May 21, 2012

Pressuring Rajab Raises Heat On Bahraini Monarchy

Excluding the magnanimous and humble anomaly, kings inherently reject challenges to their throne and land. Many of them also enjoy sports, particularly those designed around combat, and have gone through extraordinary lengths to satisfy their passions. Absurd as the idea may sound, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's actions suggest that he's enjoying the sport of counter-revolution - that he enjoys wielding his authority against "dissenters" and "terrorists." 

Why else arrest and potentially jail Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain's leading human rights activists, if the King doesn't want the uprising to intensify? 

Rajab's immediate battle with the monarchy has already last several months. Following one of many interrogations since February 14th, 2011, lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi first predicted that Rajab could face a trial in April 2012. Between this time and his May 6th arrest at Manama International Airport, the head of Bahrain's Center for Human Rights participated in numerous anti-government protests and led the opposition's outcry against the Formula 1 Grand Prix. He was finally brought in ahead of his May 22nd court date and charged with two counts: "insulting an official authority" and "inciting illegal rallies and marches online by using social networking websites." 

According to Bahrain's Interior Ministry, "A police investigation revealed that the defendant's cyber incitement proved detrimental to public security as it fueled rioting, road-blocking, arson, acts of sabotage targeting public and private properties, and the use of petrol bombs and incendiary devices." 

“Personally, I am against the use of the Molotov, and so are the political assemblies," Rajab clarified in late March. "However, some could resort to its use due to the worsening situation."
Considering the factors of Rajab's case, the odds of his release or a plea deal appear low. The monarchy wouldn't go through so much trouble just to temporarily interrogate him again. They want to silence one of Bahrain's most articulate opposition figures and cut off one of the hydra's smartest heads. Nor is Rajab willing to compromise his political and humanitarian beliefs to secure a false freedom from a government cell. The activist speaks as though he would suffer with his people before caving to the King's demands, telling his latest court hearing, "I only practiced my right to free expression. I did not commit a crime. The decision to arrest me and put me on trial was a political decision." 

Rajab's detention and the accompanying oppositional agitation falls in line with King Hamad's counterproductive strategy to quell Bahrain's democratic uprising. In addition to producing minimal changes on the ground, his security and political reforms have inflated the trust gap with the island's formal opposition. This distrust has further trickled down into the streets, where Al Wefaq has lost control of those protesters demanding regime change. The resulting political stalemate translates into violence against Bahraini security forces, which simultaneously mask themselves from and expose themselves to international attention through the use of crowd control measures. The Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) Peninsula Shield would suffocate Bahrain's initial flames, only to create a backdraft and escalate the crisis.

Now the monarchy is repeating its errors by detaining and threatening to jail Rajab. This move has yielded predictably low criticism from the international community, a reaction that he expects after blasting the silence of Western capitals. On cue, the U.S. mission in Geneva released a statement on Monday that reserved its only condemnation for Molotov-throwing youths, instead opting to be ”greatly concerned by the excessive use of force by the police." The statement also drew "particular attention" to those "who participated in peaceful anti-government protests" without mentioning Rajab. Separately, Bahrain's hawkish Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa met with Vice Admiral Mark Fox, the outgoing 5th fleet commander, and his successor Vice-Admiral John W. Miller.

The three men "took pride in the outstanding Bahraini-US ties, wishing Bahrain a brighter future under its wise leadership." 

However jailing Rajab for two years, a potential sentence released by his lawyer, would guarantee at least two more years of uprising. Adhering to the electronic nature of 4th generation warfare and netwar, the activist cannot be beheaded through isolation. His son has already organized protests, his Twitter account is being used by supporters and mass demonstrations are planned in his honor. Throughout Bahrain's uprising, King Hamad has sought to paint Bahrain's opposition as disorganized mob in order to justify a crackdown - a strategy that perversely relies on agitating the streets. 

Taking Rajab off the streets is guaranteed to attract more protesters to them.

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