March 26, 2012

Info Battle Rages Over Bahrain's BICI

Seemingly taking their cues from a vintage mafia tactic, many Arab governments under the threat of revolution have attempted to lure their foes into a meeting under false pretenses. Hosni Mubarak reached his hand out just before his presidency crumbled. The "dialogue of death" struck viciously in Yemen and Syria, where the international community has bargained with dictators to contain the spill of civil war. Foreign powers also view a dialogue as their window into influencing a country's revolutionary transition, in turn facilitating each regime's maneuvers and prolonging the conflicts.

Revolutionaries are invariably left out of the political transition that they died to advance.

Bahrain's "National Dialogue" exemplified these failures by inviting only five members of the largest opposition group, Al Wefaq, to attend formulaic meetings with the government. The system of receiving recommendations quickly broke down under political and time constraints, and Al Wefaq withdrew shortly afterward. The group later admitted that it only participated to deflect accusations of playing Bahrain's spoiler. King Hamad's ensuing Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) stumbled without direction for the same reason: a pervasive lack of trust in the monarchy itself. Only King Hamad and his supporters refuse to submit to the opposition's terms, going so far as to combine the two initiatives in the findings of his "National Commission."

The King also praised the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for defending Bahrain's sovereignty against a nameless, omnipresent Iran: "Security and stability are a major pillar for growth, progress and reform, and what harms the country's stability affects its sovereignty and opens the door to foreign intervention."

The sum of King Hamad's alleged reforms and his incendiary applause for the GCC's Peninsula Shield have provoked the usual doubts from Bahrain's opposition movement. One Al Wefaq member, Hadi al-Moussawi, countered over the weekend, "The king has repeatedly thanked security forces accused of violations, so what would we expect from a report that was handed over to the king who is thanking those who committed crimes?" The BICI has predictably degenerated into a point of division instead of functioning as source of unity. Beyond covering up its own crimes against the Bahraini people, King Hamad's monarchy commissioned the BICI in order to appease powerful international backers - specifically the United States and Saudi Arabia.

These intentions produced an unavoidably hollow initiative.

Although the government claims to have implemented 75% of the BICI's recommendations, few protesters trust the government's ability to integrate Shias into the police force, or punish high-ranking officials involved in torture cases. Ongoing clashes with street protesters mar announcements from the monarchy. Most importantly, the government's extensive recommendations are void of the political overhaul that opposition groups and protesters demand. Leading activist Nabeel Rajab could speak for many younger protesters when he targeted King Hamad as "the one legally and morally responsible of the violations practiced against the Bahrainis."

“Personally, I am against the use of the Molotov, and so are the political assemblies," he said. "However, some could resort to its use due to the worsening situation."

As threatened governments often do, Bahrain's Interior Ministry holds Al Wefaq responsible for the street movement's independent acts of violence. In doing so, the
government has trapped itself in a fatal circle refusing to sincerely cooperate with the opposition and rejecting blame for the consequences. This policy represents a breeding ground for civil disobedience and the low-intensity spectrum of fourth-generation warfare (4GW).

On Monday Al Wefaq released an official response to the King's statements, countering and dispelling many of his findings line by line. The continual and widespread application of force, which undermines the entire BICI, is a dominant theme. Both sides clearly view the report as a battle line, not a neutral area of compromise, and monitor any possibility of dialogue with a similar mindset. King Hamad's government perceives all of these tools as a means of ending the uprising without caving to a political overhaul. Al Wefaw, Waad and their allies, on the other hand, view the monarchy's outreach as a formality that cannot be rejected outright.

The opposition is already blamed for destroying the negotiating process - even though Al Wefaq has supported a dialogue at the cost of its own street appeal.

Absent concrete confidence-building measures, Bahrain's trust gap is too far to bridge with government-initiated commissions. Instead of fostering a peaceful atmosphere to grow his initiatives, Bahrain becomes particularly unstable during Hamad's outreach and the accompanying police crackdown. The King's attempts to secure his island have aggravated Bahrain's political and ethnic fault lines, pushing the country deeper into an economic crisis and prolonging the conflict's time-line. As long as he manipulates his commissions as instruments of authority, King Hamad's monarchy will spend years gassing marches and funeral processions in the name of stability.

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