November 25, 2011

Bahraini King Drops His Propaganda Bomb

That a web of counter-revolutions is spinning with relative consistency should come as no surprise - only the concentration is physically overwhelming. Regimes, loyalist forces and foreign powers rely on a similar political maze to safeguard their interests from a power outage. On the same day that Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) appointed Kamal el-Ganzouri, a former prime minster under Hosni Mubarak, to his old role, the White House attempted to drill America’s “benevolence” into Egyptian minds - along with Arab protesters everywhere.

“Since the start of the Arab Spring, the United States has spoken out for a set of core principles that have guided our response to events, including opposition to the use of violence and repression, defense of universal rights including the freedom of peaceful assembly, and support for political and economic reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.”

The Obama administration’s delayed reaction and positioning behind Egypt’s curve hasn’t changed from 10 months ago. Press Secretary Jay Carney confidently asserted, “We have condemned the excessive use of force against them and called for restraint on all sides. We deeply regret the loss of life, and urge the Egyptian authorities to implement an independent investigation into the circumstances of those deaths.” Such clever (and narcissistic) phrasing refuses to hold the SCAF accountable by name one week after security forces began assaulting protesters, and el-Ganzouri’s absence punched a hole through the White House’s statement.

Meanwhile the administration considers its work done in Yemen, for now, as Ali Abdullah Saleh’s puppet regime takes the stage amid mass resistance.

Not to be overshadowed - he seemed to bask in the spotlight - Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa finally received his long-awaited “Independent Commission of Inquiry” (BICI) from war-crimes investigator Cherif Bassiouni. After “surprising” parts of Bahrain’s opposition and many government officials for its “severity,” the report was trumpeted as a sign of the King’s accountability and willingness to reform. He just didn’t know that people were being assaulted or tortured in his kingdom, and will surely rectify the situation now that he does.

“It was certainly above my expectations,” says Matar Matar, an ex-parliamentary for Al Wefaq who previously admitted his doubts. “There were many strong and clear statements that overlapped with our own findings of human-rights abuses.”

Less than 10 miles outside Manama’s Royal Occasions Hall, in the Shia enclave of A’ali, protesters came under fire as they buried Abdul Nabi Khadhem. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry released a statement explaining that Khadhem lost control of his car when speeding, and “clarified” that “500 persons participated in an illegal rally after a funeral procession in A'Ali.” Local protesters say his car was struck by a security vehicle, and deny turning violent or blocking roads after the funeral. One activist told BBC, "We were lowering his body into the ground and the security forces opened fired with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.”

A responsibility stalemate follows most incidents in Bahrain, and protesters openly accept the fact that they’re waging a civil disobedience campaign. The immediate goal of low-intensity violence is to provoke a disproportionate response - to trigger tear gas and live rounds with roadblocks and rocks. “Nobody can say that the demonstrators are angels and didn't make any mistakes,” says Matar.

Given the accumulated demand for political change and available videos of Bahrain’s protests, King Hamad’s responsibility still exceeds the protesters’ guilt. His BICI functions as the collective manifestation of each individual protest, assuming nominal blame before excusing the rest on protesters.

The BICI’s findings would have packed a bigger surprise if they didn’t aim for a degree of impartiality. Around 300 detainees were tortured and around 600 abused by security forces, according to the report. Evidence of Iran’s interference was concluded as minimal. Foreign media observed “senior figures of the ruling al-Khalifa family” listen to an “unexpectedly harsh summary of how their agencies had repressed the protest movement,” and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister described his mental state as "shocked." Of course he would be - Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa toured Washington in early November to smooth over the arms fiasco.

He denied that a systematic crackdown was taking place.

The BICI’s findings needed to “expose” a portion of the government's crimes, otherwise the commission would lack any credibility whatsoever. Working as a neutralizing agent amongst Bahrain’s political opposition, the government’s measured level of criticism is a raving success within the international community. State media made sure to reciprocate the King’s extensive “praise,” from Saudi Arabia and China to America and France. All bit on the BICI's bait, commending Hamad and urging him to follow through with the commission's findings. Western statements briefly mused about political reform, an afterthought until further notice.

Glowing reviews from Riyadh, Washington and Beijing outline the BICI’s plot device. Rather than an impartial account of Bahrain’s human rights abuses over the last nine months, the commission has fulfilled its duty to view individual cases and washed its hands of responsibility, passing the obligation of reform to an unresponsive government. Bassiouni found no evidence of systematic torture or orders from the ruling family, but did note the “clear evidence of provocation and aggressive acts against the security forces.” He twisted the number of complaints (over 9,000) to highlight “the keen interest of the Bahraini people in cooperating with the commission.” Bassiouni even denied that the GCC’s “Peninsula Shield,” a force largely composed of Saudi troops, is involved in suppressing demonstrations.

Radhi Musawi, deputy secretary-general of the secular Waad party, added, "What Bassiouni wrote about is only about 50 percent of what happened. There were acts of rape that he didn't detail directly.”

Like many Shia protesters braving the streets, Musawi doesn’t expect much to change after the BICI’s release. Protesters will continue to defy security forces and attract their wrath. The government will deny responsibility and simultaneously promise to reform. Foreign powers will nod their heads in silence. Musawi believes “the government team formed will try to bury the issue.”

“As Bassiouni said, there is a crisis of confidence between the government and opposition."

Bassiouni has personally widened the gap by absolving Bahrain’s monarchy of direct responsibility in its crackdown. Apparently they didn’t notice a nine-month crackdown meticulously organized by security forces. Bassiouni claims that the last case of mistreatment heard by the inquiry dated to June 10, even though hundreds of incidents have elapsed in the following months. The BICI did cast doubt on Tehran’s links to the Shia opposition, saying they were “impossible to independently investigate due to security and confidentiality considerations."

However this conclusion didn’t stop King Hamad from responding that Iran’s influence was clear “to all who have eyes and ears."

The BICI may improve over no investigation at all, but its findings reveal nothing previously unknown. Bahrain’s government has abused its citizens’ human rights on a regular basis, before and after February’s uprising, and the King will take few actions to rectify political discrimination. A revolt, according to Hamad, Bassiouni and foreign powers, isn’t “worth it.”

Those who live comfortable lives in autocracies are liable to undervalue the priceless quality of freedom.

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