Zainab Al-Khawaja being arrested at Salmaniya hospital on December 9th
Celebrating Bahrain's National Day on Sunday with the usual festivities, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa delivered another of his patented rhetorical offensives to a divided nation. Hamad had arrived at the University of Bahrain in order to mask his intentions, employing his father's name to establish the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa Fund to "serve all citizens without distinguishing between religions, sects or cultures." A noble concept in theory, but those Shia facing government discrimination (largely carried out by Sunni police and mercenaries) don't have time to wait for future promises. Nor do they have time for the denial that has gripped Bahrain's tottering monarchy.
Hamad's circle has refuted any connection to the Arab revolutions throughout the island's 22-month uprising, and employs his speeches to ignore a fundamental political crisis rather than address it.
"In conclusion and on the great occasion of the National Day, we call on everyone to move forward, to be diligent for the sake of further accomplishments and to continue the nation-building process in various fields in order to achieve the well-being of our citizens... We commend our armed forces and the security and the National Guard forces who are always ready to provide the appropriate climate for development and progress through achieving security and stability and meeting all challenges for the sake of all people’s welfare and benefit.”
Protests naturally ensued before and after Hamad's speech. Disenchanted by anything their king in name only had to say - and he waisted no time vindicating their reaction - the youth-led February 14 coalition organized roadblocks and protests around Manama's surrounding villages. They were promptly met with the ubiquitous tear gas and rubber bullets that characterizes Bahrain's unique low-intensity situation. On Monday protesters attempted to march on the capital, now a strict no-go zone under de facto emergency law, resulting in a number of arrests. Among them, the acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and his wife, Yousef al-Muhafedha and Zainab al-Sairafi.
Al-Muhafedha currently oversees the BCHR's activities because its founders, Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, already occupy jail cells for "instigating unrest." Rajab's three-year sentence was reduced to two last week and legitimized in the process, a cheap scam to keep him unjustly imprisoned. Al-Khawaja's daughter Maryam has also been forced into exiled to avoid the fate of her sister Zainab, who was recently handed another month-long sentence for one of more than a dozen pending charges. Zainab has been verbally and physically on multiple occasions for staging one-woman protests and chanting for the King's resignation, treatment shared by her BCHR comrades and other political prisoners.
The systematic assault on Bahrain's leading human rights organization, by itself, demonstrates that the monarchy is far less concerned with substantive reform and more committed to terror tactics than the opposition. Concealing the truth and covering up Bahrain's political fissures is priority one. Dispatched by the monarchy as the fist inside Hamad's velvet glove, the King's official spokeswomen laid all responsibilities of violence on Bahrain's oppositional network as she established favorable terms for negotiations.
"Any national dialogue to overcome the crisis will not ignore any component of the Bahraini society and will not be with one side at the expense of the other," State Minister for Information Affairs Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab told al-Sharq al-Awsat. "It will, however, be complementary to the national consensus dialogue that took place in July 2011 and will commence as soon as the opposition stops violence and relinquishes conditions and restraints put to engage in that dialogue."
The egotistical notion of Bahrain's monarchy refusing to hold a second "National Dialogue," after the first failed so miserably, is no less absurd than staging one immediately. Government security forces and allied mercenaries from friendly governments (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Pakistan) bear the majority of responsibility for applying disproportionate force, however non-lethal. Complaints of Molotovs lose legitimacy when the monarchy blows hard on the streets' flames; Shia communities are raided at night, gassed, beaten and tortured for the past and future actions, while no political measures have been arranged to mitigate the fallout.
Rifts between loyalist and oppositional forces - and between their own ranks - continue to widen at a treacherous pace. This accumulation of events has pushed Bahrain's environment beyond the trust necessary to open a dialogue in the first place. An expanding section of Bahrain's opposition has lost all faith in the monarchy, and cannot be expected to participate until substantial goodwill offerings are secured: ending military raids and releasing political prisoners. And even these moves may fail to end one overriding demand.
"Down, Down Hamad."