Political Update on Bahrain
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The political atmosphere in Bahrain has been rather tense for the last six months. Massive demonstrations as well as other civil disobedience campaigns have been a regular occurrence in the country. On a number of occasions, complete mayhem broke out. Indeed, local news agencies are being inundated with reports of relatively calm protests erupting into violence. For example, a bomb blast on 3 March 2014 killed three riot policemen, who were dispersing protesters (BBC, 2014). Moreover, two people died as a result of the premeditated car explosion on 20 April 2014 (Trevelyan, 2014). There have been a number of other murderous skirmishes and suicide bomber attacks in the meantime. The Bahrain government has persistently tried to suppress public disturbances in the country by criticizing dissent, but to no avail. Notwithstanding the fact that one needs to obtain a special dispensation from the authorities to organize a march or demonstration, frustration and desperation of people have led to a series of wildcat strikes over the course of the last few months. What is more important, the threat of terrorist attacks has not been lessened as well. Starting from April 2014, radical militia groups have been increasingly fomenting sedition and violence against security forces. As paradoxical as it sounds, this delicate political situation continues to vex the populace because the authorities have been rudderless for more than two years now. On the one hand, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa is right to tread softly on the dissentients, but he certainly needs to display a greater deal of resolve in tackling the country’s chronic political problems. Curiously enough, many demands of the protesters have greatly metamorphosed since the outbreak of the uprising in 2011. For example, people are unsatisfied with the government’s earnest desire to use foreign nationals to man its riot police units, while Shia applicants do not interest the authorities in the slightest. In general, hypocrisy over the immutable rights of the country’s Shia has been one of the greatest political challenges during the last few months. The heavy reliance of the Bahrain athorities on tear gas is yet another major irritant for the Bahrainis. Although the country’s economy is not floundering, the future is uncertain because of the continued strangulation of democracy.
It is a matter of fact that Bahrain is split along sectarian lines, with the Shiite populations being the main driving force behind the ongoing revolt. Many dismiss the Bahrain opposition as a legitimate populist movement that co-opted with “coalitions of young anarchists and so-called human rights activists that are completely beholden to the aging ayatollahs and are more interested in sectarian religious dominance than humanistic progress” (Ashoor, 2014). Over the last six months, the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and the Wefaq Shiite Party together with their numerous affiliates, which form the bedrock of the country’s opposition, have been increasing pressure against Bahrain’s monarchy. The Bahrain authorities, on the other hand, have been making vigorous efforts in an attempt to curb what they see as a pestilential sectarian epidemic overwhelming their domestic politics. Naturally, this savage internecine feud in the country has caused a lot of difficulties and thwarted all attempts to trigger national concord, amity and conciliation. In January 2014, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the heir apparent to Bahrain’s throne, convened another round of summit-level talks with the country’s variegated opposition in a bid to intensify the “stillborn reconciliation efforts after the collapse of the national dialogue last year” (Ashoor, 2014). However, just like many times before, this initiative encountered a solid wall of resistance on the part of the steadfast opposition groups. The problem is that such uncompromising Shiite groups as the February 14th Youth Coalition boycott every government-brokered talks initiative and exhort other opposition groups to scuttle negotiations with the monarch, thereby causing a yawning chasm among the opposition. As a result, opposition activities in Bahrain are limited to protests, with no sign of conciliation ahead.
Implementation of BICI Report
On 1 December 2013, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) issued the latest follow-up report to the previous 500-page report dated on 23 November 2011. In juxtaposition to the initial document, which only summarized the findings regarding the government’s oppressive response to the uprising, the follow-up report also offers recommendations in accordance to the ways of rectifying the consequences thereof. It should be noted that the government of Bahrain has been full of determination to conduct what it views as the sound recommendation of the BICI. For instance, the King ordered the establishment of the special commission that would oversee the implementation of these recommendations back in 2011. Under these circumstances, “the government the families of the dead or wounded victims” and “established an accountability system for the police force” to keep it from harassing citizens (Younes, 2014). However, in essence, the newly established commission has put many issues under scrutiny of numerous committees and reports. As of May 2013, the authorities neither found an imaginative solution to the long-standing issues associated with the uprising, nor are they willing to do so. “The culture of impunity prevalent among government officials” (Project on Middle East Democracy, 2012), one of the major problems that brought people to the streets in 2011, has not been resolved thus far. Obviously, members of the hastily cobbled committee charged with enforcing BICI recommendations enjoy their sinecures and do not want to saw off the branch on which they and their patrons are sitting, literally speaking. It means that there will not be a radical makeover of the domestic policies in Bahrain and demands of the protesters are likely to remain unanswered. Even if the government continues its declarative allegiance to the cause of implementing BICI recommendations with the assumption that this would settle the crisis, it will not manage to return stability in the country. Thus, more accountability for high-rank officials is needed to resolve the current political cul-de-sac in Bahrain.