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Human Rights groups, journalists have discovered the reality in Bahrain When will the pro-democracy politicians wake up Following the unprecedented wave of internal acrimony among political activists in Bahrain, questions are being asked about the viability of serious political opposition to the hereditary dictatorship in this troubled island. While there appears to be unanimity among the people that they had been lured into Sheikh Hamad’s political programme, difference have emerged as how to counter the developing military dictatorship at the head of the system, and whether his policies of buying off loyalties to his programme will make much difference to an already volatile situation. It is not clear yet how much support and advice the Al Khalifa dictatorship have received in recent years from the two most important allies; the US and UK. Their enthusiasm to Al Khalifa’s dictatorship, their support for Sheikh Hamad’s programme and their willingness to prop up a hereditary dictatorship is deafening. The realities are testimony to this totalitarian regime. Last month’s cabinet reshuffle, for example, has produced a government half of whose 22 cabinet posts are allocated to Al Khalifa members. This is outrageous by any standard. Furthermore, the reshuffle has added more humiliation to the once-overwhelming majority Shia, who are allocated five junior cabinet posts. This discriminatory policy has underlined the recent anger among the political activists who were forced to re-register their political societies in line with the newly-enforced Societies Law. This draconian law effectively strips these societies off their ability to offer a viable and independent opposition to the ruling family. It makes it a condition for any society to recognise the Al Khalifa constitution which was put in place by Sheikh Hamad to replace the contractual constitution of 1973. This Law has caused a rift among the political activists who have been split into two camps: those who resist this offensive law and those who want to submit to the will of the hereditary dictatorship. Several prominent activists have now resigned from their societies and are planning to undertake new political initiatives to counter the increasingly dictatorial nature of the regime. While the rift is heart-breaking, it may have a hidden blessing. Those who have chosen to continue the struggle from outside the regime’s dictates now have more freedom to act, and are ready to face the consequences of their peaceful opposition. Those who may decide to work from within the Al Khalifa system will eventually find the futility of attempting to change from within. Once significant move was apparent in the cabinet reshuffle. The notorious torturer, Abdul Aziz Atiyyat Allah Al Khalifa, the head of the torture apparatus instituted by Sheikh Hamad regime, was relieved of his duties and appointed an advisor to the ruler on security matters. This step is in response to the demands by the UN Human Rights Commission that called on the Al Khalifa not to give impunity to torturers. Atiyyat Allah has become a liability to the regime, and is likely to be pursued by the victims of torture. The National Committee of Martyrs and Torture Victims, in collaboration with the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights succeeded in bringing the Al Khalifa torturers to the notice of the international community through their intensive work last Spring in Geneva. The cabinet reshuffle, however, only re-enforced earlier claims that Sheikh Hamad has become more despotic than his predecessors. He has taken bold steps to change the country once and for all, through his programme of fundamental demographic change. He has offered Bahraini nationality to tens of thousands of foreigners as he struggled to transform the Shia majority into a minority. He had planned to avert the predicament of Saddam Hussain who had ruled Iraq with an iron fist and persecuted the majority of the population . The Al Khalifa have infuriated the people of Bahrain further. Sheikh Hamad has signed a protocol lifting the boycott of Israel. This unilateral action without a proper national dialogue, and without allowing a debate even within his various bodies like the Shura Council with its two chambers, is yet another evidence of the lack of popular consent to the acts and decisions undertaken by the Al Khalifa. The media, which is wholly controlled by the ruling family, has been ordered not to debate this decision, which is considered one of the sovereign matters confined to the ruling family. Banning public debate of matters of concern to the people is yet another policy that is being put in place by Sheikh Hamad and his clique. Last month a seminar to debate the Societies Law was scheduled to take place at Al Oruba Club. Few hours before it was due to convene, a member of the Al Khalifa ruling family in charge of youth activities and sports called the club management team to warn them against allowing the seminar to be held on their premises. The seminar was thus cancelled. It was subsequently held at another location but only after is lost its appeal. Bahrain has thus become an absolute dictatorship, not withstanding the large propaganda machine that is fuelled by people’s wealth which is blundered by the ruling family. Out of over US$5 billion oil revenue, only US$2 billion is allocated to the national budget. The rest is pocketed by the senior members of the Al Khalifa. This is the essence of the “reform programme” undertaken by the present ruler. Robin Lustig, of the BBC World Service, in a programme on democracy in Bahrain broadcast last month, could not decide whether the glass was half empty or half full. He was right. Those who investigate the situation in the country can only discover more atrocious acts, treachery and mockery. The BBC team which visited the country has managed to clarify the situation in a more convincing way. They had met with activists, victims, professionals, ordinary people and government officials. Their verdict was clear in the programme, and was put eloquently to the listeners. Human rights groups had discovered part of the truth some time ago. Now the journalists have now discovered the truth. The question is: when will the politicians acknowledge the reality of the political situation in Bahrain? Bahrain Freedom Movement

30 September 2005

Budget cheat in Bahrain Actual figures for 2004 budget confirm that the regime has not used the state fund properly. In effect, while income increased by 61 percent to BD1,300 million, real spending dropped by 11 percent to BD1,105 million. Still, instead of recording a surplus of BD195 million, the authorities played another trick. Of this, BD85 million was allocated for unspecified capital spending and BD51 million for purchase of weaponry systems. As such, merely BD60 million was recorded as real surplus. Altogether, the results demonstrate that the authorities are uniquely unfit to run financing for a country, no matter how small that maybe. In reality, the cabinet, headed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa (Bahrain’s sole premier since independence in 1971), was wrong in its budget planning across the board. Mistakes were made in forecasting revenue, spending and deficit. For example, projected revenue was put at BD806 million but ended up rising by BD494 million to BD1,300 million. The government calculated the budget using oil price of US$18 per barrel. Certainly, there is every sense in pursuing a conservative policy, but by adopting such a low oil price, the authorities demonstrated they lacked any clue about market situation. Yet, despite stronger revenue, the regime failed to spend budgeted funds. Instead, actual expenditure dropped by 11 percent or BD134 million from BD1,246 million to BD1,105 million. Nothing justifies what happened, not least because the country is badly in need of investment on capital projects for upgrading of roads and boosting power transmission and distribution. What happened suggests that the regime is certainly careless about the country’s well-being. In other words, the fiasco shows that the regime is stingy by all means. Accordingly, money was there (considerably more than projected amount) but there was no resolve to use it. Worse yet, the regime decided to make use of the surplus amount the way it desires, with no questions asked. Sheikh Hamad bin Isa, the state’s ruler, decided to grab BD51 million of the surplus to spend on his beloved institution (the military establishment). In fact, the authorities made no effort to inform so-called National Assembly as to why they have had failed to spend the allocated money let alone dispersion of surplus amount.In reality, some members of “parliament” (which is nothing more than a showcase entity used by authorities when needed) expressed their dismay after learning about the real figures for fiscal year 2004 from press sources. The whole fiasco shows that some selfish, unqualified individuals are running Bahrain.Bahrain Freedom Movement

8 September 2005

A dream or a doomsday scenario?The massaive attack by the ruling family on the seminar that was held last month is a clear indication of the psychological tension within the rank and files of this repressive family. The seminar was organised by Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group to mark the 30th anniversary of the first coup against the people’s will. Several Bahraini political and trade union activists attended the seminar. It was one of the most successful events organised outside Bahrain to expose the Al Khalifa absolute dictatorship and the huge blunder of the country’s oil wealth and land. The ruling family orchestrated an unparalleled attack against the seminar and the participants. The regime’s daily newspapers dedicated their columns for this purpose while groups loyal to the ruling family issued statements denouncing the seminar and calling for prosecution of the Bahraini participants. Some of the regime’s claims were so outrageous that officials of the British Embassy in Manama were forced to distance the government from the seminar. The Foreign Office at first asked for permission to attend the seminar but later withdrew the request under what appeared to be an intense pressure from the hereditary dictatorship in Bahrain. The campaign against the seminar has continued until this the beginning of September. The Al Khalifa never felt so exposed to the outside world as they did this time.What is the problem? No one knows for certain why the ruling family reacted in this foolish way. If anything, their reaction gave impetus to the organisers and the seminar became one of the most successful in the series of seminars held in London regularly over the past decade. It received good coverage in international media such as the BBC Arabic Service and Al Jazeera with interviews with the participants on the issue of democracy and dictatorship in the country. The corruption of the ruling family was exposed by Mr Ibrahim Sharif, the President of the National Democratic Action Society who presented a graphic account of the blundering by the Al Khalifa of the oil revenues and the lands of Bahrain. He estimated the value of the misappropriated land by the ruler, the prime minister and other senior figures to be excess of $50 billion. It is one of the largest robberies in the region in history. After the natural land of the islands has been almost completely misappropriated, the ruling family, over the past three decades, extended their daylight robbery to the sealand along the stretch of the coasts. Mr Sharif, who was a professional banker before his retirement, said that the whole coastal area comprising the 12 miles national waters have either been or will be misappropriated by the Al Khalifa rulers whose greed has no limits.The deep corruption of this ruling family is at the heart of the political crisis in the country. Soon after the British withdrew from Bahrain in 1971, they had made up their mind to turn the country into a private fiefdom. They may have been forced into agreeing initially to accept the contractual constitution of 1973, but they revoked that agreement soon afterward. In 1975 they suspended that constitution and aborted the first and last experiment in a very limited form of democracy. After a national struggle that lasted 25 years, Sheikh Hamad decided to turn the clock backwards; he abrogated the only binding document in the form of the 1973 constitution that legitimised the Al Khalifa rule, imposed his own constitution and undertook to change the country in a fundamental way. He now owns whole islands including Umm Al Na’ssan which is larger than the island Muharraq which is inhabited by a quarter of the population, the islands of Hawar, whose ownership was contested with Qatar at the International Court of Justice and other islands. This is in addition to ownership of a large proportion of the main island. Furthermore, he has blundered the coastline and distributed reclaimed sea land (totalling 60 square kilometres) to members of his family. In order to complete his absolute rule, he ordered mass naturalisation of foreigners who would become the main line of defence against the native population, and instituted dictatorship comouflaged in democratic appearance. Oil wealth has enabled Sheikh Hamad to recruit local and foreign mercenaries to put his policies in place.Today, as the people of Bahrain commemorated their ill-fated experiment in democratic practice, they feel miles apart from this oppressive regime. They no longer hide their hate to Sheikh Hamad’s dictatorship and policies of corruption and blunder. With the imposition of the Societies Law that renders the local groups completely ineffective and requires them to become submissive to the Al Khalifa’s policies, Sheikh Hamad believes he is about to complete the encirclement of what had been once, one of the most formidable opposition in the Arab world. The London seminar has suddenly exposed parts of his policies and provided the steadfast opposition an opportunity to present the case of Bahrain to the outside world. The ruling family has long hoped that opposition would remain within the large prison in the islands of Bahrain, and has allowed them to speak their grievances within the brick walls of the country. They consider any activity outside Bahrain to be a treason that merits severe punishment. The notorious Societies Law prevents local groups from contacting the outside world. Such contacts could lead to severe punishment. The ruling family has incited about 20 of their loyal groups to issue a statement calling for severe punishment to those who participated in the House of Lords seminar. Bahrain has now entered the bleakest period in its history, more bleak than the period when the country was ruled by the State Security Law under the patronage of the prime minister and Ian Henderson. The crisis is deepening, thanks to the unlimited support by those who have pledged to “democratise” the Middle East. They have hailed the Bahraini experiment as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law. The law, however, is that which is designed by the ruling family to safeguard its interests and ensures a total submission by the Bahraini people to its evil designs. While Washington and London consider this legalised hereditary dictatorship to be the long-awaited dream for the people of the region, the people of Bahrain view it as the beginning of the doomsday scenario.Bahrain Freedom Movement

2 September 2005

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