Something’s amiss (redux!)

26 Sep, '04

The papers are full this morning of the King and the Crown Prince visiting the Prime Minister at his office. When this sort of thing happens, you just know that someone somewhere has “talked bad” about the ruling family or the prime minister specifically.

Thinking on it, there was supposed to have been a seminar on poverty in Bahrain (arabic) by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights at Al-Uruba Club on Friday, the panel for which included Abdulhadi Al-Khawajah (BCHR vice president), Ali Salman (Al-Wefaq) and others. A day or two before the seminar went ahead, the Ministry of (dis)Information demanded that they do not show any film or video as they have no approval from the Ministry to show it, and the seminar has to be authorised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

I seem to remember that Nabil Rajab (president of BCHR) said in an interview in a local paper that he submitted the intention to do the seminar at Mina Salman Police Station and he stressed that doing such seminars is guaranteed by the constitution and the only thing they need do is just inform the police authorities rather than seek permission.

Recipe for disaster. This is almost exactly what happened almost a year ago when the same centre did a seminar on discrimination in Bahrain. After that seminar we had a lot of these visits and the “traditional” papers labeled the centre and its personnel traitors. There was no end of messages of support sent to the ruling family, and a similar number if not more castigating the Centre for sowing dissent and prejudicial thoughts in the community.

Well this time the seminar went ahead, the film was shown and then apparently at 11:00pm Abdulhadi Al-Khawajah was asked to present himself at the Mina Salman Police Station where after a 15 minute interview he was arrested. No one knows what he was charged with. However, some reports suggest that he has been taken to the Dry Dock Police Station and imprisoned there.

News of his arrest were broadcast on both Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television stations.

Why?

As happened in the Discrimination seminar last year, Abdulhadi once again demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister, putting all the blame for the economic and political failures of decades on his shoulders. If he would not resign, he demanded that he be fired.

It appears that Abdulhadi has now gone on hunger strike in prison, and is refusing to talk until the Prime Minister resigns!

I’m all for people speaking their minds, but come on guys, why are you trying to sprint before you can even walk for goodness’ sake? What has your call to the resignation of the prime minister have with poverty in Bahrain? Shouldn’t you concentrate on finding solutions to problems rather than exacerbating them?

The results of the seminar were very similar to the suggestions of the Labour Market Reforms, the only difference there is that you demanded a set minimum wage and the acceleration of employing Bahrainis, providing a social system and fund for poor families and provision of funds for training. This time the Crown Prince has stolen your thunder, so you probably have thought that demanding the prime minister’s resignation is payback for it?

I would have thought that a good thing for you to do, as the proposed labour market reforms are very close to your goals, is that you would extend a hand to the government and add your voice in advice and advise. There are better ways at arriving at your goals than coming out like a bull in a china shop.

Ok, maybe this way you appeal more to the “street.� If this is what you want, then fine, go for it, but if you really want to help this country grow, then criticise by all means, but criticise in an acceptable manner so that your voice is heard.

That doesn’t of course means that I support Abdulhadi Al-Khawajah’s incarceration. No way. His arrest and imprisonment is political for sure and he is now the only political prisoner we have in Bahrain. The government should have handled the situation better as well, there is no reason for putting him in prison as he is a citizen, and he was speaking his mind. If the government doesn’t like what it hears from him then tough. Sit down with him and try to change his mind, but political prisoners? What is this, are we going back to the 90s so soon?

Various political societies including Al-Wefaq and the NDA as well as the BCHR are organising demonstrations outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministry of Justice) throughout the coming week to pressure the government to release Abdulhadi Al-Khuwaja and promise to continue the demonstrations until he is released without charges.

Expect some fireworks over the next few days!

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Comments (16)

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  1. anonymous says:

    Something’s amiss (redux!)

    I’ve got a lot of sympahty with what’s been said here – no one wants a return to the politics of confrontation. But how pathetic is the government at Politics? It blundering all over the place. While the BCHR seems to have a political agenda refusing ever to criticise their mates Al Wefaq no matter what (ie Vice and Virtue squads, Brownshirts going on the rampage against alcohol sales, proposing racial segregation in Manama – all met with a bizarre silence by the BCHR) none of that excuses detaining the guy.

  2. esraa says:

    Something’s amiss (redux!)

    question–

    Am I reading correctly that Bahrain still has a “Ministry of Information”???

    Salaam,
    PM

  3. kategirl says:

    Re: Something’s amiss (redux!)

    Yes!… we STILL have a ministry of disinformation! Apparently the story in the papers that it was being axed was just rubbish. I’m not sure where the story’s sources originated from… but a journalist friend of mine told me that there are no (official and public) plans to shut down the ministry right now. Crazy… I wish I knew the real inside story.

    🙁

  4. anonymous says:

    Something’s amiss (redux!)

    The kings so-called ‘reform’ process was torn to bits way before this incident which flies in the face of freedom of expression and human rights.

    It will be a rejoiceful day when the Prime Minister resigns but there’s more chance that his days are numbered due to decrepitude and death. Why is it that tyrants always live longer? Pinochet, Saddam, Khalifa… somehow they seem to have bought the elixir of life with the billions of dollars they’ve squandered.

    Has anyone seen the video that BCHR showed?? Unfortunately it highlights the large income inequality in Bahrain. The GDP per capita figures do not reflect the slum like impoverishment that exists in some villages like alHamala or hillat alabd saleh or almiqsha3.

    I’ve seen some families who would have been left to die if it wasnt for the local village charity box and volunteers who brought them some food everyday. It is truley heartbreaking to see such scenes when down the road 500 million dollars is spent on a F1 racetrack which seems to have had no trickledown effect in the economy at all.

    Lets all pray for the quick release of Abdulhadi Alkhwaja who has only sought to highlight this issue for which the Prime Minister is directly responsible.

    Bahrainia

  5. anonymous says:

    APPEAL

    [quote]APPEAL

    The Bahrain Center for Human Rights appeals for the release of its executive director, the human rights activist Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja

    Human Rights activist detained after a poverty symposium.

    Al-Oruba, the host of the Symposium, closed down by the government, for 45 days.

    Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja on Hunger and speech strike

    Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, the executive director of Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was detained at 10:30pm last night. Abdul-Hadi is one of the most prominent human rights activists in Bahrain and he has contributed to most of the human rights activities in the country. The latest being a symposium, namely “The National Campaign to Promote Economic Rights in Bahrain.� Which took place on the 24th of September. The Al-Oruba club, where the symposium was held, has been closed by the government for 45 days.

    In this symposium Mr Al-Khawaja voiced his opinion on government policies and criticized the prime minister who has been in the top of the government for more than thirty years and is responsible for the deterioration of the economy and all the human rights violations in the past. Two days later Abdul-Hadi received a phone call from the Nabeeh Saleh Police station. He was asked to head to the named police station. When he got there he was arrested and detained. An hour later his family received a phone call from him. Abdul-Hadi has announced that he has started a speech and hunger strike, and he will continue this strike.

    The BCHR requests the concerned authority to immediately release the detainee. He was arrested for simply practicing one of his basic rights, namely his freedom of speech.

    Recommendations:

    Please appeal to the Bahraini authorities to:

    1. Secure the rights and the well being of the detainee.

    2. Immediately release the detainee.

    Nabeel Rajab

    President

    Tel 00973 39633399
    [/quote]

  6. anonymous says:

    BCHR

    BCHR has been threatened with closure several times prior to the current incident and its activities seem to have been focused on the most crucial issues facing Bahrain today:

    Sectarian discrimination
    Poverty
    Freedom of Speech
    Campaigning for the release of political prisoners
    Spreading human rights awareness across society

    The government and Minister of Labour have accused it of being too politicized and diverting from its stated objectives. This is simply ridiculous as in these heated political situations it is the government who abuses the rights of people with a political pretext. BCHR however remains in close cooperation with BAR human rights society and Amnesty International who are familiar and have long campaigned for human rights issues in Bahrain. These organizations and many others have condemned his arrest.

    It seems they have also launched a site in English
    [url]http://www.bchr.net/?eng=1[/url] which would provide more information on the Centre’s activities.

  7. kategirl says:

    Re: Something’s amiss (redux!)

    Bahrainia,

    I totally agree with you 100% that the govt has no right to arrest Al-Khwaja, and actions like these fly right in the face of the reforms that have been taking place. There is no excuse for his arrest and he must be released immediately.

    However, we must also be realistic, and be aware that we must understand the political landscape in which we are situated for us to move in the right direction. Al Khwaja must have known that criticizing the PM publicly would have landed him in jail immediately. I think it might have been better for him to stay quiet, as he can achieve more outside a jail cell than in one. What did he achieve by criticizing the PM? We all know the faults of the PM already.

    Moreover, we must also realize that there is quite an obvious distinction within the Royal Family between the Old Guard and the New Guard, represented foremost by the PM and the Crown Prince respectively. Apparently, at presentation to the Crown Prince last week, Mahmood reported that they themselves screened a video all about the level of poverty in Bahrain. It is obvious that the New Guard has been making serious and honest attempts to being genuine reform to the country. However, when people like Alkhwaja take a confrontational position towards the PM, it only makes it more difficult for the Crown Prince to help us. I mean think about. The PM is the CP’s uncle! When Bahrainis attack the pride of the PM, then I’m sure the CP has a harder time convincing the PM to along with the reforms.

    So, rather than taking a confrontational position towards the elements of the regime that we dislike, maybe we should instead encourage the elements that we DO like. As you are aware, the reality is that the PM will most likely never relinquish his position… especially if we keep attacking him, for it would make him lose face. If we don’t confront him, then there is more of a chance that he will step down, in the hope that it will make him look benevolent or something.

    I hope that made some sort of sense to you! (Because I’m finding confusing myself)

    Sheesh,… I think its time for me to crack open my old Game Theory textbooks again.

    Cheers,
    Chan’ad

  8. anonymous says:

    Re(1): Something’s amiss (redux!)

    Chan’ad

    The moral of the tale is to pick your battles. You catch more fly’s with honey than with vinagar.

  9. mahmood says:

    Re: Something’s amiss (redux!)

    I know that both Abdulhadi and his brother Salah have an immense grudge against the prime minister, and I suggest that Abdulhadi in both this instance and a year ago are personally motivated, which takes away some of his credibility.

    If on the other hand he’s sincere about this, let him bring particular decisions that the prime minister has undertaken and attack that, rather than turning personal.

    You’re also being unfair by attacking the person rather than actions or ideas.

  10. salima44 says:

    Re: Something’s amiss (redux!)

    [quote] In the West, if someone prints something that is not true, or damaging in a paper, the author can get sued/fined for slander. [/quote]

    Jasra,

    The burdon of proof for libel or slander is a tall order in the US. While you are correct you can “sue” for these actions you have to show “malice” and willfull intent to cause harm. A very high threshold. Few cases are brought and very few win.

  11. anonymous says:

    Something’s amiss (redux!)

    I’m all for freedom of speech .. but it has to be responsible. In the West, if someone prints something that is not true, or damaging in a paper, the author can get sued/fined for slander. In Bahrain, if we are going to use our freedoms of speech .. we should use them them wisely and responsibly. If someone is going to attack the PM, then let them attack specific action and policies where his judgement was called into question.

    We Arabs are very personal. The minute there is a disagreement in a point of view, we tend to criticize the other person – instead of fleshing out the issue that we are disagreeing on. We need to learn how to create civil societies that have ther role and exert influence without resorting to name calling. Wheee do we all think we are sitting? The UK House of Commons? 😉

    Jasra Jedi

  12. anonymous says:

    Bahrainiya .. we missed you!

    Sweetheart ..

    How come you only pop up when trying to make a strong anti establishment point? You make some very valid points re income inequality in Bahrain and the role of charity. However, you lose the plot half way through ..

    First, I dont think that the arrest is a setback to what the King is trying to do. I think the arrest is an attempt to define acceptable forms of criticism. Its silimar in nature to what is going on in the debate on political societities. How does one make the opposition ‘legal’ and part of the system in order for it to grow into its most fudamental role which is to act as a checks and balances from within the system.

    Second. There is poverty in Bahrain. And the middle class is shrinking. And average wages are dropping. We all know that. However, to say that these villages are surviving on their charity boxes alone is not fair – since most of Bahrain contributes to their well being through zakat and through charity.

    Third, it is also incorrect to say that the F1 racetrack did not have any trickle down effect into Bahrain. The weekend race did bring in some good money into Bahrain, into the hotels and the car services and the restaurants and the goods and servoices that were bought. And, if you ever travel abroad, you will notice that the amount of recognition that the F1 brought to Bahrain is quite tangible. It is up to us to now leverage on that fact and build on it. Dubai built Burj Al Arab. Its a total monstrosity, but it worked as a landmark project. I dont think anyone made any money off it, and I dont think it will ever pay for itself, but it did a great job for marketing the country and the Dubains ended up building upon it quite well and developing a name in the tourist industry.

    Last, but not least, how much of this poverty increase is the PM’s fault, and how much of it is the sex lives of our Bahrainis where the average family sizes today do NOT reflect a resonable thought through process of what is financially viable in this day and age? I have said this before on this blog, and I will continue to say it until I am blue in the face. Our biggest problem and challenge that we face in Bahrain, (and in the Middle East as a whole) is our demographics. The fact that the majority of our population is below the age of 25. Most of them dont have jobs. Most of them are frustrated. And as we all know, unemployed youth with no hope for the future does not a birght future make.

    Is this situation the PM’s fault? I dont see how it is. However, if one were to guage the performace of his government in dealing with this issue, I dont think there would be any A’s there. Ditto with most of the leadership in the Middle East. What we need is a Thatcher. Someone who is tough and did not go wobbly. Will the Bahraini public want a Thatcher? There is a lot of short run upheaval in reforms. People might benefit in the long rujn, but definirely in the short. So, bottom line, the question is – how much are we, as Bahraini citizens, willing to give up today for a better future for our kids tomorrow?

    I will join you in the prayer for the release of Abdulhadi Alkhwjaha. I will also lead a prayer that we, as Bahrainis, take the responsability for our future into our own hands and – and start thinking about what kind of socio-econonomic-political future we would like our kids to have ..

    Jasra Jedi

  13. anonymous says:

    Re: Bahrainiya .. we missed you!

    wassup JJ,

    Yep, thats right I do only respond with anti-establishment objections Why? Cos i think its the only thing worth writing about. Secondly, the ‘establishment’ is at our doorstep and thirdly, I dont have that much time on my hands. So there is a large opportunity cost for me.

    Back to the topic. I dont think diplomacy works with Alkhalifa. The Bahraini opposition has been fighting for nearly a century in all shapes and form. Everything has been tried and tested; diplomacy, foreign intervention, violance, pacifism; but to no avail. As tribal rulars, the Alkhalifa will do anything to preserve their traditional structures of power and will resist all attempts to genuinely cede any of this power. That is the crux of the whole matter. This power is both political and economic. To say that demography is causing the economic problems is ridiculous. Population growth in bahrain is around 1.5-2 % in the UA it is above 5%. This only matters when GDP growth is lower.The large unemployment rate, is largely the symptom of poor economic development and labour market policies. Which ultimate responsibility lies with the Prime Minister. Any directly elected PM would have resigned or voted out a long time ago with a 15% unemployment rate let alone the abhorrant amount of corruption for which the list is endless but will provide shortly.

    Lastly, the sense of apathy in the country with a rubber-stamping shura assembly and an impeded elected assembly and the sense of betrayal by the King will only lead to further unrest and radical demands such as these in the future. The people feel they have nothing to lose, and the street is looking for heros and heroins such as Alkhwaja to confront the government. It is sad to paint such a dismal picture but i’m afraid that many people out there are willing to go to prison and have never been and are not scared of speaking out.

    We’ve all heard the Old Guard and New Guard theory, and that the Crown Prince is more progressive. All I can say is lets hope so, but he also has a long way to go to gain the people’s trust and that doesnt mean that the people will not go on fighting their own battle, even if it means they will lose everything. Bahrainis are very honourable people, who would rather uphold their principles than be seen to collaborate with the government who had oppressed the Bahrainis for 25 years.

    To trivialise the issue even more, is that the inherent problem is that the Baharna have never paid or sworn allegiance to the King, although they have decided to accept his rule.

    regards. Bahrainia

  14. fekete says:

    Something’s amiss (redux!)

    Good point ..

    However, you have papers that are known as trash journalism (National Enquirer) and those that have a better editorial reputation (NY Times, Washington Post). And we all saw what happened to the NY Times when they discovered that one of their reporters was making stuff up to augment a story line..

  15. fekete says:

    Re(1): Bahrainiya .. we missed you!

    Bahrainiya ..

    OK. we are in 2006. There has been a revolution in Bahrain, and the Al khalifa are no more.

    Describe this scenario for me please. What kind of alternative leadership are we looking at? how secular is it? And what are the top 5 issues that you, as potential PM, would be looking to solve in Bahrain? More fundamentally, how would you be solving them?

  16. salima44 says:

    Something’s amiss (redux!)

    Jasra

    Believe or not the Nat Enq has broken some big stories and the NYT did fire Blair but only AFTER his exploits went on for months. In essance they kept giving the guy a “break” due to his skin color. However the Nat Enq is a “tabloid” and you need to take what they say with 2 or 3 grains of salt instead of the standard 1 grain with the others.

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