Wednesday, June 29, 2011

25 More Years of Crisis

Reacting to the sentences handed down to Bahrain's main opposition leaders last week, Sh. 'Ali Salman told the BBC that the judge who issued the verdicts also ensured that "Bahrain's crisis will continue for another 25 years as well"--i.e., for as long as the men were imprisoned. And, in the first move toward a self-fulfilling prophecy, al-Wifaq has decided by omission not to take part in the al-Dhaharani-sponsored National Dialogue to commence shortly.

As far as I can tell, never did al-Wifaq say "we will not participate," but, as implied above, its rejection was by omission--that is, by failing to submit an "agenda" by the government's deadline set for Sunday the 26th. The Gulf Daily News story linked here claims that the decision came "despite some members apparently wanting to take part," a fact pro-government folks are being quick to point out.

Assuming the group will indeed boycott, the reasons are obvious enough. In recent days 'Ali Salman has outlined a number of these, in particular (1) the lack of a royal family participant:
"This dialogue will be successful if there is a principal person from Royal Family like the Crown Prince present in the process. He understands the demand and the opposition sees him as a leader, who could solve this crisis."
And (2) the watering down of al-Wifaq's representation within the dialogue by the inclusion of hundreds of delegates from various groups and societies, most of which are unrelated to politics. He says:
"The opposition groups are clearly a minority on the negotiation table. ...

"Even if Al Wefaq participates along with other groups, the opposition will represent close to 100 people with the support of other individuals."

Close to 100, that is, out of 300. And this includes other, nominal "opposition" societies such as an Ibrahim Sharif-less Wa'ad, the Progressive Tribune of Hasan Madan, and some other groups that have won a grand total of 0 seats in parliament since 2002.

The government, of course, is stressing the rate of participation rather than the political reach of those participating. The statistic de jour, for example, is the dialogue's "94% participation rate." Interestingly, however, when we look at the government's more precise breakdown, we find that the lowest participation rate by type of participant is--go figure--political societies. But, when you think about it, as long as 100% of the invited (pro-government) journalists will be there, who cares how many political societies show up to this political dialogue?

As one would expect, this "94% participation rate" gives the army of pro-government propagandists a ready-made slogan to spread via social media. The logic goes something like this: "If 94% of Bahrain is represented at the dialogue, who cares whether al-Wifaq comes or not?!!!1 They can sit home and pick dates LOL !"

As if one really needed to point out the flaw in this argument, let's do the math. According to my 2009 mass survey of Bahrain, an estimated 57.6% of Bahraini citizens are Shi'a. Of the Shi'a interviewed in my survey, 55% of those who say their views are represented by a political society identified al-Wifaq. So, by these 2009 estimates al-Wifaq represents at least 57.6% x 55% = 31.7% of the citizen Bahraini population:

(And, if one assumes that a decent number of former al-Haqq and al-Wafa' supporters have been drawn into its sphere of influence since its mass resignation from parliament and its assumption of the role of main protest organizer, this is likely a low estimate.)

More simply, if one would take the proportion directly from the parliament, al-Wifaq would then represent 18/40 or 45% of the Bahraini population--unless, of course, the government is trying to say that the majlis al-nuwab is not a representative institution. Whatever the case, the National Dialogue can't represent 94% of the Bahraini population if al-Wifaq alone represents some one-third or one-half of it. Unless one is happy with 6% as an approximation of 32% or 45%.

If a new dialogue were setup involving 1,000 members of the Al Khalifa along with, say, 80 representatives of society, and these 80 people decided the initiative wasn't worth their time because they were hopelessly outnumbered, would this dialogue then represent 93% of Bahraini society because 1000/1080 = 93%? If the invitees are not proportional to their representation of the population to begin with, then we can make up whatever such statistics we want. Anyway, I assume I am preaching to the choir here, so I'll stop there.

In lieu of the National Dialogue, al-Wifaq will on July 1 hold the third installment of its parallel dialogue, the "Festival of Sermons/Speeches," in al-Diraz, not incidentally the home village of Sh. 'Isa Qasim. Al-Wifaq seems to be going for wide geographical variation, as the first was in Saar and the second in Sitra.

Another online poster beseeches people to "renew" their "legitimate and rightful national demands on Friday in al-Diraz."

In other news, the King will give a "very important" speech tomorrow (June 29) on "the latest developments in Bahrain" after presiding over a cabinet meeting. Speculation among opposition forum-goers ranges from a release of the sports figures and doctors/nurses on trial; to a pardon of the opposition leaders just recently sentenced; to an appointment of a new leader of the national dialogue. The news of the king's speech is also among the most active threads on the main pro-government forum, where many are dreading an announcement of pardons. Whatever King Hamad says, in all probability it will render irrelevant everything I've written here about the dialogue.

If it is not about the National Dialogue specifically, though, the speech could be about the impending withdrawal of "most of" the Saudi/GCC forces (NYT article here) from Bahrain, an event the government is obviously keen to advertise. (Of course, the official figure of 1,200 has been revealed already to be a considerable understatement of the Saudi force levels in Bahrain: a Wall Street Journal article from April notes that "The Saudis publicly announced that 1,000 troops had entered Bahrain, but privately they concede that the actual number is considerably higher." So the number that remains behind is likely also to be higher than the official figure.)

(Update: Al-Ayam is citing Saudi sources in denying that any withdrawal will take place and specifically denying this Reuters report.)

I guess we'll have to wait (though not too long) to find out.

Update: the BNA is reporting rather quietly the release last night of an unspecified number of detainees from among medical personnel and athletes who had been arrested for their "parts" in anti-government protests. Many are taking the release as a signal of further concessions to the opposition (if obviously not portrayed as such) to be announced by King Hamad later today.

Unrelatedly, the U.S. has appointed career FSO and former Ambassador to Yemen Thomas Krajeski as its new Ambassador to Bahrain. Most recently, he was in Iraq helping to negotiate the permanent boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan before returning to the U.S. to serve as Vice President of the National Defense University. So: an FSO with a strong military background and experience in two fractured societies. That sounds about right. I know that when I was in Yemen in 2006 he was very well liked among Yemenis; let's see if he can overcome the current anti-U.S. fever in Bahrain.

Update 2: So much for a "historic day" in Bahrain, as some speech prognosticators were calling it. Instead, King Hamad's announcement was that of an "independent truth commission" (details here) to investigate human rights violations linked to the uprising. In short, it will be government-appointed and headed by U.S.-based human rights lawyer Mahmud Basyuni.

The funny thing is, the Bahraini government had already at the beginning of June agreed "in principle" to a UN-based mission to do the exact same thing. So presumably a government-appointed "independent" *wink wink* commission is preferable to a UN-appointed ACTUALLY independent commission.

Thus, as the Associated Press notes,
Some [read: all] suspect the king's decree to investigate alleged abuses may just be window dressing to exonerate Bahrain's rulers and allow them to continue the crackdown on opposition supporters despite criticism from rights groups and Western allies.
The Arabic text of the address is here. (Update: And the video:)

It would seem that if the government really wanted to ensure that peoples' rights were respected, it could start by not postponing the appeals of the 21 opposition leaders, many of whom were just sentenced to life in prison, to a more politically-convenient time (September). And, of course, there is still the matter of inter-Al Khalifa politics. The King may want a truly independent commission. Others--not least among them the prime minister and the khawalid--may (and likely do) not.

Will this (along with last night's release of medical/athletic prisoners and the reported (though now denied) withdrawal of Saudi forces) be enough to coax al-Wifaq to the dialogue?

Update 3: a commenter points out that the February 14 people have (as always) their own agenda for tomorrow and Friday, part of their "Week of Popular Rage." Both events are set for Jidhafs near the suq, and come with a cool-looking advertisement:

And, in case you haven't received your instructions yet, please be advised:


  1. 28 medics & the athletes were released last night, though the BNA reassures us that their prosecution for "medical and sport crimes" (those appalling sport crimes!) is set to continue in military courts- sorry special security courts that are nothing at all like a military tribunal...
    The strange thing is that Al Wefaq have still not declared they're definitely not in though they missed the deadline to send their topics... the other statistic bandied about was one of 80 something percent who'd sent in their vision (sorry, late for work and no time to look up exact statistic), so it seems Wefaq are not the only group who haven't done this but the others aren't being spoken about as having "refused dialogue"... Could it be that Wefaq have accepted the dialogue and refused to send the list? They've been insisting they say "yes to meaningful dialogue" all along... Now of course this pure speculation of the sort that usually ends in embarrassment, but I think the recent releases & troop withdrawals are concessions agreed in backdoor talks with Wifaq aimed at enticing them to join the dialogue, and if the King delivers today in his speech, that Wifaq might also announce their involvement in the dialogue in Diraz at their next "festival"...

  2. I saw the forum rumors about the release of the medics/athletes, but not the BNA announcement. Maybe it wasn't up yet.

    In any case, I would tend to agree that such measures--and anything the king offers today--must be part of the ACTUAL dialogue taking place in parallel (and in secret) between al-Wifaq and reasonable members of the royal family.

    As for the Saudi forces, wouldn't your speculation suggest Bahrain has a lot more sway among their Saudi/GCC friends than we've given them credit for, that is if they are able to say, "Ok, guys, time to go"?

  3. Great article but how comes you haven't mentioned anything about the 14 feb guys who've organised their event tomorrow in Jidhafs? They seem to get a huge following from the anti-gov population.

  4. God bless al khalifa family,


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