Bahraini King Denies Existence of Opposition as Protesters Fill Streets of Manama

Article Summary
As the Bahraini uprisings move back to the streets, the king has denied the existence of the opposition, despite the fact that he has negotiated with it over the past year. The repressive tactics of the Bahraini regime are beginning to resemble those of its Syrian counterpart, writes Fawwaz Traboulsi.

On its [the day of its] anniversary, the Bahraini revolution has made a comeback after a relative lull. Thousands [of protesters] returned to the streets of Manama and once again tried to occupy the Pearl Roundabout - the focal point of last year’s uprising. [The Pearl roundabout] was occupied and destroyed last year by security forces at the beginning of a fierce crackdown on peaceful protests, which was soon followed by a Saudi-UAE intervention.

For the rebellious youths to return now to the Pearl Roundabout would represent a symbolic goal - one that may or may not be out of reach. What is new now, early into the second year of Bahrain's revolution, is that the new crowd of demonstrators has fought back against the violence of the security forces using  incendiary bombs.

The island [of Bahrain] has 1.2 million inhabitants, half of whom are foreigners. 70% of its citizens are Shiites. It hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and more than 6,000 US Marines are stationed there at any given time. However, this information is suppressed by the oil and gas media [oil companies hold sway over what knowledge gets publicized in Bahrain]. The island is ruled by the Al-Khalifa family, which after invading it approximately 200 years ago still treats its people as captives and spoils [of war]. [The family] isn't satisfied with owning three-quarters of the island’s land. Members of the [royal] family have reclaimed parts of the sea [by filling shallow waters with sand] for billions of dollars' worth of more land. [Royal family members] then use this land for construction and real estate speculation. The family has a monopoly on power and holds key economic and administrative posts. Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the uncle of the king, has occupied the post of prime minister since 1971.

The protests that began on February 14, 2011 [must be viewed] within a larger context. The March 1965 uprising against British presence on the island set off a process of national liberation which eventually led to [complete] independence [from the British]. The Al-Khalifa [family] ruled Bahrain by emergency law from 1975 to 2002, after having broken up a constitutional council elected in 1973 when the council tried to restrict the family's rule and subject it to the role of the people. The popular uprising of 1999 resulted in a settlement between Prince Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa and the opposition parties. The settlement allowed for the return of exiled persons, the release of detainees and political activity, as long as it took place under the banner of "associations." It also enacted a new constitution, passed on February 14, 2002. However, this settlement did not last. When [Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa] became king, he revoked all of the previous concessions he had made. He made use of the two-council structure - composed of an elected parliament (of 30 members, in addition to 14 ministers appointed by the king) and an appointed Shura Council - to give the king and his prime minister control of the legislature.

The uprising of February 14, 2011 called for the resignation of the prime minister and his corrupt and incompetent government, a new constitution that guarantees equality between citizens and eliminates the royal family's privileges, ending the discrimination against Shiites (in the security services, and in high-level positions), abolishing the Shura Council, and placing ministerial cabinet [members] under the supervision of an elected assembly.

Last year's protests resulted in 46 dead and no fewer than 3,000 detained - most of whom were tortured. Thousands of employees were also fired for participating in the protests.

The year was not devoid of dialogue and attempts to reach compromise [between the regime and the protesters]. [Reconciliation attempts] have been [embodied by] the "Manama document" [put forth by the opposition], as well as another reformist document advanced by the crown prince. But the prime minister shot down both initiatives and the king was able to downplay reformist demands by stressing issues relating to security violations. American-Egyptian legal scholar Sharif Bassiouni was called in [by the king] to open an investigation on how the security authorities had dealt with the popular protests. However, the king did not implement the recommendations of the commission [headed by Bassiouni], which entailed releasing detainees and investigating the security forces for human rights abuses. The deadline for implementing the [commission’s] recommendations lies at the end of February 2012. Until now, [the only thing the regime has done] has been to express regret for the victims and appoint a new director to the security forces - one aided by [American experts].

On the eve of the second year of the uprising, the regime clarified its positions through an interview between the Bahraini king and the German news magazine Der Spiegel (Dated from February 13, 2012):

The king denied the existence of an opposition in Bahrain, stating that "there is no 'opposition' in Bahrain because such a phrase would imply one unified block with similar views. Such a phrase is not in our constitution, unlike in, say, the United Kingdom. We only have people with different views and that's okay." To identify with the English Queen is befitting for a king, so what if the king were actually both a king and a "gentleman"? He justified the state of emergency by calling the demonstrators racist, saying that they scared women. He said that, "it is the duty of a gentleman to protect women."

Of course there is no ‘contradiction’ in the king denying the existence of an opposition with which he has repeatedly held dialogues. [The king has held dialogues with representatives] from the Shiite Al Wefaq Society, the leftist National Democratic Action Society - whose general secretary, Ibrahim al-Sharif, is in detention - and other national progressive blocs. He accuses the opposition of refusing to engage in dialogue. What is permitted for a king is not permitted for others. He is allowed to boast to the West that he is granting certain rights to the "minority." By that, His Highness means that he has appointed a Jewish woman as Bahrain's ambassador to Washington, and a Christian woman as ambassador to London. And the West, as we all know, loves its "minorities" - albeit in its own special way!

But the crowning jewel in the king’s statements came when he advised Syrian President Bashar Assad to listen to his people!

If we take note of the arrogance of this royal advice and ignore the [evident] differences between the two regimes, one common feature between them still stands out. There is a group of people that has specialized itself - through education and professional training in skills and efficiency - to save human lives, regardless of all considerations, because human life is valuable in and of itself. Those people are called doctors and nurses. The Syrian and Bahraini regimes have harassed them in a way unprecedented in the history of violence and murder. They prevent doctors and nurses from exercising their duties to rescue the injured and save lives. They threaten them with arrest and torture if they violate the ban on treating those who have been injured by regime’s repression. But [even] arrest and torture are made trivial when saving a life becomes punishable by death.

At any rate, the repression, the killings and the Saudi-UAE military intervention were unable to extinguish the uprising in Bahrain, and it now enters its second year with renewed fervor. Nor was the US-Saudi [brokered] GCC initiative successful in re-imposing [the same formula] on the Yemeni people by forcing its president to step down and hand over his powers to the vice president, who will govern for two additional years. It seems that after the events in Qatif in Saudi Arabia [where clashes took place in October 2011], the revolutionary bandwagon is now continuing on through the world of oil and gas.

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Found in: uae, syria, saudi arabia, saudi, pearl roundabout, military intervention, military, khalifa royal family, gcc, bahraini uprising, assad
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