June 12, 2012

U.S. State Department Validates Nabeel Rajab's Message

The monarchy should have just kept him in custody until his June 12th court date. 

Fresh out of jail, Nabeel Rajab didn't wait to begin re-broadcasting his predictions of the future to the outside world. He and Zainab al-Khawaja would both tell Democracy Now's Amy Goodman that they expected to be arrested again, a forecast that needed less than a week to come true. Rajab was taken back into custody last Wednesday and once again charged with posting inflammatory Tweets. Lawyer Mohammad al-Jishi explained that Rajab was “taken into custody pending investigation after he was accused of public insults" against the people of Muharraq, one of Bahrain's Sunni governorates. 

“Everyone knows you are not popular," he Tweeted after Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Bahrain's hard-line Prime Minister, visited the city, "and if it weren’t for the need for money, [the Muharraq residents] would not have welcomed you." 

Public Prosecution would pass off responsibility to 24 plaintiffs in a shallow attempt to create a buffer between the government. According to Mohamed al-Tajir, a lawyer and rights activist who accompanied Rajab to the Public Prosecutor’s office, "many of the plaintiffs are former police and military officers." An alternative version of events, retold by human rights activists such as Zainab and Yousif Almuhafda, points to Rajab's June 4th interview with Al Jazeera's The Stream. However the outcome is left unchanged: Rajab was targeted because of his fundamental opposition to Bahrain's present form of government, and his ability to organize and charismatically connect with protesters.

Unwilling to effect a genuine restructuring of Bahrain's parliamentary and judicial system, King Hamad's monarchy has trapped itself within the dilemmas of fourth-generation warfare (4GW). "Normalcy" cannot exist with Rajab in or out of a jail cell; allowing him to organize and inspire Bahrain's street opposition is an intolerable situation, and arresting him presents an even greater obstacle. The certainty of mass protests in support of Rajab, who serves as the pro-democracy movement's moral compass and international spokesman, suggests that the decision repeatedly arrest him multiple times hinges on pride. Detention doesn't stop his Twitter account or the network of activists that rally around him, and only temporarily silences his media interviews abroad. Punishing Rajab simply reinforces the monarchy and its allies' hypocritical commitment to human rights and free expression. 

Asked if Rajab can speak freely without risking punishment, Information Affairs spokesman Fahad Albinali told Al Jazeera, "Have they been arrested or censored in the past 15 months? They wrote open articles on the New York Times. To assume or consider there could be consequences regarding the expression of an opinion is absurd." 

In the same vein, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa recently told the pro-government Gulf News Daily, “First of all, torture and killing is not part of the government’s policy. We have never issued any orders or instructions regarding this and we have also never received such orders... Any officer accused of such charges is being tried in court.” 

Although al-Khalifa was responding to the latest allegations of child torture, many Bahrainis would gladly bear the torture marks accumulated before and after February 14th, 2011.

Rajab may get a few dark laughs out of the Obama administration's non-response to his arrest. Having condemned the U.S. and European capitals on multiple occasions for isolating Bahrain's opposition movement, he doesn't expect the slightest assistance from Washington. The State Department's Victoria Nuland was the only official questioned on Rajab's detention and her exchange with reporters quickly broke down into predetermined talking points. As with the case of Rajab's alleged assault, Nuland opts to "refrain from precise comment" until we "have that information about his status precisely” - even though the time-line of his new arrest was widely available. What Nuland means to say is that the Obama administration will not (and has yet to) comment on the harassment of a leading human rights activist. 

After flipping through the "importance of allowing freedom of expression, of implementing the recommendations of the BICI Commission," the overwhelmed Nuland runs into another direct line of fire. One reporter informs her that, "the complaint you hear from activists is that the Americans don’t push nearly as hard on these issues because – and it also sells weapons to Bahrain – that you’re sending mixed signals." Nuland "rejects" this possibility completely, as if the American government's opinion invalidates the perspective of Bahraini protesters. The administration should be thankful with mixed signals, since most protesters only see an absolute policy of Saudi-influenced counterrevolution. 

"Here, the silence of United States are being seen as a green signal to go ahead with more repression, more violations," Rajab warns. "This is how the Bahrain government see it." 

The disconnect generated by Nuland is something to behold. She highlights Secretary Hillary Clinton's May meeting with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa as a sign of progress, telling reporters that both were "very intensively focused on support for national dialogue, reform, continued stability." This narrative echoed a day later in Manama, where Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa met with US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski to discuss "His Royal Highness the Crown Prince's recent visit to the USA and its impact on historic relations between both countries." Nuland also defends the approval of a delayed weapons-package, which pauses "any aspects of security reform that could be used against their own people." U.S. policy is intended to "help Bahrain with its external security, with its ability to defend itself from external aggression" - an argument that conveniently feeds into the monarchy's threat of an Iranian takeover. 

Putting their frustration aside, Rajab and al-Khawaji may appreciate the fact that their predictions to Democracy Now! came true so quickly. Everything is as they say: the Obama administration is using the BICI to conceal fundamental errors in Bahraini and U.S. policy. From jail, they mocked the notion that Prince Salman's visit to Washington "turned a new page." They condemn the green light that any U.S. weapons come to symbolize, along with the futility of holding a national dialogue with a government that refuses to cede its authoritarian power. Various reports claim that the Obama administration has devoted energy to opening a new government "initiative" in the coming weeks, but approving the arms package undermined Al Wefaq's street position to the point that it cannot join unconditionally. 

The Obama administration has worked towards the opposite end of stability in Bahrain, ultimately increasing the island's polarization and revolutionary fervor. U.S. policy is alienating Bahrain's organized opposition, youth coalitions and leading human rights activists, severing any possibility of influence. These groups distrust anything stamped "U.S.A." and denial is another efficient method to antagonize them. 

As more ice builds up on both sides' positions, more fire will be necessary to melt it.

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