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If Bahrain is to learn something useful…

I agree. Wholeheartedly and hope against hope that something could be done, quickly, and hope once again that it’s still not too late to save this country and its people. All of them.

Bahrain Should Heed Lessons from Ireland

9-29-2011
By Brian Dooley
Director, Human Rights Defenders

Take two small island nations, each situated off the coast of a major power. Both have a history of sectarian conflict, fake democracy and misrule by monarchy. Both have a strategically important deepwater naval base. Crucially, both have a police force recruited almost exclusively from one of the sects.

Both have populations of around a million and a half, and both enjoy the dubious legacy of British colonialism and the traditions of its security apparatus.

There are differences, of course. Bahrain remains one country while Ireland was cut into two almost 90 years ago in a makeshift political solution to create Northern Ireland, which has a Protestant majority largely keen on continued British rule and loyal to the British monarch. In Northern Ireland, the fight for civil rights for Catholics (or for “parity of esteem” in modern jargon) has been conducted largely in the rain, cold and damp, whereas Bahrainis’ struggle happens in extreme heat and sunshine.

From the early 1920s, when Northern Ireland was created, the largely Protestant ruling class excluded Catholics from top government jobs, and the police force was almost exclusively Protestant, fiercely loyal to the British Protestant monarch. Electoral districts were gerrymandered to give Protestants a permanent electoral advantage even in areas like Derry, which had a Catholic majority.

In Bahrain, electoral districts are gerrymandered in favor of Sunnis, while Shias are excluded from top government jobs. The police force is almost exclusively Sunni, fiercely loyal to the Sunni monarch.

In 1968, inspired by the Prague Spring, Northern Ireland saw its first civil rights protests. A wave of pro-democracy marches and demonstrations swept Europe, from Prague to Warsaw to Belgrade to Paris and beyond. In Derry in Northern Ireland, the protests were met with a violent crackdown from the security forces. Within a year, with protests escalating, the police in Northern Ireland had to be reinforced by soldiers sent from neighboring Britain.

This year, inspired by the Arab Spring and demonstration in Tuni, Cairo and elsewhere, Bahraini pro-democracy activists organised huge protests which were met with a violent crackdown from the security forces. Within a month, with protests escalating, the police in Bahrain had to be reinforced by soldiers sent from neighboring Saudi Arabia.

We could go on, listing the similarities in the special court systems, the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, the shooting of peaceful protestors, the deaths in custody, the fake shows of dialogue about power-sharing, the allegations of foreign conspiracies (led by Tehran or the Vatican), the social segregation of people living in different areas and shopping in different stores.

In neither place has the sectarianism been primarily theological. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were not killing each other over issues of transubstantiation or the rightful place of Jesus’ mother Mary in the pantheon of Christian hierarchy. The sensitive issues, like in Bahrain, were about identity, ‘foreignness’ and allegiance to the ruling elite. In both places too there were and are many exceptions to the Catholic v Protestant, Sunni v Shia equation. Not all Protestants were anti-reform, just as many Sunnis are embarrassed at the King’s intransigence and anti-democracy crackdown.

But what’s most useful is to see how some progress has been made in Northern Ireland. The clumsy British response to the civil rights demands for equal access to government jobs and services and to votes pushed many of those marching for civil rights to more radical solutions.

By the early 1970s the guerrilla IRA has resurfaced, and a long war of attrition began against the British security forces. More than 3,000 people died in the following 30 years until a political deal was finally reached.

If there are parallels, it would be nice to think that Bahrain might skip the decades of killings and chaos and go straight for the solution. The reforms in Northern Ireland have not been perfect. The most difficult has been in revamping the security forces. Decades of mistrust are hard to overcome, and Catholics are still reluctant to join the police force (rebranded with a new name and symbols) that was loathed and feared for so long.

But progress has been made, and there is a sense of a shared future, not competing and conflicting versions of how the next generation will live.

If Bahrain is to learn something useful from the experience of Northern Ireland it might start by:

  • accepting that these protests aren’t going away without wholesale, deep-rooted reforms;
  • making Shia teenagers believe they have a future in the country, and possibly a government job;
  • making everyone’s vote worth the same;
  • stopping the manipulation of state media;
  • starting to talk to opposition leaders, including those it claims are terrorists, and including those in jail;
  • accepting outside mediation and support (in the case of Northern Ireland the Clinton Administration played an invaluable role);
  • realizing that by refusing to share any power they risk losing it all.

Source: Human Rights First

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What will it take, to effect change?

The Dalai Lama was asked by Mother Jones Magazine in 1997 what he thought it would take for China to change its policy toward Tibet.

He responded with:

It will take two things: first, a Chinese leadership that looks forward instead of backward, that looks toward integration with the world and cares about both world opinion and the will of [China’s] own democracy movement; second, a group of world leaders that listens to the concerns of their own people with regard to Tibet, and speak firmly to the Chinese about the urgent need of working out a solution based on truth and justice. We do not have these two things today, and so the process of bringing peace to Tibet is stalled.

But we must not lose our trust in the power of truth. Everything is always changing in the world. Look at South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. They still have many problems, setbacks as well as breakthroughs, but basically changes have happened that were considered unthinkable a decade ago.

I think if we look at our own situation in Bahrain in this enlightened context, we might be looking at a tangible solution to our current problems.

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The King Speaketh

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I was happy to learn of the King’s speech on Aug 28th, 2011. As has become his custom, he addressed the nation at the end of Ramadhan. In his much awaited speech, he addressed several issues, but did not offer any new political concessions, probably leaving those to the enactment of the National Dialogue demands.

In his speech, he ordered:

  • pardoning all those who insulted him during a month of pro-democracy protests
  • civilians that were being tried in military courts for their participation in the protest will eventually be handled by civil courts
  • those employees who were dismissed from their jobs will be reinstated
  • dismissed students shall be reinstated
  • those who had been mistreated in custody in the aftermath of the crackdown should file a complaint as that the law allows compensation for them

I wonder how long those responsible in government will take to enact these orders. Recent history suggests; however, that they will either be ignored, or some excuses will be created to slow down their implementation to the degree that frustration will continue to rise in the country.

The king also stated:

“The recent period was painful to all of us. Although we live in one country, some have forgotten the inevitability of coexistence. Therefore, we should not abandon our belief in having the same and common future, and should not lose trust in each other as brothers, colleagues and citizens.”

King Hamad once again reminded us that our common denominator should be our Bahraininess, rather than our personal religious beliefs. These thoughts are nobel, of course; however, I’m afraid for them to be implemented in reality much more is needed. You do not inculcate this sense of belonging and unity via slogans and banners on the streets. What is needed is action and lead by example in order to restore faith. Courageous unconventional steps must be shown in practice to show that the regime is absolutely serious about wanting the issues which beleaguered the country resolved, and of course, the opposition must now help in this by allowing the benefit of the doubt to be given and received. Also, the continuous deluge of filth and sectarianism pouring out of the mouths of known so called clerics and MPs like Mohammed Khalid, Jassim Alsaidi and others of the same ilk without any public censure by the regime. The same should be applied to the filth being broadcast on the official media channels and sectarian newspapers and so called journalists, rather than celebrating them by seeing their pictures being greeted by very highly placed officials in the country. The message these actions promote is the diametric opposite of what the king is espousing publicly.

Like many of my compatriots, I am rather tired of the duplicity happening in our country. I am convinced that nothing will fix this situation and bring Bahrain back to the normality we all desire than actual determined and unambiguous actions by the country’s top officials to fight this disparity with absolute and unwavering resolve.

Let’s hope that this speech is a harbinger of better things to come. Eid Mubarak Bahrain.

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Wall of WHAT?

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I know I know, I’m a glutton for punishment. That’s why even while on holiday, I can’t help but follow the news in Bahrain; but then I give myself a break and some hilarity by reading the Bahraini local papers online and chief amongst those providing me of some merriment of course are the sycophantic Gulf Daily News and the incredibly unimaginative and obsequious Daily Tribune. I tend to not look at Akhbar Alkhaleej, Alwatan or Alayam unless I feel that my blood pressure is on a low side that particular day, leaving my edification of all things news about my little spit of a country to international online sources of repute.

As to the “noos”, it’s no surprise that all local papers are leading with something or another about the forthcoming by-elections, with a continuous articles and bylines “encouraging” the electorate to go to the ballot boxes and submit their votes. The areas affected of course are those vacated by the Al-Wefaq 18 who were responsible for over 187,000 voters accounting for 48% – 65% of the eligible electorate, depending on who you talk to.

I use the term “encouraging” with poetic license here of course, because all I’ve read so far does not entice voters to participate, but threaten them almost with ex-communication if they don’t! The regime, not unsurprisingly, wants this “political experiment” to succeed, or at least give the impression of success; hence, they seem to be using their usual mouth-pieces and threat of arms – as in police protection to voters – to do so.

The “encouragement” is somewhat contradictory though. Consider this from the Al-Mahmood who intriguingly called for the dismissal of the reigning prime minister – one of the ubiquitous red lines the country is filled with – only to now make concerted and continuous efforts to retract those statements by espousing even more extreme – and sometimes farcical – positions, like this one for instance, to probably compensate for his error in judgement, ehm, sorry, the Washington Times misrepresenting his statements:

A total of 187,080 people will be eligible to cast their ballots during the September 24 election being held to fill seats vacated by members of opposition group Al Wefaq. Authorities have pledged to do their utmost to safeguard voters and candidates after several candidates said they were threatened by groups opposed to the process.

Dr Al Mahmood condemned those who were seeking to pressurise Bahrain’s silent majority in the name of religion or sect.

Okay… strange that a cleric opposes using religion for anything, it’s their stock-in-trade and the reason for their existence in any case.

Quoting the Quran, he said Muslims must cherish the values of uprightness and probity while assuming their duties towards their well-being and that of humanity. [source]

Ah, that’s better! He’s quoting the Quran. So it’s okay for him but not for the others. I understand.

I don’t particularly care what any cleric says in regards to pluralism and democracy because we already know their positions intimately. What I do care about is the position of the state in this; if it censures one cleric for meddling in politics, why doesn’t it for this guy as well? Or is censure only reserved to those who oppose it?

As to participation in any elections, isn’t my decision whether to vote my democratic right? Why then all these shenanigans with ministers, other officials and paid-for journalists continuously harping on, threatening, urging and cajoling us to do so? My suggestion to all of them is to simply leave us alone to practice the democracy they’re so hung up on and be prepared to accept the free and unfettered result of our actions.

Getting people to believe in the democratic process and be active participants in it do not require all these machinations. All it does, is having a fair and equitable platform off of which we can leverage the powers of democracy to better ours and the country’s lot. Those don’t include threats and a concerted effort to lay the blame of your failures on your opposition.

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Traitors abound, or it least this is how the story goes

There is no margin of difference any more in Bahrain, it seems, for the most preferred epithet for one who differs in opinion from one’s own is – must be – a traitor! Who decides what a traitor is and who it might be is left to personal fervor in one’s own hazy state of “the nation’s defense”.

Over a period of Friday morning (20 Aug 2011), I was thrilled to have had a polite conversation with Adnan Al-Shaikh, a good friend and professional communicator, about this particular topic.
It started with me taking offense at one of his tweets this morning:

لنكون منصفين الى المخلصين يتوجب علينا كشف الخائنين.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
In this tweet, Adnan stresses the need to be equitable to the sincere by exposing traitors.

Needless to say, I didn’t expect this from Adnan, so I took him up on it and started the conversation:
@adnanalshaikh وش هالمنطق يا صديقي؟ فإن نجح هذا المنطق فالخاسر هي الوطن بكل مكوناته. فلدع الكراهية و لنتكلم بالتي هي أحسن.
mahmood
August 20, 2011

Mahmood: “What’s this logic my friend? If it succeeds then the loser is the Nation with all of its constituents. Let’s leave hate and grant the benefit of the doubt.”

@mahmood عزيزي محمود هل ترضى أن أتستر على من يخونك؟
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “My dear Mahmood, would you condone me covering up who betrays you?”
@mahmood فكما نؤشر الى المخلص يجب علينا أن نؤشر الى الخائن. من حق الناس معرفة ذلك.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “So as we point out the sincere we should also point out the traitor. It’s the people’s right to know that.”
@mahmood إنما الذي لا يجب علينا فعله هو تخوين المخلص وإن شككنا في إخلاصه حتى تثبت خيانته.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011

Adnan: “But what we should not do is accuse the sincere with treason even if we suspect this sincerity until his treason is proven”

@adnanalshaikh اذا من الذي يقوم بتصنيف هذا من ذاك و ما المعايير المستخدمة؟ يا اخي الناس غير مؤهلين لذلك عدا القضاء النزيه فابتعد جزاك الله.
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “Then who categorized this from that and what are the used metrics? My brother, normal people aren’t qualified for that except for the fair judiciary so please desist for God’s reward.”
@adnanalshaikh انت – كما أنا – لسنا في موضع ان نشير لهذا و ذاك بتهم قد تؤدي للقتل او اسواء. لنترك هذه النعوت و نعمل لتهدئة الوضع.
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “You, as I am, aren’t in a position to accuse this or that with accusations which could lead to death or worse. Let us leave those descriptions and work to calm the situation.”
@adnanalshaikh و ان خونا شخص ما، فما هي مصلحتك و ما هي مصلحة الوطن الكبرى؟ التناحر و سوؤ العاقبة؟ اترك عنك يا صديقي فخبرتك اكبر من هذا.
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “And if we accuse someone with treason, what is your benefit and what is the larger nation’s benefit? Rivalry leading to bad consequences? Leave this my friend, for I thought you to be much higher than this.”
@mahmood لم أذكر معايير وﻻ من المؤهل لتصنيف هذا وذاك،إنما أتحدث عن قاعدة.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
@mahmood مرة أخرى أنا أتحدث عن قاعدة.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “Again, I speak of a principle.”
@adnanalshaikh القاعدة تحتاج براهين ثابتة و غير قابلة للتأويل. فما براهين أولائك المتلذذين بالتخوين يا أستاذي الكريم؟
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “A principle needs solid and unshakable evidence. So what evidence to those who revel in describing people with treason offer my learned teacher?”
@mahmood اذا لنحذف كلمة خائن من القاموس وليكن من أحياها كمن قتلها!
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “So let us omit the word ‘traitor’ from the dictionary and let the one who makes something lives as the one who killed it.”

(sorry, don’t know how to properly translate that idiom)
@adnanalshaikh ليس هذا المطلوب، حبذا لو نترك هذه الوصفات لقضاء نزيه و نعطي الآخر برائة الشك.
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “This isn’t what is needed, it’s preferred to leave these categorizations to the fair judiciary and give the other the benefit of the doubt.”
@mahmood محمود .. القاعدة هنا بمعنى مبدأ وهو ليس معني بتحديد معايير وبراهين فكل ثقافة لها معاييرها وادلتها لتحقيق هذا المبدأ.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011

Adnan: “Mahmood.. the principle here means a standard and it’s not the meaning of defining the standards of evidence and every culture has its standards and its evidence for this principle

@adnanalshaikh والمبدأ كذلك مبني على قواعد والقاعدة تحتاج لبراهين كما سلفت. فبأي مبدأ تتكلم لم توصف الناس بالخونة؟ أليس بهذا المبدأ العكس صح
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “And the principle here is based on foundations and foundations require evidence as I’ve said before. So what principle are you using when you accuse people with treason? Isn’t this principle also applies to those who throw those accusations?”
@mahmood علينا حسن النية بالآخر دائما الى أن يثبت لنا هو عكس ذلك فنحكم عليه كما أثبت لنا بنفسه ولكن يجب ترك التعامل معه للقضاء في كل الأحوال
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “We have to always apply the benefit of the doubt until the opposite is proven so we can judge him as has been ascertained by himself but we have to allow the judiciary to take care of this in all cases.”
@adnanalshaikh اذا اتفقنا! مبدأ حسن النية يتطلب منا عدم تخوين الآخر عدا ان ثبتت عليه جريمة الخيانة من القضاء المستقل والنزيه. فكف يرحمك الله
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “Therefor we agree! The principle of the benefit of the doubt demands that we do not accuse others of treason unless that crime is proven against him by the fair and independent judiciary. So stop may God be benevolent with you.”
@mahmood المبدأ هو قاعدة مستخلصة من دلالات وشواهد تنطبق على الأعمال التي تتوافق نتائجها مع تلك الدلالات والشواهد.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “The principle is a rule derived from the indications and evidence applicable to the deeds that are compatible with those indications and evidence.”
@mahmood يخون الخائن فقط ما أن رجع وتاب في أي مكان في العالم. وحسن النية تجب حتى في قضائنا فلا داعي أن نقول نريد قضاء مستقلا ونزيها.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “The traitor is negated only when he repents (? Adnan help me with this translation! don’t understand the first part of the sentence) but benefit of the doubt should also be applied to our own judiciary so there is no reason for [your] statement that we want an independent and fair judiciary.”
@adnanalshaikh او ليه التشكيك بئه؟ متى شككت أنا في القضاء البحريني؟ تكلمنا في المبادئ فإذا كلامي ينطبق عاما و ليس حصريا على وضع البحرين!
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “Why this supposition? When did I question the Bahraini judiciary? We’re talking about principles therefore my statements applies generally and not exclusively to Bahrain’s situation.”
@mahmood جميل. اتفقنا.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
Adnan: “Beautiful, we agree.”
@adnanalshaikh اكسلينت ماي فريند!!
mahmood
August 20, 2011
Mahmood: “Excellent my friend.”
A few hours later, Adnan posted a beautiful tweet in which he stated:
You could be courageous by saying a word of truth, but can be more courageous and even a hero if you regret, retreat and admit your mistake.
adnanalshaikh
August 20, 2011
This is what I call a constructive and polite exchange that is sorely missing from Twitter, as we have seen just a day before.

Thank you Adnan for being a gentleman who cares deeply about his country, without losing sight of civilly discussing its situation and coming to a pragmatic conclusion.

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Leave Bassiouni Alone!

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Twitter was a twitter last night with “news” of an all out war on Bassioni’s commission and his resignation after him and members of his commission were verbally and physically attacked by a mob. The ex-minister of Information, Nabeel Al-Hamar posted the following:

Translation:
A group of anarchists assaulted the headquarters of the fact finding commission, where they attacked the building and stuck posters against the Committee’s work. [source]

Of course the usual posse of sycophants propagated and amplified the events. They’ve demonstrated once again that verification of the news is a secondary issue to latching onto even imaginary things which strengthens their myopic beliefs.

To know what actually happened one does not have to go further than the credible press and the Commission itself which issued a press release to explain what transpired. The BICI said:

In light of recent allegations that the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry (BICI) has reached a determination on its investigation, as well as verbal and physical attacks on its staff, the BICI wishes to make the following statement.

Despite misleading headlines in recent news articles claiming that the Commission has determined that the government of Bahrain committed no crimes against humanity during the demonstrations that have occurred over the last several months, the Commission would like to clarify that it has not made any such determination. The Commission’s investigation is ongoing and will continue until all relevant evidence has been gathered. Its staff is still in the process of interviewing victims and witnesses, collecting evidence, and evaluating the circumstances. The Commission will not make a determination as to the extent of human rights abuses in Bahrain until its investigation is complete. Because certain media outlets and activists have misrepresented the comments of the Commission Chair, Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, in order to support their political positions, for the time being, the Commission will no longer entertain interviews to the media. Should the Commission decide that a public statement is necessary, it will provide this information on its website, www.bici.org.bh. The Commission will not allow itself to be used as a political tool for any group.

Source: BICI – 15 August 2011

The news release describes what has happened and also bothers to explain why they think these unfortunately events took place. An angry mob surged into the commission’s building and some chose to use the occasion to demonstrate to the commission their displeasure with alleged pre-conclusions attributed to the commission’s chief whose comments were misrepresented in the local press. In particular, people have taken umbrage with Bassioni’s characterization that there are no systemic human rights abuses in Bahrain and that the government has not committed any crimes against humanity, allegations which he’s denied. The mob stuck posters on the building’s walls and verbally and physically abused the Commission’s staff.

I have no problem whatsoever in criticizing any official entity, in fact I whole-heartedly encourage it because criticism engenders transparency and issue notices to the entity in question that they’ll be held publicly accountable. But criticism is better delivered in a peaceful and – if possible – a civilized manner. That way, the message is transmitted and received in a much more conducive atmosphere that might ensure positive action, but creating a mob and attacking such a highly regarded Commission because you disagree with its purported positions is not just simply ridiculous but criminal, apart from this action being completely premature in the first place. They are here to help us. They are here to ascertain the much required truth on which reconciliation efforts could be built and lead the country to a better and more equitable future. Isn’t this what you fought for?

Those who instigated this mob behavior should be exposed and have the book thrown at them too. Some of the press is culpable. They should also be held responsible for heightening tensions by misrepresenting the truth. They should be investigated and if libel is found to have been committed, and I contend that it has, then the responsible journalists should face the law and the BJA should waste no time in censuring them.

All this country needs is a whiff of a spark for it to explode again. We need to return to calm in order to gauge the better way forward and this Commission has the potential of helping us achieve that. It is time for the communi