All it takes, is a spark.

8 Mar, '11

Like the Great War which started with a single bullet, Bahrain too can descend into real chaos by just a single, stupid, miscalculated, and unwarranted incident. The ground has never been as fertile as it is today to transform a spark into an inferno.

Let’s not dwell on the various incidents sponsored by extremists on both sides. Thankfully they have not yet found their resonance due mostly to the new and very laudable patience and understanding exhibited through the curtailed security forces, and the many opposition parties who have behaved in an exemplary and proactive fashion to contain further escalation and ameliorate inflammable passions.

But can the situation continue in such a manner for much longer?

None of the wars fought in history got resolved purely through violence. All ended through negotiations by sitting across tables on which highly complex issues were discussed and agreements reached; thus, saving countless lives in the process. I suspect that the treaties which endured were always a mutually acceptable and practical compromises in which the conditions for ending the hostilities were clearly defined, established common grounds and plotted the way forward to rebuilt not only the nation, but the shattered trust through atrocious acts of war. This is a much more difficult and courageous act than firing a gun or dropping a bomb, and this, unfortunately takes generations to repair.

The political societies have started talking with each other now. This is an excellent first step. We see that the leaders of the Unity Movement represented by Shaikh Abdullatif Almahmood and the seven core opposition parties sat across from each other for three hours yesterday to set up their vision and aspirations for the country. There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that every single person sitting at that table had the best interest of Bahrain at heart, and I know that through them a lasting solution to the situation shall be found. Unfortunately, those at the Pearl Roundabout were missing from that meeting and a concerted effort must be mounted soon in order to engage them in the process too. Their demands must be considered and integrated into the agenda. If the opposition now starts negotiating with them to advise them of the efficacy of their demands and timings, that would be even better.

With this development, I am more optimistic and am relatively confident that a resolution is within grasp. What can push that condition away; however, is any escalation in irresponsible behaviour, be that calls for more sectarian strife and differentiation perpetrated by so called religious leaders, or the intransigence of the protestors.

The protestors specifically must also realise that with the great freedom they are currently enjoying in expressing themselves and their freedom to assemble at will, their responsibilities by definition are now greater than ever. They must realise that any violence perpetrated by any single person within them now has the power to damage their credibility and that of their demands.

The last thing we need from them is to continue to unnecessarily block the movement of traffic, as they have at the Financial Harbour yesterday, or attack foreigners and locals who find themselves caught up in their midst by design or accident, or vandalise property and cars.

A more dangerous escalation would be to actively seek guaranteed confrontation, be that protesting in front of the Royal Court or any of the other sensitive vicinities. That’s an act that is unneeded and unwarranted at this particular time. It is foolish to expend all the good cards in their possession with complete disregard to timing. They need to continuously keep the plain objectives in their minds, which are the intrinsic reforms needed in this country while also remembering that they are not alone here. There are others who have just as legitimate demands and fears which must be addressed.

My humble advice to my fellow Bahrainis and our many sympathisers is to tirelessly work at not converting erstwhile friends to enemies. Don’t lose friends now, but cherish them. Their views might be completely divergent from your own, true, but this is the spice of life. Learn the art of dialogue and remember – please – that it’s not the loudest voice that is always right, but that which is backed by logic and reason. Even if an agreement cannot be reached, let us at least accept differing views, or at minimum respect their right to have them. If the opinion is intractable, learn to agree to disagree, but keep this question always at the forefront of your mind: What’s better for Bahrain and its future? What kind of Bahrain would I want my children and their children to inherit?

We will need to live with each other after all of this is over, regardless of the outcome. We need to rebuild a better and more encompassing Bahrain for all. For that, we will need friends much more than the a collection of enemies who were created because of an ill-judged comment or an impatient act.

I have a dream.

My dream is one where social justice pervades this land, where every single person lives with dignity, where there is respect for human rights and where peaceful coexistence is the norm.

Regardless of where fate might take us, I love you, my fellow Bahraini.

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Comments (37)

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  1. Alia says:

    Good, calming words. I wish the people creating the chaos (on either side) can read this, but something tells me they won’t. In the meantime, we will keep all fingers and toes crossed 🙂

  2. Asma says:

    Totally agreed. We have to learn to co-exist as you said bcoz eventually we would have to after this whole thing ends – hopefully with good results.

    I’m optimistic – always have been – and I believe that Bahrain can do this. It can pass this sect. war – if I may call it – sucessfully. And that this “experience” would definitely help in the making of a better stronger Bahrain with more knowledgeable youth.

    I hope your dream, “our” dream comes true Mahmood!

    Great article! I likes!

  3. Observer says:

    This is what I was saying yesterday.
    God bless Bahrain.

  4. Jabarty says:

    How many of us believe that state controlled BTV / radio only encourage sectarian strife?

    Does this not entirely contradict the CP, the FM and other officials when they ask for dialogue/negotiations and say they want to bring unity in the country?

    Sorry but you cannot ask for people to believe in your good intentions while at the same time stabbing them in the back.

  5. AZ says:

    Dear Mahmood,

    Reading your post made today, as well as learning more about the meeting between the United Bahraini Front with the seven political societies yesterday, gives me a much needed reassurance that things can work out for the better (in arabic; thalajt 9adree)

    I honestly don’t think i’ve heard a more sound and well balanced opinion in the regards of the current incedents then yours, I cannot fault anything you wrote, & I do hope with all sincerity that more Bahrainis begin to see things from such a perspective.

    If you don’t mind sir; would you mind if I post a link to this topic on my facebook page?

  6. Johnster says:

    Do you think the demonstration will actually go ahead in Riffa’ on Friday? It’s rather like the Proddies marching down the Falls Road.

    • mahmood says:

      Indeed. But, consider for a moment a different scenario if you will:

      1. Protesters do go to the Royal Court to protest.
      2. Royal Court sends out three groups of people to meet them: one to provide water, two to collect the rubbish and empty bottles, and the third to invite them to come in and start the dialogue, or register the protestors’ demands.
      3. Protestors do their duty and adjourn back to the Pearl Roundabout, in busses provided / or paid for by the Royal Court

      Do you think that this will go some way in showing sincerity in the calls to dialogue?

  7. indianexpat says:

    Sir,
    I am an indian expat in bahrain, and as such many would say unqualified to speak on this subject. I must say however that I have been reading your blogs for five years now, without commenting on any, was very sad when you quit blogging, glad when you came back. And that whatever you have written right now is exactly what I would have written if qualified to do so. I just hope that there is some way all bahrainis read what you have written and heed your advice. This is a volatile period, and sides need to sit down at a table, not provocate and test patience of each other. Maybe you need to be called as a mediator. You seem to be the only Sensible voice in this chaos. You and the Crown Prince that is. I hope to god your voices will prevail.

  8. Herman says:

    Mahmood for minister of interior?

  9. exclamation mark says:

    Well,

    We have hooligans like Mohammed Khalid and Jassim Al Saeedi calling for violence against the Shia.

    After the violence that occured in Hamad Town, the same had occured at Al Busaiteen yesterday, with people roaming with sticks, irons rods and swords.
    http://www.alwasatnews.com/3105/news/read/531102/1.html

    Pshycos like Mohd Khalid and Al Saeedi need to be held accountable for what they said, and they had direct responsibility for both what happened in Hamad Town and Muharraq.

    Sh. Abdul Lateef should take strong actions in denouncing the acts of such people. Standing in a news conference won’t be enough enfortunately with the amount of social damage that he started.

    • mahmood says:

      Under which law will they be prosecuted? Although even the current constitution does have sections stating that no discrimination between citizens will be tolerated, we do not have an effective anti-discrimination law which is implemented. I suspect that both of those gentlemen would have been behind bars a long time ago had we that particular law. This is something that must be addressed in negotiations (not Khalid and Saidi, they’re both insignificant in the scheme of things, but rather a law which criminalises such practices.)

      • exclamation mark says:

        If there is no law found in Bahrain, such a law is available outside Bahrain, the ICC for example…

        The interpol…

        What about those Govts. accpeting such complaints from outside those countries like Germany. As an example, Sh. Abdulla Bin Jebreen, a prominent anti shia scholar, who called for the killing of the Shia in Iraq during the sectarian war, was about to be arrested in Germany, as some had posted a complaint on Bin Jebreen for enocuraging genocide. He was intending to go to Germany for medical treatment, but others were waiting for him.

        It is unfortunate to know that justice is possbile outside the country not within

        But still, things need to stop at once…

  10. Mohamed Ebrahim says:

    I can’t agree with “exclamation mark” more. I also think that the 2nd sermon of Sh.Alateef has very much ignited the “Self-Defense” light, and opened doors for interpretations. Anybody could hit anybody and just run, with the “Self-defense” excuse. The lady used the same excuse; and I am not arguing here whether she was actually attached or not. Our leaders should be very careful in their speeches, we should all have “good faith” in other people’s actions.

    These events will cause the al-fateh and Lulu guys to divide further into smaller fractions after been united. And that’s my friends, “Divide and Conquer.”

  11. Mohamed Almubarak says:

    Great post Mahmood.
    I think that the pearl youth and all the people protesting there and in the rallies have geniune demands, and their movement will, I hope, take us to a better and more just Bahrain..
    I also aknowledge that our friends who rallied at AlFatih have the right to make their voice heared and their genuine demands considered by the government..
    However, it is very critical that at this moment that all sensible people try to make very clear the real danger lying in the escalation of sectartain strife…
    I think this post should be translated to Arabic so that it can reach more people. I could do that if you wish..

  12. milter says:

    I totally agree, lasting solutions can only be found through talks, and, most importantly, compromises.

    Mona Eltahawy once said: “I became a feminist in Saudi Arabia, a liberal, secular Muslim in Israel and soon after a bumble bee”:

    http://www.monaeltahawy.com/blog/?p=82

    Why doesn’t the word “secular” appear much more often in statements and comments? Is it because that word has been made synonymous with “atheist” by people that will not let go of religious dogmas?

    What better solution to finding common ground is there? As the Sudanese born professor Abdullahi An-Nai’m said at a meeting in Copenhagen: “I need a secular state to be the kind of Muslim I need to be.”

    http://www.religion.dk/artikel/14905:Synspunkt–Vi-maa-kraeve-Sharia-tilbage

    • Mojo jojo says:

      Why you say? Because most of the religious folks here realize that secular values and Islamic ones cannot be reconciled, most who try to, either end up being closet atheists (like myself), or… like the folks you mentioned above, lamented by their fellow believers, adored by everyone else. Ironic, isn’t it?

  13. Muzafari says:

    It gets duplicated
    Mindless violence
    Well let me try to paint it
    Here’s the 5 steps
    In hopes to explain it
    One!
    It’s me and my Nation against the World
    Two!
    Then me and my Clan against the Nation
    Three!
    Then me and my Fam’ against the Clan
    Four!
    Then me and my brother we no hesitation
    Uh!
    Go against the Fam’ until they cave in
    Five!
    Now who’s left in this deadly equation?
    That’s right, it’s me against my brother
    Then we point a Kalashnikov
    And kill one another
    – K’naan

  14. hek says:

    I’m an expat and have been living here for close to 3 years. Some observations:

    -firstly, well said Mahmood
    -i just hope sensibility prevails on both sides because bahrain is one of the nicest places in the arab world and bahrainis are some of the nicest people i have come across
    -at a fundamental level there is nothing wrong with what the protestors/oppostion are asking for – freedom/right to have a say is taken for granted where i come from and has been for the last 100 odd years
    -before people jump up and down and say well you probably don’t get things for free like these people do in bahrain so they should stop complaining
    -nothing in life is free, where i come from you pay taxes and in return you get free healthcare (of a pretty high standard) for all, free education, housing for low income earners, social security benefits for the unemployed, disabled, old
    -but most importantly you get FREEDOM
    -someone said to me recently what is more important than money? answer: freedom
    -whilst bahrain is probably better then most other gcc or arab countries when it comes to people’s freedoms it is still a long way behind
    -why are these people protesting day in/day out – its like a child who has been deprived of all his toys and suddenly gets given all the toys in the world!
    -isn’t it better to aspire to something better rather than saying quit complaining cos you are better of than ksa?
    -what the opposition are asking for is probably not going to happen overnight but at the same time the goverment needs to bring in ‘real’ reform

    this is slightly off topic but i think a small part of the overall problem (that needs to be ‘fixed’) at least in the GCC countries. why does the government allow the importation of unskilled labour when there are unemployed locals who can do the work? partly because it is cheaper to import unskilled labour and partly because the locals just don’t want to do certain jobs. i pay my maid/nanny close to BD200 per month. will an unemployed unskilled bahraini come and do this work in my house?
    Saudi has 20m locals – yet it imports construction workers, maids, waiters, etc! most countries import skilled labour until their own people get skilled to do the work themselves.

    this attitude to work has to change!

  15. Steve the American says:

    My recommendation is to keep things peaceful and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. It’s much easier to negotiate your differences before a civil war than after, where the trust necessary to a civil society is the first casualty.

    Many riots begin when the decent people abandon the streets to the hooligans, who thread the needle for a civil war. Look at what damage the French Revolution did to France. The current civil war in Libya will damage it for generations.

    It’s very hard to get the violent genie back in the bottle once it’s been uncorked.

  16. exclamation mark says:

    I hope this is not true and just a threat

  17. Wayne Job says:

    Mahmood I read this blog and your sentiments almost paralell the original American constitution and declaration of independence.
    If you can come close to that you will have a free society, I will keep my fingers crossed.

  18. Woodrose says:

    I very much appreciate your calm and mature tone, Mahmood. I share your hope for peace and prosperity for all Bahrainis.

    There’s an old saying: If you want peace, work for justice.

    The current dictatorship in Bahrain is unjust and an affront to human dignity, and there has been no commitment to real change, to date. The lack of action from the monarchy creates the tinderbox awaiting the spark.

    ACTION is needed from the king, now! After a decade of talk but no follow-through, I can understand why the protesters are not eager for more pointless dialogue with a king and prime minister and crown prince who just ignore their demands and laugh all the way to the bank.

    The actions taken to date by the king have been somewhat positive, but essentially meaningless without actual changes to the system. Releasing a blogger and others from prison just points out how ridiculous and unjust it was to imprison them as terrorists in the first place. They can be jailed again tomorrow, at the whim of the king.

    Same for the protests. They were fired upon at the whim of the king, are now being allowed at the whim of the king, and could be shot dead tomorrow if the king’s mood changes.

    The king needs to set up a functioning constitutional monarchy, now. Invite a respected international group to set up fair elections for a constitutional convention, now. Rescind the egregious property gifts to the obscenely wealthy royal family, now.

    For longlasting peace in Bahrain, the king must move quickly to create a system for justice and dignity and freedom for Bahrainis, and become a figurehead monarch. It is solely within his power.

    Or, is it? I have read some articles which indicate that King Hamad can only do what King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia allows. In which case, the revolution will have to be broadened to include Saudis in order to have any chance of success. And it would also make truly futile any dialogue with Abdullah’s puppet.

  19. Salman says:

    A group of thugs just attacked a Bahraini outside Salmaniya Medical Complex. He suffered a deep cut to his forehead and his cheek with a sharp object.

  20. exclamation mark says:

    Last night, attacks to stores and outlets by thugs just because they are businesses owned by Shia thinking that they support the people protesting in the Pearl roundabout

    Things could become worse…

  21. Da Rebel says:

    There has been an interesting series of articles on the BBC on freedom of speech in the Far East recently. Interesting because it highlighted Singapore.

    As we know, Singapore is a very successful state. Businesses are booming and the economy is strong. Generally the standard of living is very good and the citizens have the opportunity to better themselves and prosper, even though there are strong ethnic divides between the Singaporeans of native, Chinese and Indian origins. A prosperous society, but is it a democracy? NO. Step out of line and criticise the government, the powerful state institutions that are bringing wealth to the country or religion and you’re in deep s**t.

    As one Indonesian interviewed pointed out,and I’m paraphrasing ‘Singapore has a strong economy, but no democracy. Indonesia has a democracy, but nothing else. . .’

    Which do we actually want here in Bahrain? Would we rather see the economy prosper and people live in harmony, or have a democracy and the economy falter? Can we realistically aspire to have both? ? ?

    Contentiously yours.

  22. Hello Mahmood,

    I am wondering your take on the ‘Manama Dialogue’ program pitting Sh. Salman against Salah ‘Ali. Did you happen to see it Thursday night (9pm, I think) on Al-Jazeera Mubasher?

    If not, I have a partial summary of the debate on my blog, since I can’t find an Arabic transcript anywhere. Also al-Wifaq has posted the videos to YouTube.

    http://bahrainipolitics.blogspot.com/2011/03/manama-dialogue-debate.html

    Best,

    Justin

  23. Anonny says:

    ‘Da Rebel’

    You can realistically aspire to have both.

    #thisisnotrocketscience

  24. Robok says:

    Well it’s on. I was in the university a few hours ago, and some students protested as soon as news were out that the Lulu Roundabout was attacked, they gathered in the large yard used for celebrations, chanted their slogans loudly and sometimes directly at the Dean of the UOB, they also got harassed constantly by a bunch of idiots who kept throwing chairs and tables at everyone (guys AND girls)and running away, it almost turned violent for more than a few times, but the protesters held back.

    Anyhow, the Dean threatened to use riot police against the students, but after some talk he said he wouldn’t, Prayer time comes, some of us go to pray, and not even before we could finish, we hear screams and hitting sounds. Apparently the same guys from yesterday came up alongside the Riot police and started attacking the students (again, guys AND girls) with what I could see was swords, pipes, sticks and stones. Naturally no one stood around to get hit, but they extended their violence to even the mosque and tried to attack the girls _right there_, from what I hear they were stopped.

    I got out of there as soon as I could, but I saw the thugs of the government outside throwing rocks at cars passing by and hitting them with sticks. A group of protesters from outside also arrived at the scene, and I could see this time peace wasn’t the intention, everyone was fearful for their daughters and sisters and wanted to get in and make sure they are safe.

    The country is a mess, the King no longer has control over his thugs, and given how they acted, hate was in the air. The time for a decision will come soon after this, and I hope to god we can work this out without further loss of life or anyone getting hurt.

  25. Mahmood, yours is a much needed voice of love and reason in Bahrain. I’ve been watching events unfold today, Sunday, as the temperature rises. I’ve been following the squawks of hatred from both sides on Twitter.

    Just last night I was blogging about how events in Bahrain remind me of the slow descent into civil war in Lebanon, which I watched first-hand in 1975. God forbid that the same should happen in Bahrain, but the signs are not good.

    Your clarity of thought, your concern for your fellow-man shines out like a beacon. Unfortunately, even beacons can be difficult to see when ideology and sectarianism throw up a smokescreen around them.

    If my best wishes could change anything, you have them.

  26. Bahraini says:

    “MANAMA: One person was killed and another was fighting for life last night after allegedly being attacked by youths in Manama. Pakistani Abdul Malik, 30, was on his way to buy food when he was fatally attacked at around 7.30pm. Pakistan Embassy charge d’affaires Aurangzeb confirmed the death.”
    That’s what the demonstrators want to convey to the rest of the world….either their demands are met which are basically ridiculous or chaos will continue to rule the streets of Bahrain. They’re making it hard to find any sympathizers in the outside world unless of course we’re talking about Iran.

  27. James Freemon says:

    Very Powerful people outside your country have a vested interest in ending this rising now.

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
    ~George Washington

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