Posted on May 25, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments
25 May 2013
From the moment when – just two hours before the National Dialogue commenced, Al-Wefaq finally announced its intention to participate – Al-Wefaq Islamic Society have displayed a considerable lack of enthusiasm for the Dialogue process.
In fact, it is incorrect to claim that there has been something called a National Dialogue over the last three months; because Al-Wefaq has continually thrown procedural obstacles in the path of efforts to start the discussion.
First, Al-Wefaq put forward its Nine Demands, without which it said it would refuse to move forward. Then it made a major fuss about the issue of Government participation. When it was clarified that the Government would be a full participant through the role of the Justice Minister – Al-Wefaq moved the goalposts and said that representatives of the King and Crown Prince had to be present.
When participants made multiple attempts to agree an agenda, Al-Wefaq continually vetoed it. Although half the representatives of political societies were from the opposition, Al-Wefaq claimed this was insufficient. When all other participants put their names to a declaration rejecting violence, Al-Wefaq refused.
We could go on in great detail listing the innumerable obstructive measures taken by Al-Wefaq within the National Dialogue to try and kill it off before it even started. However, the most destructive aspects of Al-Wefaq’s behaviour took place outside the Dialogue chamber.
Many of us optimists had hoped that the opposition’s commitment to participation in the Dialogue might mean a reduction of tensions on Bahrain’s streets. This wasn’t to be.
Instead, Al-Wefaq officials made great efforts to get as many as possible of their supporters out on the streets at every opportunity. The Bahraini authorities granted licenses to numerous protests around the time of the Formula One, despite these being used to trigger rioting, violence and vandalism. This has been in addition to countless illegal rallies.
Al-Wefaq seemed to believe that by maximizing confrontations across Bahrain they could strengthen their position at the negotiating table – the equivalent of going to peace talks holding a weapon behind your back.
The rioting instigated by Al-Wefaq at times reached such levels that several loyalist political societies temporarily withdrew from the Dialogue – Had it been Al-Wefaq’s strategy all along to force other sides to abandon the negotiating table and thus be able to claim that the derailment of talks wasn’t their fault?
Now Al-Wefaq has found a pretext to walk out of the National Dialogue – a relatively minor incident in the vicinity of Ayatollah Isa Qassim’s home – when the Ayatollah wasn’t even present.
Suddenly Al-Wefaq officials were appearing on Iranian TV stations, condemning the “attack on Ayatollah Qassim” and describing the incident as “making war against the whole Bahraini nation”. Once again they are inciting their followers to take to the streets and bring Bahrain to a grinding halt.
They are now dressing up their walk-out from the National Dialogue as a major political gesture. In truth this announcement means nothing. Their continuing obstacles and obstructions means that they have given no opportunity for the Government to show whether it is ready to make concessions – and whether there is the political will to resolve this crisis once and for all.
In sum, Al-Wefaq has acted like a badly behaved child – first refusing to come to the dinner table to eat their food; then refusing to eat anything; then throwing their food all over the place and leaving the table. When a three-year old child behaves this way it is a simple attention-grabbing exercise. With Al-Wefaq it is no different.
By making such a fuss about whether or not it will attend Dialogue, Al-Wefaq wants to tell everybody how important it is. By continual misbehaviour once at the table Al-Wefaq is telling other parts of Bahraini society that it is only Al-Wefaq’s demands which matter and everyone else can go to hell.
While Bahrain’s authorities were right to give every chance to make Dialogue a success, in reality there was never any prospect of it succeeding in the current climate. When the opposition sides were determined to ruin the Dialogue and not give any opportunity for substantive discussion, while causing chaos on the streets – did anyone believe this was a suitable situation for reaching a negotiated solution?
Successful negotiations require political will on all sides.
We can perhaps take heart in the fact that, even though no immediate prospect of an end to the crisis is in sight; Al-Wefaq’s short-sighted and counter-productive attitude towards a negotiated solution, means that its ability to force its sectarian and intolerant agenda on the rest of us decreases day after day.
Posted on May 19, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments
May 19, 2013
“Certain parties in Bahrain’s ruling system have crossed the red lines of the Muslim world and the Shiites and if you don’t apologize for this improper act, you should expect an unexpected reaction;” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister arrogantly declared on May 18.
Unfortunately we can’t tell this Iranian Minister where to put his red lines and still remain within the bounds of civilized discourse. Who does Iran think it is giving Bahrain red lines about Bahraini issues, and what kind of threat is Iran making when it says that if Bahrain should “expect an unexpected reaction”???
Despite its continuing pitiful attempts to interfere in Bahraini affairs; Iran does not speak for Bahrainis and it certainly doesn’t speak for the Muslim world.
Iranian red lines take the form of a trail of blood dripping its way across the region: If Iran felt any sort of responsibility before the Muslim world it would be itself apologizing for bankrolling the massacre of tens of thousands of Syrians; for stirring up sectarian strife in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and numerous other countries across the Middle East and Africa; wasting untold billions of dollars of its oil money arming proxy militias and clandestine networks across the region to spread the disaster that is the Islamic Revolution; using its propaganda channels to incite violence and spread lies; and generally making itself hated and diplomatically isolated around the world.
The Bahraini Government should take Iran’s threats seriously and would be right to lodge a formal complaint at the UN.
We also feel compelled to take issue to the laughable reference in Iran’s statement to the “Persian Gulf Cooperation Council”. It has perhaps escaped their notice that there are no Persians in the Gulf Cooperation Council, because Iran is the one country in the region which none of its neighbours are able to cooperate with because of its bizarre, aggressive and terrorist policies. It is pitifully significant that Iran uses terminology that no-one else recognizes or accepts.
Our concluding message to Iran’s leaders is: Stay out of our affairs. Don’t try to hide the fact that you can’t run your own country by trying to spread chaos elsewhere. Don’t pass judgment on others, because the world will be watching the farce that is the Iranian Presidential elections over the coming weeks. How many civilians will you have to murder, torture and imprison this time round to enforce a rigged result?
Posted on May 15, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments
Is the opposition joking this time? A charity belonging to Prince Charles of Great Britain has signed a deal to build 4,000 homes for the poorest communities in Bahrain – and Al-Wefaq Islamic Society attacks him for it!
One of the obvious legitimate grievances of poorer communities in Bahrain is the lack of cheap housing. A major area of investment for the Bahraini Government over the past two years has been in housing projects to address this need.
Yet Al-Wefaq doesn’t seem concerned by the interests of its own constituency, choosing to make the bizarre and inexplicable statement that building homes for poor Bahrainis gives a “green light” to human rights abuses.
A few weeks ago we heard Bahrain’s opposition making a similar fuss about a Scottish initiative to support education in Bahrain: Apparently funding efforts to improve the education of Bahraini children meant “trampling over the people’s human rights”.
The head of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, Shaikh Ali Salman, recently announced his intention to continue protests, rioting, boycotts and strikes until the 2014 Parliamentary elections and beyond – in spite of the ongoing National Dialogue process. The implication of this is not only that Al-Wefaq seeks to strike down all housing, education and development initiatives – but that they want to obstruct all such activity for the developement of Bahrain indefinitely.
Prince Charles has been accused by Al-Wefaq of lending credibility to the Bahraini Government. If they mean that Prince Charles is better-enabling Bahrain’s leaders to act for the wellbeing of ordinary Bahrainis, then this criticism is absolutely right.
Bahrain’s leaders should be building homes, providing services, improving education, creating jobs and improving the welfare of all Bahrainis. If they succeed then they deserve credibility and respect – and they will have achieved a good deal more than many governments across the region. Unfortunately, Al-Wefaq wants the Government to fail, and therefore any individual or organization providing services or assistance to Bahrain is branded an ‘enemy of Bahrain’.
There is only one logical way in which Al-Wefaq’s statement can be understood: They actually want to make things worse for their own supporters – they want things to get so bad that they make a revolutionary situation inevitable.
We see plenty of evidence of this already: Attractive traditional areas of Bahrain have been turned into war zones: roadsides completely burnt out by weekly tyre-burning; walls defaced by graffiti; the air polluted by molotovs and tear gas; businesses closed due to continual strikes and self-imposed sieges. You can understand why people are angry in these areas, because they are living in a scene from hell – made worse by continual rioting. This is perfect for Al-Wefaq and other extremist groups because they are creating a ripe situation for social unrest and violence.
Has anybody calculated how much money is wasted in managing the security situation and cleaning up after riots; how much money is lost through economic stagnation in areas of unrest; how much the interests of Bahrainis are damaged by police and local authorities managing the ongoing crisis rather than spending their time serving the public? By continuing the unrest and keeping the resources of the state tied up in this way Al-Wefaq is further ensuring that tens of millions of dollars are not being spent for the developement of Bahrain.
By building tens of thousands of homes and making life better for people, immediately this solves many of the reasons for dissatisfaction of these communities: Young families can move into sparkling new homes, providing an attractive and pleasant environment for their children and creating a climate of hope.
Extremists within Al-Wefaq don’t want this. It doesn’t suit their agenda for ordinary Bahrainis to be happy, content and enjoying better lives – they want to keep their constituents in burning hell holes so that they can profit from the anger, social disappointment and revolutionary aspirations.
Luckily we now have two Crown Princes who have Bahrain’s best interests at heart; we have Prince Salman Al Khalifa, whose work on the Economic Development Board and Vision 2030 has created, jobs, hope and economic prospects for tens of thousands of Bahrainis, as well as spearheading National Dialogue and reconciliation.
However, we can also be grateful to Prince Charles for being willing to invest in Bahrain and support urban development and providing homes for thousands of families. This is truly a good thing he is doing for Bahrain, and even Bahrainis who have little sympathy for their government will have good reasons to appreciate Prince Charles’ role in improving their lives.
We hope that these Bahrainis will come to realize that those building homes, developing education, creating jobs and improving services are working for them and deserve their support – those advocating violence, revolution and social chaos do not.
Posted on May 15, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments
15 May, 2013
The Leader of oppositionist Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, Ali Salman, on 12 May made a speech at a religious gathering in Samaheej. Here we look at some of the language of this speech and the implications in the context of the ongoing National Dialogue:
“This is a struggle between good and bad”
What does Shaikh Ali Salman mean by this? Are opponents of the Monarchy therefore good and supporters of the Monarchy bad? Portraying the political system as a struggle between good and evil indicates a fundamentalist and extremist worldview, and the political sophistication of the average six-year old.
“…between those who want justice and those who want to entrench dictatorship”
Shaikh Ali Salman ignores the vast majority of Bahrainis who support a reformed Constitutional Monarchy, but oppose violent revolution. Here he is using exactly the same language as Ayatollah Khomeini before the 1979 Iranian revolution.
“We will boycott the 2014 elections “unless the people obtain their rights”
Democracy is about participating in Parliament in order to represent the interests of your constituency – not trying to destroy the Parliamentary process or hold the political system hostage to inflexible demands.
A further two years or more of political instability will do terrible harm to Bahrain and will further divide our society – does Shaikh Ali Salman really want this? Why not even a mention of addressing these issues through National Dialogue?
“Come and agree on something that will satisfy the Bahraini nation… There is no alternative to total change. Bahrain can’t end this revolution through violence and political maneuvering.”
Shaikh Ali Salman does not represent the Bahraini people. He does not reject the vast majority of middle classes, liberals, Sunnis, residents, educated and secular Bahrainis – or anybody outside his narrowing constituency. He implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with him doesn’t deserve to have a voice and can be conveniently ignored.
He still talks of revolution and destroying the current political system in its entirety and refuses to talk positively about any kind of reform process.
“Sadly the Government rejects the ideas proposed by the opposition”
Who has rejected what? There is a process of dialogue ongoing and everything is on the table. Al-Wefaq won’t obtain everything it wants, but neither will the Government. This is called “compromise” and “flexibility” – neither of which Shaikh Ali Salman seems particularly well acquainted with.
“The Government tried to laugh at the international community when it proposed dialogue”
Again, Shaikh Ali Salman views dialogue, debate and consensus in a highly negative way. By engaging in dialogue, commissioning the BICI and engaging in a reform process, the Bahraini Government behaved in a very different way to the leaderships of Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen which tried to kill themselves out of trouble. Shaikh Ali Salman should not treat dialogue and reform as something shameful.
“The Bahraini population demanding change constitutes a majority”
As we said above – although most Bahrainis support reform – the vast majority reject Shaikh Ali Salman’s objective of forcing revolution and an Islamic republic on Bahrain through continuing street agitation.
Ali Salman’s views are highly illiberal and anti-democratic in first claiming to represent a majority view – and then asserting that he can impose his vision on everybody else who rejects his way of thinking. Shaikh Ali Salman talks about democracy but really seeks tyranny of one segment over all other parts of society.
“We are not looking to gain the Prime Ministerial position”
It is a relief to see that Shaikh Ali Salman has given up his pretentions to be Bahrain’s next Prime Minister – or he says he has.
Posted on May 7, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments
By – Rayyah Fathallah
Let’s say very clearly what most people in Bahrain have taken for granted for some time: There is no such thing as the February 14th Youth Movement. Such entities have no physical, official or practical existence – beyond being brand names on Twitter and Facebook sites. The Bahrain protest movement is not some complex many-headed snake – if we want to talk about Bahrain’s opposition there is only Al-Wefaq Islamic Society.
Two years in to Bahrain’s unrest, can anybody name a single member, spokesperson or leading figure of any of these groups, which supposedly well-informed correspondents from the global media talk about in hushed tones?
These mythical beasts which Al-Wefaq tries to frighten us with serve multiple useful purposes:
When there are outbreaks of violent rioting or police are murdered, the leadership of Al-Wefaq can sit back innocently, and say: “It wasn’t us. It was those radical kids from the 14 Feb Allied Coalition”.
When Al-Wefaq do us all the honour of attending the National Dialogue, they tell us that they can’t possibly make any concessions or compromises “because those crazy militants from the United 14th February Allied Front won’t accept anything less than wholesale revolution”.
When Shaikh Ali Salman and Khalil Marzouq talk to the media about the terrible damage that has been done to Bahrain through firebombs, vandalism, terrorism and sabotage; they can laugh it all off and say that none of this was their fault because the Youth of the 14th February Revolutionaries are totally out of their control.
When security personnel were murdered and mutilated after Ayatollah Isa Qassim incited his listeners to “crush” the police; Al-Wefaq can tell us with a straight face that it’s not the fault of the religious leadership if the unwashed ignorant crowds from the 14 February Militant Youth Society can’t understand a simple fatwa.
In short, the 14 Feb Youth – or whatever they want to call themselves on any given day – allow Al-Wefaq to play the game of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: All acts of terrorism, crime and gangsterism being blamed on 14 February mobsters.
When Al-Wefaq decided to join the game of parliamentary politics in the last decade, they pulled off a similar optical illusion by allowing the rejectionist and extra-parliamentary elements within their constituencies to be mopped up by the Haq Movement. So whenever Al-Wefaq failed to force other parts of Parliament to cave-in to their demands, they sent out nasty Mr. Mushaima and his Al-Haq militants to burn tyres, throw molotovs and bring Bahrain to a standstill.
The balance of power in the centres of unrest in Bahrain is very clear: Whether it be in Sitra, Sanabis or Al-Eker, the local Al-Wefaq official holds sway on all issues that matter. The unrest has allowed Al-Wefaq to consolidate their power in a way they never had before.
It is the increasingly extremist religious leadership who through Al-Wefaq hold these communities in the palm of their hands. The word of Ayatollah Qasim is law in these villages which have become no-go zones where the police and public officials fear to step.
It is the local Al-Wefaq official who says whether a particular shop should be firebombed for opening during a strike day. The same figure directs 12 year-olds to build roadblocks, women to prepare firebombs and the whole community to go on the rampage – no exceptions!
It has been striking that recent protest days have been increasingly prepared like military operations; with substantial quantities of road-blocking materials being delivered by trucks all around Bahrain at the crack of dawn, and contingents of young people manning barricades and brandishing weapons with which to attack the police.
When all these areas of Bahrain mobilize at exactly the same time in the same manner, these are not ad-hoc youth groups; these are not anonymous cyber-activists; this is Al-Wefaq distributing funds, preparing its forces and giving out the order to attack.
The February 14 Movement is nothing more than a mask, exactly like the Guy Fawkes V-for-Vendetta masks that the authorities foolishly tried to ban.
Although journalists and others who should know better continue to fall for this ploy, writing naïve analyses about the “shadowy and mysterious Coalition of 14 February Movement”, this mask fools no-one. Nobody in Bahrain talks about these groups, they talk about Al-Wefaq, because everybody knows that ultimately the decision of whether to fight or talk rests with Ali Salman, Ayatollah Qassim and their likes.
Unfortunately Shaikh Ali Salman believes that he can both fight and talk at the same time, and that to do so will gain him further concessions towards his ambition of becoming the President of the Islamic Republic of Bahrain, with Ayatollah Qassim as his supreme leader.
Let us all thank God that such a fate can never befall us.
Posted on May 5, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments
5 May 2013
To many self-styled media commentators, any kind of critique of absolute freedom of expression is completely indefensible.
Therefore, when a Citizens for Bahrain article was posted on World Press Freedom Day, which didn’t follow the pack in saying that total press freedom is always a wonderful thing – we were instantly attacked by a whole range of people. Many of these critics only heard what we’d said from a few words on Twitter and instantly decided that we were a bunch of pro-Government thugs.
As is always the case; the reality is always a little more complicated. The central point that the Citizens for Bahrain writer was trying to make was that at a time of civil conflict, unconstrained media attacks and incitement from all sides can make a bad situation far worse and makes national reconciliation very difficult.
Far from being an unquestioning pro-Government mouthpiece, you can go back and see that our harshest criticism was reserved for the pro-Government mouthpieces: State TV and other loyalist media outlets.
However, in the tense and fraught atmosphere in Bahrain during March 2011 all parties were guilty of using media outlets – including the social media – to wage hate campaigns, destroy reputations and stir up sectarian tensions.
- When Iran-sponsored TV channels beamed into Bahrain stir up hostility and incite violence – is this the kind of press freedom that we want to be defending?
- When Bahraini state TV live on air denounces various personalities who allegedly backed the opposition – is this the freedom of expression that we’d like to be seeing more of?
- When opposition social media outlets and leaflets threaten kids that they’ll “suffer the consequences if they attend school on a strike day” – do we support the right of these thugs to freely threaten our children?
- When Sunni extremists denounce Shia as “filthy infidels”, “traitors” and “enemies of Islam” – is this the kind of freedom of expression, which deserves to be protected and cultivated in a civilized society?
- When graffiti on walls across Bahrain calls for the murder of the country’s leadership – is the exercise of a right to call for “Death to Al Khalifa [the ruling family]” a healthy sign of greater freedoms in Bahrain?
Let’s be clear about this: Citizens for Bahrain fully supports freedom of expression and freedom of the press. However, we are not freedom of expression ‘absolutists’: Hate speech, incitement to violence, ruining the reputations of private individuals, sectarian insults and attacks on people’s religious beliefs are not part of any freedom of expression that we know of.
We protect true freedom of expression by outlawing practices which undermine this fundamental human right. In most developed societies libel laws and other sophisticated pieces of legislation exist to do precisely this: Protecting freedom of expression while criminalizing abuses of this freedom.
Citizens for Bahrain does not just support the right to criticize those in power, we exercise this right in many of our publically available articles. However, when we criticize political figures and organizations, we are careful to avoid unsubstantiated allegations, lies, insults and offensive language. This is not self-censorship but an attempt to abide by values that the majority of those in journalism naturally abide by (to varying degrees).
During February and March 2011 we lived through a period when civil order came close to collapsing altogether and sectarian conflict began to take hold – a truly terrifying experience for all parts of Bahraini society. This period was made far worse by media attacks; incitement by Mosque preachers; threatening graffiti; and attacks through the social media.
We disagree with voices who say that as a result the Government must regulate the Internet and curtail the media – this would be bad for our society.
However, for our society to exist as a society, every free and open debate needs to have some ground-rules to prevent us from being at each other’s throats. Those who sit down as part of a debate and start throwing around insults, lies and threats aren’t a welcome part of any debate anywhere in the world.
Such ground-rules are the pre-requisites for facilitating free debate and giving people the confidence to express their honest opinions without fearing that they will be murdered by vigilantes – or locked up by an intolerant leader.
Bahrain is now going through a process of National Dialogue which must be followed up by a process of national reconciliation. Part of that reconciliation is a social contract recognizing that we must all live together in this country: Shia, Sunnis and non-Muslims are all equally Bahraini – we must respect each other and celebrate the diversity which makes Bahrain what it is.
Libelous insults and incitement to violence can be handled by the courts, but such regal recourses are only effective when 98% of citizens recognize and respect each other and thus voluntarily refrain from these abuses of freedom of expression. Those same abuses which make honest and fruitful freedom of expression difficult or impossible.