August 26, 2012

London Cakewalk For Bahraini King

Human rights activists from inside and outside the British government had dogged Bahrain's Olympic delegation for months, all attempting to interfere with London and Manama's public response to the Games. Problematically, their situation bore no difference to those trying to improve the humanitarianism of British-Bahraini relations. While King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa never made it to his seat, his eldest sons Salman and Nasser would find an unobstructed path to the global party at London's Olympic village. Bahrain International Circuit managing director Zayed Al Zayani, a man who knows a few things about downplaying controversy at sporting events, also joined in the festivities.

Considering the fact that Hamad's sons attended the Games without incident, the British government is unlikely to have formally requested that he stay home. Both would have mutually agreed on the inappropriate timing and clearly decided to postpone his trip until afterward, when Prime Minister David Cameron can devote more energy to concealing the King's presence. The two finally met on Thursday, their third meeting since Bahrain's democratic uprising began in February 2011, with predictably counterrevolutionary results.

"Our visit to Britain," Hamad announced, "is to personally extended congratulations to the British Prime Minister on the success of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games and to personally congratulate the British people on the outstanding achievements of the British athletes during the Olympic games.”

The King's visit, of course, has nothing to do with his country's or Britain's performance beyond the political interests that serve him. Hamad came to reinforce the same image of normality that his monarchy is trying to project on the island, to "affirm his thanks and appreciation for Britain's support that reflects the depth of the historic bilateral relations between the two countries." Oriented around the abuse of British support, Hamad's meeting with David Cameron was designed to show his loyalists and Bahrain's opposition that Western governments will never abandon his side. The King also attempted to divert attention towards Syria, where “there is common concern about the bloodshed [in Syria] and its repercussions for security in the region."

A valid concern in itself, but a hollow ploy to remove Bahrain from the domino line.

The same scheme employed by Cameron and Hamad can be expected of any visit to Washington, although this trip is unlikely to be scheduled in the foreseeable future. Some variance can be anticipated; unlike Thursday's low-profile meeting, a meeting at the White House cannot be minimized so easily. However the blueprint of Washington's "red-carpet treatment" will parallel the events at 10 Downing Street, along with Prince Salman's May tour of the U.S. capital. According to British news sources, Cameron "raised human rights when he pressed the king to implement in full the recommendations of a commission of inquiry that was set up after the violence in Bahrain in 2011."

The King's Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) has functioned as a useful tool for the monarchy and its foreign allies alike. Opened at the prodding of Washington and London, the BICI concluded that police and security forces have committed a limited number of human rights abuses, none of them under the orders of Hamad's royal circle. The BICI further recommended a series of police and judicial reforms that circumvented the political fundamentals driving Bahrain's uprising. Manama and its allies now use the BICI to promote the monarchy's commitment to democracy, exploiting the probe as a shield against criticisms directed at them.

Accordingly, "Downing Street said the prime minister made clear Britain expects Bahrain to implement in full the inquiry report, which concluded that police had used excessive force. The Bahraini government said it would implement the recommendations in full."

This back-and-forth exemplifies the Western response to Bahrain's situation. King Hamad has little to fear with Iran lurking in the background, and so greets his Western benefactors as though he has done no wrong. He's visibly confident that they will stick to the agreed script, and fears no repercussions when traveling to Paris or London. Meanwhile Bahraini security forces are busy suffocating a widespread reaction to Nabeel Rajab's unjust imprisonment.

Mohammed al-Tajir, president of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation, captured the situation perfectly: "Britain is a strong ally of Bahrain and these kind of visits are normal. What is abnormal is to continue these kind of visits without a change in the promises given by the king himself and the Bahraini government to change the miserable situation in Bahrain."

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