Did you ever hear the Prime Minister of any country speaking in a language that is tantamount to declaration of war upon his own countrymen who are asking for more participation in governing process? Here is Mr. Khalifa bin Salman, the oldest unelected prime minister in the world, holding office since 1971 threatening the Bahranis:
“This island will burn to a cinder all those who seek to tamper with its security and stability.”
The ruling family of Bahrain has absolute power in decision making and the democratically elected Parliament and Shia population has no influence on country’s politics. However, their struggle continues and the Al Khalifas fear that democratic reforms would force them one day, sooner or later, to pack their bags and leave. Any insider or a student of political situation in Bahrain knows that most of senior government posts and positions in the security apparatus are exclusively reserved for the Sunni minority. Few exceptions apart, all the big businesses and ruling elite belong to Sunnis. To save their dominance, the Sunni government, consciously paint the protesters as the stooges of the Shiite Iran.
The monarchy’s Western-backed House of Al Khalifa invoked new draconian police-state emergency powers via its un-elected parliament. According to the new laws, all public demonstrations and free speech would be considered as CRIMINAL activities. The police is free to use unlimited lethal force to crush the protest. It can carry out mass arrests on charges of “inciting hatred and violence.” The majority of Bahrain consists of Shia Muslims who for the past several years have been demanding more jobs and more participation in country’s affairs. It is the glaring example of strange double standards in the democratic philosophy of the West. Under the pressure of Petro-Dollars of Emirates and Kingdoms of Middle East, that are themselves afraid of losing their own tight grip over the masses – the US and European governments are silent and showing affecting indifference against the suppression of Bahrani Public. It is selective complicity – reflecting the hollowness of Human Right claims of the West.
It would be interesting to learn that since 1971 to this day, security dragnet of the government follows the advice of Mr. John Yeats, the former assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, London. The regime is emboldened with the presence of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet base also. Of late, the regime has stepped up its brutal repression towards the Shia population with the house-raids and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians to unknown detention centers. Among the disappeared are human rights activists, citizen journalists, photographers and lawyers. The latest addition to the list of detainee are award-winning photographers Hussain Hubail and Ahmed Humaidan, as well as journalist Mohammed Hassan. Another unlawfully detained is female peace activist Rihanna al-Musawi, a mother of three. She has also been tortured, including being stripped naked in front of male guards and beaten. Her abuses include having her head shoved down a toilet. Bahrain is thus being reduced to police state, isolated politically from the outside world and the innocent civilians are at the mercy of the brutal regime. The state sponsored propaganda machinery is engaged in high pitch blitz to whip up sectarian hatred between the local Sunni and the majority Shia community. Iran’s involvement is used to perpetuate the barbaric acts and it is blamed as the source of instability in the island.
August 14th, is the country’s so-called Independence Day, when British troops vacated the island in 1971.
Even the casual observer of Middle East scenario could draw the parallel between the post-Morsi situation in Egypt and state terror in Bahrain. There is carte blanche to suppress the cry of resistance and ,except some lip-service the West is making, state led terrorism wields brutal control with total impunity. The lofty rhetoric of Human Right and Democracy falls flat in the wake of Pearl Square and Tehrir massacres. Following the Arab Spring, on Feb 14, 2011, droves of demonstrators, inspired by revolutions sweeping the region, gathered at Pearl Roundabout and called for REFORMS. In the first few weeks, it looked like there was a change in the offing. Then there was the turn in the situation. Instead of Reform they unleashed the security crackdown.
On February 14th and 15th, the security forces killed two people and a few days later, the government “cleared” the roundabout of protesters. Six protestors had died by then. Each casualty added to the protesters’ demands . They demanded for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution and they asked the election of a real parliament – of the people, by the people and of the people. By the time the country’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa called the opposition to a political negotiation in late February, their demands had already exceeded any concession that the Khalifas were willing to accord.
On March 14, 2011, the real Chowdhry of Middle East, namely Al Sauds sent a garrison of desert-colored tanks through the King Fahad Bridge into Bahrain at the request of Khalifas. Saudi troops had entered Bahrain to quell the unrest and clear Pearl Roundabout. They took charge and about thirty protesters died in the coming weeks., including more than a dozen shot with live rounds. The true crackdown extended much further than the body count—to the hundreds of men and women who were arrested, those who were tortured, the thousands sacked from their jobs, and the majority of Bahrain’s population, who suddenly felt certain that the regime was against them.
Then the circus of the absurd began in its earnest. On March 18, 2011, Bahrain regime tore down the large white monument that had marked the Pearl Roundabout. According to the the foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, it was a “bad memory.” The Central Bank was asked to stop minting coins that bore the structure’s image. They wanted to erase each and every memory of PROTEST.
The protest which began with a simple desire to have a public airing of issues such as corruption, inadequate public services, and electoral manipulation escalated into a full bloom rebellion. It is also a comedy of politics that in the months that followed, the United States had chosen to support no side. They didn’t condemn the government and they didn’t condone the protesters. US wanted a soft and benign crackdown and advised the government to release certain prisoners. West knew its hypocrisy and the contradiction of supporting democracy around the globe, the new world order and ignoring clamors for it in Bahrain, placed its bets on Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who was ready for a political dialogue with the Shias in hope of easing the crisis. But, both sides drifted apart and no middle ground was left to explore.
Then the country commissioned renowned Egyptian human rights lawyer M. Cherif Bassiouni to conduct an independent investigation into human rights abuses and it was shockingly blunt in its condemnation of the regime. The West praised the report but didn’t persuade Al Khalifas to take any concrete steps at its recommendations like the release of political prisoners. This ambivalent approach ruptured the political landscape of Bahrain beyond limits. Shia protesters were finally convinced that the Americans were guilty of hypocrisy and double standards. Yet to the Sunni opposition, the US has failed because it has refused to call for order. “Our people feel that the United States and the United Kingdom have hands in what happened in Bahrain because they did support the protesters to bring down the regime last year,” says Sheikh Mahmood, the Sunni scholar.
However, there is the most important third dimension, the most critical players of this war-game and democracy, the puppeteers of Riyad – Al Sauds. The first ‘Arab Spring’ erupted in Tunisia – it was a clarion call for the suppressed masses of Arab World. It was a nightmare for Riyadh. The status quo was disturbed and a fear that Domino Effects would reach one day near the Empty Crater put the House of Al Saud on full alert. While the protestors were gathering to overturn the dictators, replacing autocrats and opening the new chapters of democracy, the royals of Saudi Arabia opened their coffers to destabilize the newly elected governments. It is well known fact that Saudi Arabia is the most anachronistic and totalitarian regime upon earth. While the royals have built up, for themselves, the grandiose Dream Castles and led a life in the lap of unimaginable luxury, the country suffers with high unemployment, disaffected minorities, and no political freedom. Those regimes that were toppled recently, before Morsi’s overthrow were allies and friends of KSA (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).
KSA has its own significant Shia population and uprising of Bahrain gave pep to their freedom instincts. Introspection awakened the grievances of the country’s own Shia population. The Eastern Province which is the source of Black Gold is populated by Shias. A revolution in Bahrain would elevate Shias to power there and those new Shias rulers could distance themselves from Riyadh. That fear compelled Al Saud and they wasted no time and sent troops to Bahrain to quell the unrest. Their MUBAHID (secret service) and regular security apparatus left no stone un-turned to stem any threat of unrest in its own eastern province. “The Eastern Province has basically been under siege since the Tunisia protests,” says Toby Matthiesen, a research fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Cambridge. The Saudis, who are thought to be funding the struggling Al Khalifa empire wouldn’t allow any expression of freedom in Bahrain.
The only silver lining one finds of this crisis is the fact that there had been almost no incidents of direct Shia-Sunni violence. The Obama administration is preoccupied with the unpleasant developments in Syria and Egypt. Bahrain, in some respect is more complex than these. It involves the two powerful groups of Islam; It involve Iran, the bête noire of West; it challenges the fundamentals of LIBERTY values; and it threatens the most serious of US interests. The Sunni monarchy is ruling a population that is nearly 70 percent Shiite who are being discriminated since the creation of Bahrain. The stark discrimination against the Shias is evident in nearly every aspect of life. Iran openly backs Shiite factions in Bahrain, while Saudi Arabia is the king’s primary patron. There is no doubt that all the monarchy would be relegated to the pages of history one day; the question is when? The violence is continuously simmering there. In February 2013, more than 100 people had died in police crackdowns on anti-regime demonstrations and retaliatory attacks by insurgents. The government also has imprisoned hundreds of other political opponents.
Three countries in the world have Shiite Muslim majorities: Iran, Iraq and Bahrain. (In Lebanon, the largest single sect is Shiite, but it adds up to between 35% and 40% of the multi-denominational population.) Iraq’s government, after decades of secular, Sunni rule under Saddam Hussein, is led by a mostly Shiite government. Tiny Bahrain (a cluster of 33 Persian Gulf islands whose inhabited areas add up to the size of New York City), however, remains the only country in the world where a Shiite majority is led by a Sunni minority.
It is not the clash of civilizations but it is definitely a clash of democratic and autocratic aspirations.