The view form within: One man up, thousands down – Bahrain Freedom Movement

In the past few weeks several worrying developments have happened in Bahrain, with implications that go far beyond the current standoff between the opposition and the ruling family.

Among such implications is the sliding towards sectarian strife, planned, encouraged and, probably executed by certain members of the ruling family. The situation has been likened by a senior political figure arguing that it is similar to a sinking ship with its captain relentlessly drilling more holes to hasten its demise. Over the past 18 months, Sheikh Hamad’s councils have transformed into a race course in which participants exchanged accusations and abuses on sectarian issues. The grass roots of both the Shia and Sunni citizens have rallied behind their “representatives” to whip up emotions and encourage them to inflict more wounds on the other side. It is a race towards political, social and religious Armageddon. It is a competition that is unlikely to lead to a winner. Both will be fatally wounded. What the Al Khalifa rulers hope to achieve is exactly that. They have no love for either the Shia or Sunni Muslims. Both would be repressed if they attempted to disrupt Sheikh Hamad’s destructive political programme, or any part of it. The aim of this programme is to transform the political realities of Bahrain into one in which the various communities are too weak to pose a threat to the Al Khalifa domination. With a strong Shia Muslim population in excess of 70 percent, Sheikh Hamad sought to undermine their strong presence, history and culture through a campaign of political naturalization, containment or cooption. This has enabled him to feel free from the life long worries of his uncle, or for that matter, his own father, who had lived their political lives in fear of continuous accusations of factionalism or sectarianism.

Today, Bahrain lives on a low fire that is pushing up the political temperature to new highs. Following the imposition of the now-defunct “reform programme” the regime opted to create conformist elites that would embrace it and act as a buffer zone against the people. The success has been limited. Few individuals and groups have responded positively to the advances of the Al Khalifa, and are now acting within their political programme. Last month, for example, one of the undersecretaries of foreign affairs, headed the Al Khalifa delegation to Geneva to defend dismal human record of the Al Khalifa “reformists”. The regime had prepared a large group, from amongst those who had aligned themselves against the people, to defend its record. The minister, a member of the Shia community, acted in a shameless way when he claimed that the Al Khalifa had not discriminated against large sector of the people, nor had they violated the human rights of the people. When some activists presented documented evidence of human rights abuses, he asked UN officials to intervene and remove their literature. This unholy alliance is viewed as opportunistic, unethical and unholy. Once again the incident has proven beyond doubt that it is impossible to retain an independent personality and thinking while serving tyrants, dictators and despots.

Within Bahrain, the emotions are running high as reports form torture cells were smuggled to the outside world with harrowing details of torture and abuse. Families of the political prisoners have spoken of unprecedented evil treatment of the Bahraini youth at the hands of the torturers, some of whom had been brought into the country to administer torture and inflict wounds on the citizens. When a seminar had been organized against the policies of the prime minister, who had held his post for the past 37 years, the owners of the congregation hall were threatened with serious consequences. The organizers were also warned of a bloodbath if the event went ahead. There are also several news about the deterioration of the health of several prisoners due to torture and that some of them may have been transferred to the military hospital as their conditions deteriorated. These news came at a time when the economic situation in the country has deteriorated with rising food prices and slow economic growth. The ruling family has been deeply incensed by the success of the opposition in reflecting a realistic image of the internal situation to the outside world. International business companies have refrained from investing in the country and the sky-high buildings belonging the prime minister have remained empty for some time. Only those who wanted to do favours to the prime minister had rented office space in those building especially the financial harbour.

As the future appears more bleak than had been expected few years ago, the opposition has managed to regain the initiative, with protests, pickets and international trips and contacts. Moreover, many US Congressmen have recently shown interest in the affairs of Bahrain, the base of the US fifth fleet in the Gulf. Pressure is mounting on the White House and the State Department to support the struggle of the people of Bahrain, while both the US President and Secretary of Sate, Condoleza Rice, had been briefed about the situation prior to their recent visits to Bahrain. There is a burgeoning situation in which foreign powers are beginning to take interest in the situation of Bahrain especially as Sheikh Hamad’s political programme appears to have stalled. The next few months will be crucial for the future of Bahrain. It will be a closely observed competition between the opposition and the ruling Al Khalifa family as both jostle for influence on international media. The feelings are that the ruling Al Khlaifa family, may have missed a golden chance to enhance their records and bring Bahrain back to the list of countries with genuine respect of human and political rights. The consequences to the rulers are likely to be catastrophic. The ongoing internal struggle amongst the members of the royal family is gradually finding its way to the outside world who is watching the unfolding of an era in Bahrain, and indeed the Gulf region as a whole. The Doomsday scenario appears within the grasp of those seeking to involve the international community in support of the Bahraini struggle to achieve rights, democracy and sovereignty.

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