Revolution ongoing in Bahrain until Al-Khalifa dictatorship ousted

TEHRAN, Feb. 14 (MNA) – On the occasion of Bahrain Uprising 5th anniversary, American author and professor of Political Science Dr. Cavell believes the revolution is still ongoing in Bahrain and as the Bahraini people become more adept at revolutionary tactics they will eventually be successful in achieving their stated democratic goals.

In February and March 2011, Bahrain experienced peaceful protests followed by brutal government repression, leaving over 30 dead, with prominent opposition leaders sentenced, Shia mosques and other religious structures demolished and many protesters faced dismissal from jobs. Now five years later and on the occasion of the uprising anniversary, we have reached Dr. Colin S. Cavell, a former Assistant Professor at the University of Bahrain and currently Assistant Professor of Political Science at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia, to tell us about the fate of the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain, as the one Arab country that called for reform but never quite achieved it. What follows is Dr. Cavell's interview with Mehr News Agency:  

Two aspects of 2011 Bahrain Uprising sets it apart from the rest of the Arab world; one is the fact that Bahrain's uprising didn't get quite as much attention as some of the other uprisings happening at the same time; and two is the peaceful nature of the protests which were then faced with brutal government repression. Can you elaborate on these two distinctive aspects?

The peaceful nature of the ‘Bahrain Uprising’, as you refer to it, is a consequence of those individuals leading the struggle, as well as the generally benign nature of the Bahraini people.  And precisely because of the manner in which the Arab Spring unfolded in Bahrain – i.e. its peaceful nature – explains, in part, why the media, especially the western media, did not focus much attention on the democratic uprising in Bahrain since its eruption in February of 2011.  Western media deliberately stereotypes much of the Arab world as hostile, violent, irrational, superstitious, and chaotic, as this serves US hegemonic goals.  Thus, if events on the ground do not play into these western-created narratives, motifs, characterizations, or tropes, then the events are either downplayed or ignored and, hence, become a ‘non-story’.  But, of course, the Al-Khalifa regime, which rules in Bahrain and oppresses its peoples, did indeed resort to violence – including mass arrests, torture, and killings – to suppress the uprising, actions which the regime was heavily criticized for by the BICI Report [1].  But, because the ruling Al-Khalifa dictatorship is a close ally of the United States Government (USG), the regime’s violence is rarely focused on.

 

What was the background for the political and civil rights movement in Bahrain? Are the demands still the same or have they gone through changes in the past five years?

Members of the Al-Khalifa family, as part of the Bani Utbah federation of Arab tribes which conquered Bahrain in 1783, have ruled in some form in the country since 1797.  Bahrain has thus arguably been under monarchical rule for 233 years, and therefore, the background of the ongoing political and civil rights movement in Bahrain can be traced directly to the lack of democratic rule in the country.  Thus the primary demand of the overwhelming majority of the people of Bahrain is for a say in the formation and functioning of their government; in other words, fundamentally, they oppose monarchy and wish to replace it with some form of democracy where the majority rule is the guiding principle of political organization. Currently, not only is the ruling family part of a minority confessional group – i.e. Sunni Muslims – in Bahrain, but, moreover, only the ruling Al Khalifas enjoy sovereignty in and over Bahrain, its peoples, resources, land, etc. The numerous other demands of the protestors derive directly from this one central demand, for without sovereignty resting with the populace of Bahrain, the country remains a prison nation, where there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of association, no freedom of conscience, no freedom of the press, and no freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances without fear of punishment or reprisal.

 

What were the reasons Bahrain became the one Arab country whose uprising was suppressed?  What is left of Bahrain's uprising now?

The geographic nature of Bahrain, being an island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, limits outside intervention into the country from afar thus making it easier for the Al Khalifa dictatorship to impose harsh penalties upon anyone challenging or critiquing their regime.  Likewise, Bahrain’s proximity to Saudi Arabia, which, in effect, dictates, funds, and enforces the foreign policies of the other Gulf monarchs compels the much smaller Bahraini government to strictly adhere to KSA leadership, or else face the invasion of the KSA’s military forces, as head of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Peninsula Shield Forces, as happened in March 2011 to clamp down on the Bahraini uprising.  The Al Khalifas have jailed all of the major opposition leaders, subjecting them to torture and other abuses, while engaging in a witch-hunt for individual supporters of the opposition, subjecting them to torture, imprisonment, and sometimes death, even for minor “crimes” such as tweeting their opposition to the regime.  Sentiment remains very strong against the Al Khalifa rule and flares up periodically in order to send a message to the regime that the resistance is still very strong and resolute against monarchy.

 

What are the conditions of the political prisoners currently held in Bahrain?

Reports of the disproportionate usage of tear gas to suppress antigovernment demonstrations since 2011 have been widespread.  Reports of unlawful detentions and interrogations of suspected activists continue till today, along with the jailing and torture of suspected activists.  Former president and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, Human Rights activist, Professor Abduljalil Abdulla al-Singace, Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) General Secretary Ibrahim Sharif, Haq Movement leader Hasan Mushaima, Secretary-General of the Al-Wefaq political society, Sheikh Ali Salman and many, many other political leaders have been jailed and tortured in Bahrain for a number of years now, deprived of medical care, subjected to sleep deprivation and other forms of manipulation and intimidation.  Foreign journalists, non-governmental (NGO) members, politicians, trade unionists, aid workers, and activists, including the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, have been denied access to Bahrain’s political prisoners, actions which are clear violations of international law.  And within the last couple of years, the Bahraini regime has increased its cruel practice of punishing suspected opposition activists by revoking their citizenship, thus making these folks – and by extension, their families – stateless on an island nation, an action which is also contrary to international law.  The regime can literally kill you with impunity, because legally you do not exist!

 

What were the demands of the Shia majority during the Bahrain Uprising? Were they mostly political, social or economic? What are the discriminations practiced by the monarchy against them?

Bahrain, so far, has practiced a policy of divide and conquer with its domestic opposition, suggesting to the international community that the domestic opposition within Bahrain has been stirred up and financed externally by Iran, whom they accuse of supporting Bahraini Shia activists.  This policy, of course, flies in the face of the fact that much of the domestic opposition in Bahrain, including some of the opposition political leaders, like Ibrahim Sharif, are Sunni confessionalists themselves.  Having their reputations tarnished by the minority Sunni Al-Khalifs, this presumably gives the regime the green light to target Shia activists, their mosques, gathering places, and to desecrate their religious symbols, history, culture, etc.  While the regime discriminates against all Bahraini citizens, especially by virtue of the fact that most are prohibited from joining the armed forces, as the Al-Khalifas rely predominantly on foreign national mercenaries to comprise their security forces, the regime takes extraordinary efforts to discriminate against Shia citizens, preventing many from being hired or promoted within the business community or in government jobs, thus creating an additional wedge in the class structure based upon religious division and confessional preference.

 

Is revolution still ongoing in Bahrain? What do you think will be the future of it?

If we understand revolution as the overthrow of the existing social and political system, usually by violence, though possibly revolution through the ballot, then we may say that, at present, the primary form of the Bahraini revolution, has been one mainly of peaceful protests, non-violent civil resistance, and vocalization of democratic demands.  Are these actions still ongoing?  Yes, of course, and they will continue as long as the Al-Khalifa dictatorship remains entrenched in power.  As for the future of the Bahraini revolution, history has demonstrated that oppressive dictators never last forever and, eventually, with time and effort, are overthrown and ousted.  As the Bahraini people become more skilled and adept at revolutionary tactics and strategy, eventually, they, too, will be successful in achieving their stated democratic goals.

 

What do you think is the greatest threat to Arab democracy? Political fragmentation and immaturity, lack of strong institutions, Arab dictators, economic challenges, or the US?

At present, the greatest threat to Arab or Middle Eastern democracy, as recent past history has clearly demonstrated, has been imperial interference either from the United States in particular or the United Kingdom to a lesser degree.  Whether such intervention comes in the form similar to the 1953 US overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh by the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA efforts supporting the 1963 coup d’etat against Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim, US and CIA efforts to counter Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s, external support for mujahideen terrorists to oust President Mohammad Najibullah of Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s, direct support for the NATO bombing and Al Qaeda terrorists who assassinated Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011, the backing of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in 2013, or current efforts to overthrow the duly-elected government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which include support for the terrorist group ISIL, allowing it to infiltrate Syrian territory and wage brutal and bloody warfare against the Syrian population backed up by a US-directed bombing campaign from the air, all of these examples – and many more too numerous to list here – have taught the peoples of the Middle East that whatever opposition they may face in their countries, it invariably never compares to the steady and directed opposition coming from the imperial hegemon the United States of America.  Thus in order to counter the US policy of ‘divide and conquer’, the peoples of the Arab world and the Middle East in general must perfect the policy of ‘unite in order to prevail’ to counter this onslaught of external intervention into their territorial integrity and sovereign affairs.

 

Dr. Colin S. Cavell, an American author who earned his Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is currently Assistant Professor of Political Science at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Dr. Cavell is also a member of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and the Massachusetts Community College Council (MCCC). He is a former Assistant Professor at the University of Bahrain.

Interview by: Marjohn Sheikhi 


[1] The Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry (BICI) report, headed up by Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, an Emeritus Professor of Law from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois in the USA, had previously led United Nations investigations into alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Libya.  Bassiouni was tasked by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa to look into the political unrest that occurred in Bahrain and report on them, but only for the period of unrest lasting from February to March, 2011.

 

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