Bahrain’s tragedy: negation of its true identity

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Catherine Shakdam

Dhu al-Hijjah 17, 1436 2015-10-01

Opinion

by Catherine Shakdam (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 8, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1436)

While forgotten by much of the world, Bahrain’s revolutionaries continue to struggle for dignified existence while paying a huge price for their struggle.

Stuck in revolutionary limbo, Bahrain remains to this day the forgotten child of 2011 uprising, a veritable media black hole the press has learned to stay away from preferring to dance to the tune of Saudi Arabia’s largesse. Sitting at the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, the island kingdom represents too much of a geopolitical haven for the Wahhabi zealots to ever consider letting go of, even if it means single-handedly propping and supporting its corrupt political institutions with money and guns. Saudi Arabia has had to do a lot of that over the past four years.

While Bahrain’s revolutionaries might not have yet brought the regime to its knees, they quite successfully bled al Khalifa’s coffers dry, forcing the state to rely almost entirely on foreign aid to keep its institutions going. Bankrolling the Khalifa monarchy—a typical family dictatorship—has become an expensive undertaking indeed, especially now that foreign investors have all but deserted the island kingdom, keen to seek lucrative investments where streets protests are not a permanent fixture.

The Bani Khalifa have, far from healing such divisions, (Shia versus Sunni) thrived on them to continue their shaky hold on power. It is the classic divide and rule policy learned from their British masters.

In this battle of wills, Bahrain’s revolutionaries have time and resilience on their side! As far as the Khalifa dynasty is concerned, it could well be that midnight has just struck on the kingdom! From a purely historical standpoint, no autocracies have ever been able to withstand popular will, especially not when motivated by a yearning for social justice. The Bani Khalifa (aka the House of Khalifa) might want to brush up on history and read in its pages the signs of its pending collapse.

A foreign importation, al Khalifa monarchy was never representative of Bahrain, its British created and installed ‘royals’ never spoke for Bahrainis. The Bani Khalifa did not share people’s traditions, history or cultural patrimony. Worse still, under the rule of Bani Khalifa, like their big brother Bani Saud in the Arabian Peninsula, Bahrain has lived in perpetual division: Shia versus Sunni, rich versus poor, national versus foreigner. Divisions run deep for such a tiny island lost in between the Persian Gulf. The Bani Khalifa have, far from healing such divisions, thrived on them to continue their shaky hold on power. It is the classic divide and rule policy learned from their British masters.

Therein lies Bahrain’s real tragedy.

Speaking on International Day, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society stressed: “Today, Bahrain is in most need for comprehensive peace on all levels far from the destructive security approaches. The achievement of peace in Bahrain entails a real national project through courageous and genuine political and economic solutions that put the benefits of the country and its citizens in core consideration.”

It further added: “Peace is a national demand that should be reached by the implementation of justice, balanced representation of all society sides, respect for human rights and democratic principles and equality on the basis of citizenship and law.”

It is because Al Wefaq has lobbied for equality for all, irrespective of religious affiliation or school of thought, social status or even ethnicity that Manama has directed its wrath against the party’s most prominent leader, Sheikh Ali Salman.

As Secretary General of Al Wefaq, Sheikh Salman is a pivotal figure in Bahrain’s revolutionary movement. He has been languishing in jail on trumped up charges on account of his political activism and exposure of Bani Khalifa’s human rights abuses. But handcuffs and window bars have not weakened Bahrain’s resolve to claim its freedom.

Speaking to his wife from prison, Sheikh Salman told his supporters: “The handcuffs and all this only strengthens our determination to demand our rights so that this generation and the coming generation rest reassured about themselves and their futures.” Such strength and nobility of character are not only humbling for others but also provide hope and determination. How can the liberation of Bahrain be anything but a matter of time when such men are leading the movement?

One cannot but contrast the noble and courageous characters of the likes of Sheikh Ali Salman, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Zeynab Al Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, Hussain Jawad and many others with that of King Hamad ibn Issa. The latter stands exposed as a villain vainly trying to crush the God-given rights of the people in order to prolong his miserable existence as ‘king’ for a few more days or weeks.

The people of Bahrain take comfort in the words of Sheikh Salman that he eloquently expressed to his beloved daughter Naba: “The sun is a great blessing that Allah created for all people, and no one can monopolize it and deny others from enjoying it. No one has the right to block the sun from anyone by imprisoning him or her. This country is like the sun, it is a blessing from Allah, and a right for everyone, and its resources are for the benefit of everyone, without any monopolization or discrimination.”

Bahrain (meaning the two seas) lies between two seas, that of the earth and the sky. Its prayers wait, filled with hope and unspoken fervor.

Under the rule of a despot, this tiny state waits to find its natural place by being built. Bahrain was never home to the much-maligned and dreaded “Shia revival”. Its revolution was not intended as yet another fracture to an already fragmented society. The Bahrainis’ most cherished ambition is to proclaim their nation whole and erase those engineered socio-political and religious barriers that the Khalifa regime has worked so hard on perpetuating.

Tarring Bahrain’s struggle with a sectarian brush is exactly what Manama has strived for. The logic behind this rationale is actually simple. By painting the people’s struggle as a Shi‘i uprising, the Khalifa regime has been able to hedge western powers’ fear of Iran to its benefit, projecting its own rule as the only alternative to protect the current regional power dynamics.

The Western powers’ eagerness to wage war on the Bahrainis by supplying military hardware to the Khalifas testifies to the effectiveness of such strategy. But guns may be able to kill people they cannot kill ideas. And Bahrain has plenty of them.

Whether the British installed and now American-propped royals care to admit or not, the people of Bahrain will ultimately fulfill their long-cherished goals because real power lies in popular legitimacy.

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