July 10, 2012

Nabeel Rajab: Creating A Resistance Leader

Another revolutionary day in the life of Nabeel Rajab brought another arrest to his door on Monday. Six and counting.

Led out of his home by masked and dayglo-vested policemen, the head of Bahrain's Center for Human Rights (BCHR) was immediately deposited into the politically controversial Jaww prison, located on the island's southeastern half. He must now wait out the two+ months remaining on a three-month sentence, the product of a Tweet accusing Prime Minster Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa of buying his support. Rajab's lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, is preparing to lodge an appeal but the activist will likely remain imprisoned for the foreseeable future. After several cases of "incitement" were postponed prior to his temporary release from a three-week detention, Rajab won't enjoy another scheduled hearing until September. 

All according to the monarchy's plan.  

Less understandable is the objective that King Hamad hopes to achieve by isolating Rajab, who functions as the moral compass to Bahrain's uprising. Any prosecution simply enhances his image as a revolutionary leader, draws media attention to the island and extends the conflict's lifespan. Rajab's own mind and character are benefitting from arrest - these types of struggles often form the backbone of popular leaders - and he has personally revealed that the regime's harassment drives him forward. Rajab views imprisonment as a sign that he's walking the right path and he will return directly to the streets once released. 

Until then, Rajab's growing legion of supporters will take up his cause in the streets and possibly vent their anger towards Bahraini security forces. Although accused of inciting violence amongst protesters (including the use of Molotov cocktails), the activist leader has never advocated violent means to achieve their goals. All of his ad hoc demonstrations, some held with less than a dozen people, are conducted in the typical mold of non-violent civil disobedience. Rajab does, however, admit to understanding the youth's desperate use of force and has plenty of experiences to sympathize with. For example, he accuses security forces of regularly tear-gassing his house. 

The kingdom's treatment of Rajab also leaves little room for doubt over his prison conditions. While his supporters would just as quickly rush to his defense in a five-star prison, rumors and evidence of Rajab's harsh treatment at Jaww will further amplify the aura of injustice surrounding him. Speculation that his accusers hail from Bahrain's security units has already read across the island's oppositional networks. No prediction is necessary: Rajab's supporters automatically mobilized t-shirts, banners, videos, Tweets and any other methods of spreading their message. His own Twitter account continues to pump out information. 

Perhaps most importantly, any possibility of "dialogue" between Al Wefaq and the monarchy remains absolutely dead so long as Rajab remains in jail.

Another arrest also triggered another blackout in Washington, where no U.S. official has issued any type of defense in Rajab's name. This silence juxtaposes sharply with the State Department's condemnation of an alleged "terror" network discovered by Bahraini authorities; after opening her briefing with the latter development, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did not afford the same opportunity to Rajab's latest harassment. In sum, the Obama administration continues to preach "dialogue" while keeping silent on Rajab's arrests. Such a reaction would loudly reverse course if he was advocating human rights in Syria, but Rajab expects nothing less than a double-standard from Washington. 

"We are very upset about United States’ position with Bahrain," he told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman between arrests. "We are very upset about United States trying to hide the crimes and trying to hide the violation happening in all the Gulf country. Because the Gulf country are a rich region, because it’s a big arm market, because it’s a big oil exporter, we have to suffer for that. We are victims for being a rich region. We are a victim of being a region that have an interest with the United States. Unfortunately, the United States—and the West, as well, comes after United States—have ignored completely the crime what’s happening here." 

It's no secret that Washington and Manama share a similar mindset: both want to cut down Bahrain's uprising without addressing its roots. Except they can't suppress one man, let alone the entire opposition.

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