July 17, 2012

Bahraini King, Allies Throw More Fuel On Fire

Last Thursday the Associated Press's Matt Lee challenged the State Department's Patrick Ventrell to a rhetorical dual over the imprisonment of Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab. Lee would lay a decisive beating on Ventrell, who refused to cooperate with Lee's overall questioning or publicly call for Rajab's release. The U.S. officials have yet to make any follow up announcement concerning the human rights advocate, preferring the "private concern" that has let King Hamad off the hook throughout Bahrain's 16-month uprising.

One can only expect the administration to say nothing, or as little as possible, while the monarchy escalates its crackdown to new heights.

The latest alarms began to ring two weeks ago, when Minister of State for Information Affairs Samira Rajab told Reuters, “There is no plan to stop licensing them (protest marches), but all they are being asked to do is abide by the law." The following week, Bahrain's Interior Ministry announced that it denied 10 Friday permits to the oppositional Al Wefaq, citing "public interest" and "traffic concerns." A senior official said that protests wouldn't be banned outright, reasoning that the monarchy wanted to ensure they did not turn violent, but the current plan outlaws them inside the Capital Governorate. Warning "violators" that action would be taken against them, public security chief Tariq al-Hassan forcefully added, “The marches cannot be considered as responsible freedom of expression."

"His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa" also added a new paragraph to his Penal Code: “imprisonment shall be the penalty for any person who assaults a member of the Public Security, BDF, the National Guard or the National Security Body."

According to Minister Rajab, “Wefaq takes a license, then from inside the march people appear and throw molotovs at cars." She claims that the opposition "wants to cancel the law in Bahrain, they want to have absolute rights.” The first half of her assertion is undeniable; Bahrain's multifaceted opposition is employing elementary tactics of civil disobedience and fourth-generation warfare (4GW). Fundamentally, those who participate in democratic resistance movements don't abide by the law of a government that is perceived as illegitimate. The argument of "legal protests" disintegrates during a political uprising - defiance is a main weapon of people who have little to nothing. Sometimes civil disobedience verges into the low-intensity violence that symbolizes 4GW (rocks, bottles, metal pipes, Molotovs, explosive devices), but this reaction is often caused and justified by the government's disproportionate use of force. 

General al-Hassan is playing an established counterrevolutionary tactic: oppress protesters in the streets, obstruct a true national dialogue, then blame the opposition for failing to control independent youth groups and ad hoc cells. All endure King Hamad's crackdown in the end. 

However Minister Rajab is overtly propagandizing when she declares that Al Wefaq wants to "cancel all laws" in the country. The majority of protesters are demanding greater representation in parliament, not anarchy or totalitarianism. Bahrain's Shia majority doesn't seek absolute rule and the discrimination of island's Sunni minority - its leadership doesn't plan on making the same mistake that King Hamad has. Yet Al-Hassan again resorts to typical status quo propaganda used by governments and economic actors around the world, wrapping himself in "public interests" to criminalize protesting. Whose interests is he speaking of though? The government, its loyal supporters and those who are politically inactive would benefit most if Bahrain's opposition quit protesting today. 

Unless King Hamad miraculously addressed the opposition's grievances, Al Wefaq, its political allies, civil activists and youth coalitions stand to lose everything. 

The unjustifiable actors of Bahrain's conflict are empirically governmental. While Iran's alleged influence dominates the monarchy's mind and its supporters' defense, Washington and Riyadh have gifted a destabilized island to their nemesis. Intervening with the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) Peninsula Shield and beefing it up with ex-military from abroad turned into a pivotal strategic error. The monarchy and its GCC security analysts also attempted to concoct an elaborate system to funnel protesters away from financial districts in the capital, with limited success. Undaunted, the Interior Ministry is once again identifying “approved locations” for rallies, mimicking the infamous "free speech zones" that came to greater prominence during George Bush's presidency. This tactic aims to control the scope of protests and minimize their ultimate effects in the politico-information sphere. 

Problematically for the monarchy, its initial containment policy encouraged the proliferation of demonstrations inside and outside of Manama. Senior Wefaq member Abduljalil Khalil captured the explanation by telling Reuters: “This will lead to more escalation since people now feel no hope. There is no chance to their freedom, they have cornered everybody." 

As usual, Washington and other Western capitals in league with the monarchy have yet to issue any response to these developments. They appear no more willing to learn from their mistakes or compromise with Bahrain's opposition. While Rajab, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, their fellow activists and countless protesters languish in prison under murky charges, BDF Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa meets with CENTCOM Commander Lt. General David L. Goldfein discuss "current progress in bilateral friendly relations." Much like the monarchy itself, the Obama administration seems to believe that it can simply exhaust Bahrain's fire with more fire - that political, military and economic firepower trumps revolutionary desire. 

Except the odds aren't as high as King Hamad's court wants to believe.

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