February 28, 2013

Bahrain's Monarchy Defies Promotion of Universal Rights

On Wednesday Bahrain's Minister of Foreign Affairs' Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, hosted a lunch banquet for Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Nabil Al Arabi and other diplomats participating in the island's Manama Conference. His motivation: praise King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's initiative calling for the establishment of an Arab Court for Human Rights. Establishing such a court sounds promising in theory, but promoting human rights doesn't sit atop the agenda of Hamad or other regional governments invested in maintaining authority. One gets the distinct impression that Hamad is more concerned with image than reality.
"The Foreign Affairs' Minister pointed out that the initiative of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to establish a special Arab Court for Human Rights reflects the concern to keep pace with modern international trends towards the promotion of Human Rights practices."

A busy man, Al Khalifa also made an appearance at a security briefing by Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, one of Bahrain's hard-line personalities and a skilled propagandist. The island has experienced chronic unrest since February 2011 and endured new hostilities following the mayhem of February 14th, when 16-year old Hussain Ali Ahmed Abrahim was fatally shot at close range. Demonstrations ignited around the capital's security cordon and have yet to abate. However the Interior Minister "stated that both the static and moving police patrols that have been deployed throughout Bahrain over the past several weeks were successful in helping to maintain order."

"He said that police patrols are using restraint and are following the law when interacting with those engaging in criminal behavior."

Independent accounts of Bahrain paint an opposing scenario with a few basic pieces of evidence. Several of the island's prominent oppositional leaders remain jailed for peacefully defying King Hamad's rule, including Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and the latter's daughter (Zainab) was just arrested again for protesting the death of Mahmoud Issa Al-Jazeri. Al-Jazeri was struck in the face with a teargas canister during February 14th's protests and his body has yet to be released by the government. Later that night, 63-year old Abdul-Majeed Mohsen was arrested at a checkpoint when he allegedly flashed a victory sign to passing demonstrators. The well-known protester has been arrested twice before and stands accused of possessing Molotovs, participating in an illegal protest and disturbing public security.

Any protest against King Hamad's rule - especially the peaceful variety - is considered illegal and unorderly at a metaphysical level. Promoting human rights and maintaining order also necessitates control over basic symbols of resistance, including the V symbol and Guy Fawkes masks. Popularized by the movie V For Vendetta, the mask's importation has now been banned by Bahrain's Industry and Commerce Minister, thus assuring that the mask's popularity will continue to rise.

Contrasting with the island's latest abuses is the acquittal of four policemen involved in the murder of protesters. These rulings highlight the gamut of Bahrain's flaws: a corrupt judiciary, the government's manipulation of legal evidence and public information, King Hamad's resistance to promoting accountability within his security forces, and the inability to limit outrage with "non-lethal" tactics. Bahrain's monarchy has demonstrated acute skill in parts of its public relations - specifically Western lobbying and demonizing the opposition - and woeful ignorance at other times. Acquitting the policemen in question defies the King's own Commission of Independent Inquiry, naturally upsetting Bahrain's streets and online networks, but that reaction may fit into the government's plans to undermine them during the ongoing National Dialogue.

The circumstances surrounding Fadhil al Matrook, who was fatally shot with bird pellets on February 15th, 2011, reach to the heart of civil disobedience as practiced on the ground. Matrook was shot while attending the funeral of another protester when the procession came under attack, and he allegedly stopped to assist a wounded protester before being shot himself. Bahrain's Ministry of Interior said that police came under attack from the crowd and fired warning shots before applying lethal force. The outcome, in either case, is the type of disproportionate force that drives an escalating cycle of civil disobedience.

These decisions are made by a government lacking in the ability resolve the long-standing grievances of Bahrain's Shia majority.

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