Bahrain – The king, the revolutionary and the criminalization of democracy

SHAFAQNA - On June 16, Sheikh Ali Salman, a prominent Bahraini cleric and political figure was condemned to four years in prison. His sentencing now stands to turn Bahrain’s “quiet” revolution into a torrential wave, reshaping forever Arabia’s political map.

Fidel Castro once said, “A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.” These words could not ring truer in Bahrain, where since 2011 an entire people has struggled against the two century-old rule of Al Khalifa monarchy, determined to reclaim what it perceives as its most basic, inalienable and inherent rights – political self-determination.

Put in the media backburner by western powers for the sake of political correctness and geopolitical interests, events in Bahrain have seldom reached the headlines, thus allowing Bahrain regime to crackdown and slash at the opposition however it saw fit; strong in the belief that its actions, however reprehensible and illegal, would remain cloaked, its system protected and its legacy preserved.

And while it appeared, for a time at least, that the “little guy” proved no match before the might of the power that be, the arrest and subsequent condemnation of one man - Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, could soon prove one offense too many.

An outspoken critic of Bahrain’s monarchy, Sheikh Salman has come to represent more than just Bahrainis’ democratic ambitions. For hundred of thousands of his nationals, this charismatic and determined cleric and political figure has come to embody the very spirit of the revolution.

If Bahrainis ever needed a catalyst to carry them across that last fear barrier and fuse together all segments of the population, beyond class, religious affiliations and political affinities, in one giant revolutionary wave, the condemnation of Sheikh Salman to four years in jail on account of his campaigning against the regime could just be it.

As often under a tyrannical rule, despots are too blinded by their own rapacious ambitions and paranoia to realize that it is their own violence which is feeding the flame of dissent and will ultimately bring about their undoing.

For every empire and every broken ruling system there will always be that tipping point where the “future” will come to annihilate the “past” and see manifest popular will over that of the elite. For Bahrain, the hour has already rung.

Within hours of Sheikh Salman’s sentencing, Al Wefaq, alongside prominent rights organizations were up in arms in condemnation, decrying Bahrain’s decision as a miscarriage of justice.

In a statement published on its website, Al Wefaq wrote, “Al Wefaq National Islamic Society considers the verdict against Sheikh Ali Salman of is void and lacks legal and judicial bases as defined by Salman’s defense panel which is made up of a group of well-known lawyers.”

Amnesty International labelled Al Khalifa’s move as “shocking”. Taking to press the rights group wrote, “Sheikh Salman’s detention and prosecution violate Bahrain’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party.”

Interestingly Sheikh Salman, who has sat in jail since his arrest last December, was acquitted of the charges he was arrested on: incitement against the ruling system. In a clear attempt to cover their legal bases and perpetuate the illusion of a fair and unbiased system, Bahrain judicial authorities chose instead to swap their grievances against Sheikh Salman to “collusion with foreign governments and instigating unrest.”

Maryam Moosa Ali, a Manama-based rights activist warned that the imprisonment of Sheikh Salman will only incensed revolutionary further and harden the youth’s resolve to take down the monarchy. “While we remain committed to our principles of non-violence, the regime’s ruling against our main revolutionary figure has sealed the monarchy’s fate. There is no more room for debate. If Bahrainis were willing to negotiate and compromise before, it is no longer the case,” she said.

With anger running high in the kingdom-island, mass demonstrations are already getting organized.

“Bahrainis will not tolerate further encroachment on their freedom of expression and human rights,” said Maryam Ali.

But beyond the anger of one people against its despot, lies another dimension to this revolution – Bahrainis are not just calling for democratic change, they want to lay waste the state-run religious apartheid. Bahrain’s struggle is not all political!

While Bahrain’ Sunni governing elite went to great length to deny any “sectarian” wrong-doing, arguing that all Bahraini nationals, regardless of their religion and ethnicity stood equal before the throne, reality has begged to differ.

For the past 200 years, safe from a few years respite in the 1990s under late Emir Hamad Al Khalifa, discriminatory policies against Bahrain Shia population have largely been the hallmarks of the monarchy.

Under the guise of restoring order, King Hamad has authorized and directed the destruction and raid of Shia mosques, Shia schools, Shia residences and Shia businesses. Since it wasn’t enough to curb revolutionaries’ resolve, the authorities then resorted to dilute the Shia population by both “importing” Sunni foreign nationals into Bahrain and stripping Shia Bahrainis from their nationality. Back in September 2014, Maryam Al Khawaja, a prominent rights defender and Shia Bahraini was told upon her arrival to Manama airport that her nationality had been recalled by the king. While her case made the headlines, countless others were not as lucky.

While of course such practices are profoundly unlawful and morally perverse they serve a mirror to the true nature of Al Khalifa’s ire against its own people.

A vassal of rich Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s monarchy is but an extension of Al Saud’s will in the Arabian Peninsula, and as such its anti-Shia, anti-democracy campaign has been  but an expression of Riyadh’s Wahhabi legacy.

But while Bahrain monarchy continues to tighten the lid on its people, it would do well to understand one simple rule of physics - For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.


By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna Middle East Department Studies

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