by Catherine Shakdam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 4, Ramadan, 1438)
As this issue of CI goes to press, reports of an attack by the Bahraini regime’s forces on the house of Shaykh Isa Qassim in Diraz village emerged on May 23. Five people were killed and a dozen of his supporters injured. The heavily armed police also arrested 286 people. The situation remains tense.
Following a vicious campaign against one of Bahrain’s most prominent and revered Islamic scholars, Shaykh Isa Qassim, the Manama regime was forced to retreat somewhat when faced with the strength of support people in Bahrain and abroad offered in his defence.
Under house arrest, Shaykh Isa has had the support of almost all Bahrainis and countless other Islamic scholars at home and abroad. They have warned that should any harm come to him, Manama would have to face severe repercussions.
Often hailed as the face of Bah-rain’s Revolution, Shaykh Isa has been instrumental in encouraging Bahrainis to stand true to their commitment to nonviolence vis-à-vis the security apparatus, to preserve the integrity of the nation, and prevent fanning resentment amid the population.
Falsely accused of instigating violence, Shaykh Isa Qassim was stripped of his citizenship by the vindictive and sectarian Al Khalifa monarchy, as yet another means of repression against Bahrain’s revolutionary movement.
In a statement to Bahrain News Agency on June 20, 2016, the Interior Ministry said it was revoking Shaykh Isa’s citizenship. It accused him of “creating an extremist sectarian environment” and saying he had “encouraged sectarianism and violence.”
“Bahrain’s government and ruling family are slamming shut the door on political reform, while simultaneously stoking dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Amnesty International. “Bahrain’s allies in Washington and London should be unequivocal and public in their condemnation and make it clear that these provocations will have an impact on military assistance and strategic relations.”
A vaguely worded 2014 amendment to article 10 of Bahrain’s citizenship law of 1963 allows the Interior Ministry to revoke citizenship of any person who “caused harm to the interests of the kingdom or behaved in a way inimical with the duty of loyalty to it.” In December 2015, Bahrain’s courts effectively granted the Interior Ministry full discretion to revoke the citizenship of any Bahraini, stating, “it is established that the decision to revoke citizenship may be proved by any incident or evidence without a requirement for a specific means of proof.”
Needless to say, such law has been used solely against whosoever has dared challenge the regime on its abysmal human rights record. More troubling yet has been Al Khalifa’s desire to use citizenship as a means to play demographic remapping against the majority Shi‘i community.
Although the international community has largely kept mum over the many abuses perpetrated against Shi‘i Muslims in Bahrain, there is a case to be made for genocide. Al Khalifa ruling family has openly declared war on one segment of the population — the country’s majority — on account of its madhhabi orientation.
A client state of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is implementing Wahhabism’s agenda. Intent on tainting the Bahrainis’ calls for political self-determination, fair representation, and social justice, the Manama regime has since 2011 played the “Shi‘i card.” The aim is to portray Bahrain’s uprising as a nefarious bid for power, and thus make the argument that Iran is behind such dynamics.
With nothing but allegations and prejudices to assert its narrative, the minority Al Khalifa monarchy has withdrawn behind its patron’s robes, Saudi Arabia, to sell its uprising as a religious spat between Sunni and Shi‘i Islam, rather than admit to ground realities.
But for all the violence and hatred Al Khalifa and its Saudi patrons have unleashed against the Bahrainis, it appears the integrity of the state apparatus and the monarchy’s ability to continue repression to sustain itself is waning.
Last month, a Bahraini court sentenced Shaykh Isa Qassim to a one-year suspended prison sentence and seized assets belonging to him and his ministry. The decision drew immediate criticism. A report by Bahrain’s al-Wasat newspaper said the Bahraini court had ordered Shaykh Qassim to pay a fine of 100,000 Bahraini dinars (over $265,000). The court further ordered confiscation of Shaykh Qassim’s properties worth 3 million Bahraini dinars (almost $8 million) and two of his homes.
Speaking against Manama’s decision, the Iranian Parliament’s director general for international affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stressed, “Shaykh Isa Qassim does not belong to Bahrain alone; such violent rulings against this distinguished Islamic scholar would not help in settling Bahrain’s domestic crisis, but would worsen the situation.”
He further asserted that the Bahraini government has to rely on its own people and not foreigners if it seeks a political settlement of the crisis. “Dialogue and political talks are the only way out of the crisis.”
While the sentence against Shaykh Isa is profoundly unjust, it demonstrates how unsure the Khalifa monarchy has become about its tenuous future. It fears a country-wide backlash should it impose too harsh a sentence against Bahrain’s most senior Islamic scholar. Before the will of a people and the courage of a scholar, Manama is now cowering.
One could draw parallels between developments in Bahrain and those witnessed in Iran prior to the ouster of the Shah in 1979. If not for the determination and courage of Imam Khomeini it is likely Iran would have remained a US colony, in a state of servitude and oppression.
Bahrain today finds itself at an interesting crossroads now that the Khalifa monarchy has essentially admitted to the popularity of Shaykh Isa Qassim. This is because the people of Bahrain have conferred legitimacy upon him that also clearly transcends geographical boundaries.