8th Apr, 2013 –
Who are the Anti Democrats?
Why are Bahrain’s opposition anti-Democrats?
1 – Theocrats, not democrats
Although they talk the universal language of democracy for their audience; for these figures religion is the guiding principle – the ballot box is a means to an end. For Salafists this means going back to what they understand as the basic principles of Islam; for Shia extremists this means rule by Welayat Al-Faqih (rule by senior clerics, as found in Iran).
Following the February 2011 unrest Bahrain’s protest movement was hijacked by sectarian extremists, including those who pledged themselves to an ‘Islamic Republic’. The protest movement today is dominated by the clerical leadership of Al-Wefaq, with Ayatollah Isa Qassim as their supreme leader.
Although getting voted into parliament is a useful way to further their agenda; they also agitate outside Parliament through street violence, gangsterism, social mobilization and religious networks. In order to achieve this end, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood may establish a registered political party with which they will operate in parallel.
Anti-democrats are very quick to boycott elections or walk out of Parliament when that tactic works in their favour; thus, undermining and subverting the democratic process.
Al-Wefaq’s first gesture following the unrest was to walk out of Parliament, where they held 18 out of 40 seats. Even after significant Parliamentary reforms Al-Wefaq Islamic Society has refused to return to the parliamentary path. When Al-Wefaq first adopted Parliamentary politics a decade ago, the movement split into two, with the new Al-Haq movement adopting the path of extra-parliamentary agitation.
Democracy is useful, but distasteful because it is a system developed in Europe and thus, an object of suspicion. Anti-democrats have a highly ambivalent relationship to democracy; speaking its rhetoric when useful, but attacking everything associated with the infidel West.
Although the opposition tempers its anti-Western rhetoric to exploit foreign sympathy, chants by Ayatollah Qasim and his followers of “Death to America” make their worldview fairly clear.
4 – Violence, terrorism & the culture of martyrs
Anti-democrats will generally have a highly selective understanding of their religion, justifying the use of terrorism to achieve their higher purpose. They will often find ways to justify killing civilians and suicide attacks. Those killed in the course of their violent acts will be extolled as terrorists whose deaths will be exploited to incite further violence.
Attacks on police, threats against civilians and the use of explosives are standard fare now for opposition militants; even at a time where they are supposedly committed to Dialogue.
The opposition have continuously exploited the culture of martyrs: Any death, no matter how tenuously linked to the unrest is described as a ‘martyrdom’, and the body is paraded across Bahrain and used as a trigger for rioting and the mobilization of further potential martyrs.
5 – Revolution, not reform
Although anti-democrats work within the political system when they are weak and lack alternatives; they are fundamentally seeking to destroy existing political systems and implement their own ideology. Reform is a gradual and consensual process, which rarely suits ideological movements looking to impose their extremist vision on everybody else.
The opposition has distained all reform measures. Slogans of “Down with the regime” and “Death to Al Khalifah (the ruling family)” make it clear that rioters want to force a revolution.
6 – Women’s rights
Usually, the first targets of the anti-democrats are women; whether this be enforcing a dress code, confining women to their homes or using terrorist tactics to deter girls from attending school. In post-Saddam Iraq, women who failed to cover up were victims of attack. Terrorizing citizens is often a more effective way of enforcing a social agenda than writing laws.
Women have continuously been on the front line in the unrest, often being used to build roadblocks and manufacture firebombs. Enforced segregation of men and women during protests and the universal uniform of head-to-toe black for all women provide little hope for an enlightened women’s rights agenda.
Bahrain’s society is traditionally very liberal: Women work, dress the way they want and feature prominently in politics. Bahrain under clerical leadership would look very different.
The opposition’s consistent hostility to various versions of the Family Law in Bahrain strongly suggests a lack of progressive worldview for women.
7 – Sectarianism and intolerance
Salafists, Shia extremists and ultraorthodox Jews tend to be intolerant of more moderate coreligionists. Anti-democrat forms of government are highly sectarian and will actively marginalize other sects, preventing them from having access to jobs and political positions.
Both the opposition and Sunni loyalists have become highly sectarian in their worldview as a result of the tensions. Many leading figures within the protest movement take their lead from Iran, which has conspicuously supported and promoted the opposition from the outset. Iran has used its Arabic language TV channels like Al-Alam, Al-Manar, Al-Kawthar and Al-Mayadin, to incite sectarian tensions and inflame the situation in Bahrain.
8 – Culturally regressive
Anti-democrats will crack down on all cultural activity which does not correspond with their own narrow ideology; through legislation or by mobilizing local thugs. This can have profound implications for tourism, freedoms and the cultural horizons of the population.
Both the opposition and loyalist groups have been guilty of cultural intolerance. Current tensions have exacerbated the tendency to lash out at anything culturally suspect. Groups of MPs have routinely attacked the events of the Bahrain Spring of Culture, as well as attacking the female Culture Minister, Sheikha Mai, who masterminded these events.
9 – Human rights double standards
While out of power, anti-democrats will exploit all the tenets of human rights to undermine those in power. They will engage in intense propaganda campaigns to highlight every possible instance of human rights violations in order to delegitimize their enemies.
However, anti-democrats have no love for the values of human rights, which they generally see as Western impositions. They are silent on religious rights and the rights of women and children – because they profoundly disagree with human rights norms in these areas.
The opposition plays the card of human rights very effectively. However, its own human rights record is poor. Businesses have been firebombed for failing to fall into line, children are threatened if they attend schools on strike days and over 600 attacks have been logged against schools. Children aged 12 are used to man roadblocks and throw Molotovs at police.
10 – Economic spoilers
Anti-democratic ideologues will generally have little understanding or sympathy for economic issues, although their rhetoric may be anti-capitalist, or talk vaguely about equality.
The ascension to power of anti-democrats has always been an economic disaster. This is because they will have used violence and social chaos to attain power and their political agenda scares off tourists, investors, foreign businesses and visitors. They will then give far greater attention to implementing their social agenda than to economic issues. As we saw in Sudan in 1989 and Iran in 1979; the forcible taking of power by ideological anti-democrats wrecked the economy and society for decades.
The opposition says it wants economic justice, but has done its best to ruin Bahrain’s economy and destroy the country’s international reputation. The opposition’s constant attempts to halt the annual Manama Grand Prix are a good example; the event brings in hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, provides hundreds of jobs, brings thousands of visitors and puts tiny Bahrain on the global map. Cancellation of the event would cause long term damage to Bahrain, but the opposition see targeting this event as a good way of furthering their agenda.