King Hamad has already welcomed the recommendations and promises that they "will be taken into account." Of course, if this process is anything like the National Action Charter, one should expect exactly none of the recommendations to make it into the final decision-making.

On the other hand, 'Ali Salman has already issued a video statement saying that Bahrainis will continue steadfast in their demands whatever the state should decide to do.

Update 2: The full list of National Assembly recommendations has now been posted to the BNA website.  Some news sources, including CNN, are erroneously reporting these recommendations as new laws passed by the parliament, which they are decidedly not.  Of course, they are most likely popular cover for an impending royal decree or two that will have the same effect, but still nothing has been legislated yet.

Update 3: A few things: new decrees from King Hamad in line with several parliamentary recommendations, including revocation of citizenship for "terrorists"; a report by Bahrain Watch detailing the government's use of fake Twitter accounts and computer malware to identify and arrest activists; a letter by a U.S. senator demanding the Department of Defense develop a contingency plan for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain; and, most juicy of all, a leaked audio recording of Crown Prince Salman in what is said to be the Ramadan majlis of one Khalid Al Sharif (described as a "secret meeting" with the opposition), in which Sh. Salman seems to question the state's present security-cum-political strategy.

Update 4: Here's one for you: several populist Sunni leaders (including from al-Manbar and the NUG) are accusing the U.S. military of "training the Shi'a [opposition] in weapons-making."

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