6th June, 2012 –

Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is often portrayed as something of a martyr in the cause of human rights, imprisoned for his beliefs and suffering in the cause of democracy and freedom from oppression.

The truth is of course more complex. Abdelhadi first became politically active around 1979 at the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran – participating in political demonstrations in the UK. He joined the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, a radical Shia revolutionary group, backed by Iran and dedicated to the overthrow of the Bahraini monarchy. Two years later this organization staged an attempted coup, and Khawaja was thus forced to remain in exile, continuing to be politically active from first Syria and then Denmark.

In 2001 Khawaja benefitted from the amnesty by King Hamad who had recently come to power and had set out on an ambitious programme of reforms. Khawaja returned to Bahrain and immediately began setting up the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, described by the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Europe’s largest think-tank as “the most radical opposition group currently found in Bahrain”.

The activities of Khawaja’s group over the next decade were even a matter of concern for other Shia oppositionists. He was described by the Shia religious leader Abdulamir Al Jamri as an “opportunist” who was trying to provoke the authorities into an aggressive response, in order to achieve “personal notoriety” (Wikileaks).

Moving forward to February 2011, we see Al Khawaja at the forefront of efforts to force violent confrontation in the cause of regime change. Although in the early stages the protest movement was publically calling for reform of the existing system, there are several videos showing Khawaja encouraging calls for “toppling the regime”.

 He was prominent as a figure blocking the path of reform and dialogue. For example, the link here


 shows him boasting to his followers about how the Crown Prince approached them calling for dialogue and they scornfully rejected this dialogue. The same video shows him encouraging children to skip school and attend protests and elsewhere his sectarian instincts come through, with him on video telling followers that he is holding out for a Shia Prime Minister


Khawaja’s story shows how international observers largely misunderstood the direction of travel of the protest movement in 2011. Not only had the sectarian leaders of this movement been active long before 2011, but these figures are anything but democrats and are still working to a sectarian, pro-Iran and intolerant agenda in contrast to the aspirations of most Bahrainis.

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