Pyrrhic Victories

The Pearl has been cleared.

A pseudo-martial law is in effect.

Ten more protestors were killed, along with two security personnel and three expatriate residents as far as I can tell, bringing the total lives lost so far to 23 since Feb 14.

Six opposition figures have been apprehended, five of whom were just released days ago after being incarcerated for some five months.

Fear pervades the atmosphere, turning the country into a virtual ghost town.

Yet, protestors and the opposition parties seem to be as determined as ever to continue with their struggle, and I fear just as I predicted, this is going to be a long term struggle should the real issues not be expeditiously and amicably resolved. The alternative is far too ugly to consider; if people were inconvenienced by the burning of tyres before, they’d better get prepared for a lot more in the future. I doubt if there will be a limit to the acts of violence on both sides as desperate people do resort to desperate means, and wronged people do hold a grudge for generations. Do we really want this country to tread those paths?

I say again that this situation can never be resolved by the use of violence. A purposeful dialog with clear prerequisites, scope and vision conducted through agreed upon representatives is one way forward, but the regime does not need to await the start of these talks. They would do well by emulating Oman to demonstrate their seriousness and sincerity in seeking a long term resolution. Taking this initiative right now is very much mandated, and would have the added advantage of unmistakably sending signals to the world of their intentions and go some way to repair the badly bruised and tattered image of this country.

Demonstrations and protests are legitimate methods to voice demands and ensure that demands reach those in power. Intelligent people can then evaluate them and change, amend or create new policies to address them.

In Oman, much more tepid demonstrations that we have had resulted in a much needed wake-up call; and once that was recognised, the Sultan didn’t wait much to introduce deep reforms to his country, yet, as human nature would have it, they too want even more:

A few days after demonstrations in Sohar surprised everyone, Sultan Qaboos made modest changes, replacing several ministers and undersecretaries, advisers, and Majlis Al Dawla members. Against a wave of protests, and instead of delaying, he dismissed key aides, espoused freedom of speech by tolerating dissent, supported calls for accountability, and agreed to share power.

The sum total of these incredible transformations shook the political establishment even if they reaffirmed the ruler’s bold outlook.

Still, what surprised most was Muscat’s unabashed honesty in tackling what many assumed would never change. The first wave of seven decrees was proclaimed on February 28, addressing various concerns of the business community along with a Supreme Court and an ambassadorial appointment.

On March 1, two decrees set up a Consumer Protection Authority as well as an administratively and financially autonomous Public Prosecution Department.

Two days later, Sultan Qaboos amended the State Audit Institution and expanded its prerogatives and on March 6, named replacements for his long-time ministers of the diwan, royal office, as well as secretary-general of the royal court.

His most dramatic announcements came on March 7, in what one observer referred to as ‘the night of the long Khanjars’, when eight royal decrees restructured the Council of Ministers, appointed a new secretary-general for the Council of Ministers, selected a chairman for the State Audit and Administrative Institution, chose a chairman of the Tender Board, designated an adviser at the Diwan of Royal Court, picked an adviser for the Finance Ministry, assigned two new undersecretaries for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries respectively and, lo and behold, cancelled outright the Ministry of National Economy.

On Sunday, Sultan Qaboos granted legislative and audit powers to the two chambers that make up the Majlis Oman, and promoted a respected military officer as the new inspector general of police and customs.

Acting fast literally meant that the Sultan listened, adapted, and applied many of the demands that were deemed to be in the country’s best interests. Yet, the Sultan’s sweeping shake-ups, which ushered in many new faces in the government along with pay rises as well as promises to help create over 50,000 new civil service posts, failed to satisfy protesters.

Gulf News

Can the demands put forth by the opposition societies be evaluated and enacted in Bahrain as well? Of course they could, and without delay.

The demands of the Bahraini people are quite simple and universal: we need more democracy, guaranteed human rights and freedoms all leading to the opportunity to live with dignity. Do we really need any dialogue to enact these points? Of course not. The King can enact them immediately and the sooner the better. The regime has already unequivocally accepted the need for a more encompassing constitution, so what’s the harm in his majesty immediately declaring steps to initiate the formation of an elected constitutional council to discuss, agree and formulate this new constitution?

Once this critical step is taken, talks about all other matters can start and peace and calmness can truly be restored, and this time, for the long term, rather than the current intractable situation resulted in nothing but Pyrrhic victories.


  1. Mohd

    for my self I think that the list demand should be amended now. before any thing, the very first step should be dismissing this monstrous blood thirsty machine they call ministry of interior, I remember my cousin being shot in cold blood in the 90s, I remember the way they fired at us in the pro-Palestinian intifada march in the millennium, and this month was nothing but a confirmation, yesterday I saw a policeman running toward an injured guy, taking a picture of him, kicking him, and leaving him to bleed, 2 days ago I posted a video of a policeman emptying a rubber gun on an injured armless civilian.

    nothing will change as long as the gun is in the hand of the same guy that wants people dead. Mohamed Khalid clearly declared that a lot of his supporters are in the armed forces and that they are dying to kill some “shia”, we saw them firing at a man taking a video from his car while they were helping thugs intimidate our sisters and daughters.

    I think I deserve a night of good sleep not wondering if they will come in the middle of the night and take me to prison and torture me like they did to most prisoners in the past.

    until we are comfortable to say our opinion without fear we should not talk about any dialog what dialog would it be when my life is always in danger?
    a wiser man once said about a similar situation:

    حوار وطرف في يده بندقية
    والطرف الأخر يقتل بيد الدعية

  2. Chiara

    I was curious as to why you call this a pseudo-martial law?

    I understand that applying any “law” may be a euphemism for plain repression. Martial law usually officially gives immense powers to the government.

    Or do you mean pseudo as in technically called a “state of emergency”.

    Sorry to be picky, but I wondered if I were misunderstanding anything.

    I agree that violence breeds violence and dialogue is necessary. This violence seems highly asymmetrical, however.

    Great post as usual!

  3. Justin Gengler

    Hey Mahmood,

    Another good post. Continuing on your train of thought, one good place to start substantive negotiations is the issue of electoral districts. Indeed, increasing the power of the parliament (assuming this will make up a large part of any reforms) does no good if the seats are still essentially rigged.

    For a good illustration of the current gerrymandering of the electoral districts, see this map that overlays the districts won by al-Wifaq in 2010 with the dominant ethnic group in each location:

  4. Reader911

    I am just sick sick sick of hearing both sides

    Mahmood, you said…
    ” I doubt if there will be a limit to the acts of violence on both sides as desperate people do resort to desperate means”

    Why do you still say both sides ???

    Yes there are two sides in this unbalanced conflict

    One side has nothing except his bare chest and his prayers and to satisfy some hooligans who come read your blog they do hold at times sticks.

    The other side has FOUR Armies, Bahrain, Saudi, UAE and now Qatar is deploying its forces, armed with Tanks, Apaches and Automatic Machine guns.

    So, please Mahmood, get your head straight and do not equal both sides with your words.

    Who, says there is still chance for dialogue, is totally wrong because the chance for dialogue is abandoned by the government. If you want proof that the government wants dialogue than..

    Ask the government why there are FOUR armies facing the poor people of Bahrain???????????????

    1. Post

      I understand your frustrations. The presence of the armies here is (hopefully) temporary and calculated more as an inter-gcc PR exercise more than anything else. However, do also remember that I stressed that the effects of #feb14 will be generational and the violence it can generate through the generations will be untold, in both in possible loss of life and the disruption of normal life.

      I don’t write to pander to either side and do try my utmost to stay objective in things I write. I do err sometimes and I accept that. I don’t think this is one of those times; however.

      1. YoYo

        Sometimes we have to put our emotions aside and think objectively and deal with the reality, despite the fact that one side has more fire power. As in any project, we have to sit and re-plan at each stage as we go along.

        I see this as continuation of a democracy plan started in the 50s and 60s and will continue until the project is implemented.

  5. island girl

    As the Arab proverb goes; ‘One hand does not clap!’ I think your analysis is a tad bit simplistic and void of some facts, which for a Bahraini still clinging on to the hope that we can rise above seeing things based on one’s sect, deeply saddens me. But let us return to the facts:
    1) The CP offered a no holds barred dialogue, inclusive of ANY and ALL voices, validated by a referendum, taking into account ALL the nations demands. What could possibly be wrong with that? How is that not acceptable and fair to all? Are the other voices of this nation not worth being ‘evaluated and enacted’ upon too? Isn’t that the meaning of democracy? All voices count – Not just those who shout the loudest or from the landmark known as the GCC roundabout!
    2) For 3 weeks the CP reached out his hand to the opposition ‘leaders’ only to be turned away at the last second by a principle they knew all along he could not accept (Republic vs. Constitutional Monarchy). Why the stalling behind the scenes and escalation on the streets during this crucial time? Are these the actions of peaceful intentions or wise ‘leaders’?
    3) Sadly during these crucial days and weeks, the nation’s aspirations for REAL democracy were hijacked by the escalation tactics of the opposition, and people like you precipitated the situation by cheering on the misguided youths and extremists among them. This was a time for the moderates to speak up lest they get shunned by both ends of the extreme. Hence, where we are today.
    4) There is nothing more dignified than a one man one vote system, as opposed to having a select constituency dictate the path of a nation’s future! Truth is we are far ahead of Oman on many levels; Sultan Qaboos is merely playing catch up & they are not yet completely satisfied either, because not all stakeholders are being heard. Oman is not our benchmark nor should it be. We could have been progressed much farther than the GCC and other Arab countries had the intransigence of the opposition ‘leaders’ not limited our ‘simple and universal rights’ for greater democracy to their prerequisite or narrow filter of preconditions.
    Until we are able to see things beyond the lens of one’s sect, frankly we are not worthy of a REAL democracy. My hope is for the 2 hands to re join and agree that our common dignity, humanity and future depends not on voting based on ones religious or tribal leaders, but on what benefits ALL of Bahrain unequivocally. The most realistic way for that to occur within the context of our shared GCC identity is to track back to the CP’s offer. Clap Clap!!

    1. Post

      1. The dialogue offer still stands.

      2. I understand the opposition did respond to the CP who took 10 days to respond, according to the now incarcerated Ebrahim Sharim, Wa’ad’s Secretary General. Wefaq et al accepted the dialogue and wanted it to start within the auspicies of the Constitutional Council. Those who did call for the establishment of a Republic were shunned and in some cases laughed at. Though they provided the convenient expedient excuse to shut down attempts at moderation and the initiation of the dialogue which were well progressed. I could blame a few who contributed to the condition we are in today on top of the three republican parties. In the interest of propagating calm for now, I shall desist, but leave that to your erudite intellect.

      3. Not true and the blame is misplaced.

      4. I said “emulate” not take Oman as a benchmark. Though their efforts are laudable.

      5. The issues at hand have never been sectarian, but ironically quite secular. Your choice in making them sectarian denotes your particular convictions.

      1. Sky

        Mahmood I have read your blog for some time and greatly respect your liberal, moderate tone and plain common sense. Thank you, this is another excellent forward thinking post.

        I was also under the understanding that negotiations were well advanced and was horrified when it all fell through as I had been expecting it would soon bear fruit- perhaps I was naive or read the situation the way I wanted it to turn out rather than the way it actually was.

        I was unaware that the offer of dialogue was still open- what evidence do you have for that, perhaps I have missed an announcement or something, if it is true that’s the best news I’ve had for what feels like an eternity. I had thought that CP had perhaps been outflanked by more hawkish elements and that the window for dialogue was now closed.

        I hope it is true- and I hope the opposition take up those talks as soon as possible- Though with opposition leaders in detention and the state of emergency conditions at the moment are not conducive to that happening so the likelihood is low in my opinion. In the absence of direct talks the King unilaterally taking steps towards reform as you suggest would be most welcome and go a long way towards healing the rift between the regime and the people.

        1. Post

          Thank you Sky.

          The offer of dialogue was never withdrawn. It was re-affirmed in last night’s Foreign Minister’s press conference.

    2. Mohd

      1) CP never mentioned referendum, BTW the “Mithaq” was a referendum and one year later came the dismissal of it, and the landmark was destructed I wish they don’t demolish fateh next.

      2)any difference of opinion is accepted, and all sides agreed that khlifa should be removed what was his response and whats yours by the way?

      3) is Ebrahim Sharif an extremist? what kind of democracy is “REAL”? and thank you for admitting that this is a fake democracy :), and am I less of a citizen for being young, sadly your not the first to discriminate against me because of my age, how old are you?, mahmood can be described by nothing but a moderate follow him on twitter if you don’t know him (not defending you mahmood :)), and nobody should be silenced based on someone rating.

      4)”There is nothing more dignified than a one man one vote system” which is refused in Bahrain and fought against with 5 armies!, name me one sectarian demand, the list is on mahmood blog review it and paste your answer.

      5)the only way that occur with our human identity is not to attack opposing areas to kill it’s residents.

  6. Isa

    Its pretty clear that the government wants to “cleanse” the country. The pearl demolished entirely (including the monument). “Cleanse” is a word Government of Bahrain TV has used repeatedly (the arabic word Tat-heer). The same word Qaddafi uses. Google “Cleanse Opposition” and the majority of the links are about the atrocities in Libya.
    The Bahraini people are unarmed & powerless. Bahrain is under Pseudo Saudi rule. Pseudo-Marshal law because the constitution has a euphemism “National Safety” for the same thing. I fear for the innocent people of Bahrain. The US troops in this country sit idly by.. watching.. doing nothing.. This could be a large scale humanitarian crisis. Bahrain’s nationals are only 600,000 people or so in total. How many of them have to die before someone stops the government from shooting?

  7. Da Rebel

    Hang on, why are we making a comparison with Oman. Hmm, Sultan Qaboos, who, when there was an uprising in the past, allegedly ordered the ringleaders to be put into a C130 and flown out to the Empty Quarter. The plane allegedly came back empty. Same person?

    Sorry, I’m deviating from the point here.
    Bahrain is in a unique position and should not be compared with anywhere else.

    This afternoon the malls were open, but with very little business. Armoured roadblocks at the end of the road by the Crowne Plaza traffic lights. Otherwise there was a semblance of calm. . . before the storm?

    1. Post

      My friend, let’s recognise diabolical comparisons when true. In this case, I believe that Oman has made commendable progress which definitely should be lauded, if not emulated.

    1. Robok

      I don’t support BTV, but the don’t take credit for that claim. The image you’re referring to was fabricated, you should notice how the BTV logo is behind the image instead of being on top of it.

      In other news, this is from twitter (can’t remember the context but I think it was during Friday prayers lead by Sh.Isa Qassim):
      @Robin_FT but when 1 shouted “down with the regime” he immediately shut him up and the cry was NOT taken up. Progress.

      I seriously hope this trend gets around more, we need to calm the fuck down, everyone of us.

      1. Post
      2. Reader911

        I dont know what do you mean by images being fabricated

        But there are dozens of photos and videos showing the head wide open??

        I really do not know why are you saying the image is fabricated.

        There is a picture of him before being buried his head is fully covered with netting.

        1. Robok

          I didn’t want to post the image because it’s graphic, but I guess I should:


          That image is fabricated. I’m not saying the guy wasn’t killed, he was, I’m saying the BTV didn’t say that the image was taken from Palestine.

          If you want to verify that for yourself, notice how the image covers the BTV logo.

          I hope I explained myself better here.

          1. Da Rebel


            Did they fabricate the rest of the video that can be found on YouTube showing very clearly and upsettingly graphically how much damage was done to the lad? I saw the clip and there’s no way that was photoshopped or fabricated.

            To my untrained eye it looked like he had been shot a close range with a shotgun. The damage was that serious.

            Any rumours that abound saying that the photo was in Palestine are negated by the sign that quite clearly says ‘Sitra’ in the backgound.

            As for the BTV logo in the background, it is not unknown for pics and video to be superimposed in front of a logo.

            In my opinion, having seen the graphic video clip, the head shot is real, as are all the pellet wounds to the rest of his body.

            I’m certain that you could find the clip yourselves by inputting ‘sitra’ and/or bahrain into the search engine in YouTube. Only if you have a strong stomach and constitution though. These guys mean business and there’s no covering it up. You may not be able to believe traditional media as much these days when you have footage shot at the scene and posted rapidly on YouTube or other media. While captions may lie, the camera tends not to, at least when it comes to videos posted very soon after the event (not enough time to alter them.)

          2. Robok

            … I’m bad at explaining myself. I’ll try to summarize what I said:

            1- A boy was killed in the riots, and that is his image. I did not once question that fact. I have seen the video and various images of the same case.

            2- BTV _didn’t_ say that he was from Palestine.

            3- The entire picture saying that BTV said he is dead from events in Palestine is fabricated, not him being dead or him being from Sitra, just the claim that BTV said he is from Palestine.

          3. Mohd

            I was there and unfortunately confirm he is from my island sitra unless sitra is not a part of Bahrain and was given to Palestine BTV is just btving as usual

  8. Larie

    Wise words mr Mahmood. At the, as we call it, coffeepoint at the org i work (advising farmers in Maghreb and countries in the South) everybody comes from elswhere in the world. Or their parents did.

    In the exciting springtime of the Arab world words spoken at the coffeepoint can be, are most of the time, somewhat full of anger.

    One of the sites i show them is yours, because of you’r zooming out to temper the anger.

    I thank you, learn quite a lot from your posts, speak some standard arabic also. Lived in Amsterdam, learn it at the shops.


  9. Steve the American

    You know, a statue of Liberty would look good in that Pearl roundabout.

    1. Desert Island Boy

      Then how about you get your good buddies the frog-eaters to make a repeat of history and donate one!

      1. Steve the American


        Why don’t you build one yourself? The Chinese were able to make one in Tiannamen Square. Are they smarter than you?

        What if somebody made a big papier mache Statue of Liberty and planted it in the rubble of the Pearl Roundabout. Of course, the government would smash it. A photo of the smashed Liberty in the Pearl Roundabout would be a powerful image. That would be some terrible optics for the forces of repression.

        However, that said, I’m surprised by the negative reaction to Miss Liberty. It makes me wonder what exactly you are fighting for.55t

        1. Mohd

          lady liberty is a symbol of US and Maybe France, come on we can be unique :). I received a threat after posting a translation of the declaration of independence when I told them that it’s not my own writing they were surprised that it’s not about Bahrain, that shows we share the same hopes. I suggest a monument on the shape of a lighthouse as a sign of a beacon of democracy, that would scare the s#!t out of the gulf dictators 😀

          1. Steve the American

            Lady Liberty is a universal symbol of a human right. Why reinvent the wheel?

        2. Desert Island Boy

          You know, Steve

          A relative of mine was a supplier of the concrete that went into the Pearl Roundabout monument (among many of the others that adorn our wonderful island nation). But so what?; it’s just concrete.

          I care far more about a just and peaceful society, while you pratter on about “a powerful image”.

          I’m fighting for the future of a nation. I could give a sh!t about optics and image. Most of us want more than an image of purple fingers. We just want a society where no one lives or dies on what crumbs fall off the Khalifa table.

          1. Steve the American

            Bahrain could use some purple fingers. It’s worth considering that Iraqis under Evil American Occupation have more rights and freedom than Bahrainis do under their own government.

            When you are outgunned, as you are, in your fight, you can still win the moral fight with arguments and images. You don’t just fold your cards and say, what’s the point. You use all the channels to press your point.

            And really, in the long term, it is better to win through images and arguments than by war. Look at how the Soviet Union was defeated by its own dysfunction but also because its leadership lost faith in its legitimacy and effectiveness. The Soviet flag fell over the Kremlin without World War 3 erupting, which was the very best way.

          2. Willard

            For Steve the “American” a quote from GB Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra

            “Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.”

          3. Steve the American


            A specious argument. What kind of fool believes liberty to be a barbarous virtue? Look at the barbarous states and you’ll find no liberty there. After all, the world aspires to the liberty found in America, not the oppression found in the barbarous Arab nations. If Bahrainis reject liberty, then what is their revolution about?

          4. Willard


            You completely missed the point of my post.

            The Statue of Liberty is not a universal symbol. There are plenty of people in the world who would not recognize the statue as anything other than a crowned woman holding a tablet and a torch.

            Just as many “Americans’ would have no idea at all who Marianne is.

            There are at least two problems with thinking one belongs to an exceptional race or people. First, it leads to all sorts of immoral and irresponsible behavior by those who think the Deity has mandated them to guide the world. Second, when the inevitable change of fortunes occurs it represents a crushing blow to one’s belief system. If indeed American’s short lived and temporary economic and military prowess is due to having the right relationship with the Deity, when China or India assumes that spot or even become equal then does that validate Vishnu or the Tao?

  10. Willard

    Isn’t the root cause of the problem that the ruling family realizes that if there is a functioning democracy in Bahrain, its days in power will shortly be over? As will likely be its residence in the country, unless it is incarcerated before it can escape.

    And for other powers both neighboring and far away that any truly representative government in Bahrain is more likely to be friendly with the Islamic Republic than with its current friends?

    1. Desert Island Boy

      King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia is pretty much on record that he is unwilling to cede to the Iranian ruling council of mullahs the moral victory of Saudi Shi’ites seeing the light of day from under the crushing weight of his thumb.

      Bahrain’s Shi’a population is approximately a fifth of the one in Saudi Arabia (unofficial estimate). An uprising in Bahrain is far more manageable to the House of Al-Saud than one right on top of the Ghawar oilfields-at least that seems to be their calculation. Friendliness towards Iran isn’t an issue when it’s Qatar, the UAE or Oman, none of whom have a majority Shia population, all of whom have cordial relations with the Islamic Republic.

      I still believe that the Crown Prince would have held a good faith negotiation, had he been given the option. The Al-Saud just pushed all their chips to the middle of the table and now everyone else, even the US has to play to their stakes. They will either have bought their way out of a bad hand, or merely instigated a detente with Iran. CP has no good option but to fold; this has just gone above his pay grade.

      The Saudi’s have either grossly misread the situation and so decided that this was a great opportunity to flex some muscle at Iran. They are basically playing a game against Iran, and the Bahraini “democratic” experiment is merely a pawn in their posturing.

  11. Willard

    شكرا جزيلا

    بنسبة للإمارات أ ليس لها مشاكل مع إيران حول الجزر؟

  12. Ali G


    I am not into politics, I never been into politics, but whats going on is destroying our social life, our communities. What the hell wrong when people mixed up religion with politics!!!! To support anti-sectarianism we have to stop people from posting into FB or facebook by articls and videos that touches the other party. There is no reason of posting such things now, you will not be able to convince the other party, we just want our social life to go back to normal. we have created am accoun on twitter called @Anti_sctariansm, our goal is not to change politics view of people, our goal is to help our community and social life to go back to normal, we all make this communities including expacts regarless of their religion, we just need our life back… keep your politics view, I really dont care, we want our normal life back.
    I want your support in joining and being active in this initiative.

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