On the 2nd of January, the General Secretariat of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society held a meeting in which – in addition to the usual discussions surrounding the brutal tactics employed by the Bahrain ruling regime in confronting the daily protests all around the country and its condemnation – a statement was issued containing the main points of discussion. One of the points discussed caught my attention and raised eyebrows. It goes as follows (loosely translating it from Arabic):
Fifth: On the internal level of Al Wefaq, the Bureau of the General Secretariat reviewed the steps taken in the restructuring of the Society’s Youth Center, and the procedures undertaken towards building a more effective and organized youth center within the Society
The first question that popped into my head was: “after 11 months of youth activism at a level never before seen in the modern history of Bahrain, what compelled the leaders of Al Wefaq – at this time – to restructure their Youth Center, and imply that it has not been up to par in terms of its organization and effectiveness?” It is clearly not a problem with the youth of Bahrain, but rather a problem with the youth members of Al Wefaq, and its leaders have woken up – finally – after witnessing the emergence of a credible challenger to its leadership role within the opposition in what is now known as the “Coalition of February 14 Youth”.
It is no secret to anyone that the events of the 14th of February have not only taken the Bahrain ruling regime by surprise, but also caught the opposition political establishments unguarded. What started as a mesh of loosely connected youth on social media channels has evolved into a plethora of youth of both genders and a mix of political ideologies that have outpaced, outplayed and outmaneuvered both the Regime and Traditional Opposition in the country. Armed with technology, creativeness, and unwavering resolve & conviction in their just cause, they imposed a new reality on the ground that ignoring it would be a tragic mistake by the Bahrain regime and Al Wefaq alike.
Toby C. Jones (@tobycraigjones) and Ala’a Shehabi (@alaashehabi) in a recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine provide a good narrative into the emergence of the “Coalition of February 14 Youth”. What was small groups of faceless youth formed during the first sit-in in the Pearl Roundabout joined forces after the Bahrain regime’s first clearance of the roundabout and its retaking by protestors. However, the role of the Coalition was cemented through its role during the declaration of the State of National Safety by keeping the revolution alive against all the odds. They have kept the movement faceless and applied Direct Democracy amongst the masses of youth in what has been proven to be a near-perfect strategy.
Consequently, Al Wefaq’s youth base has been shrinking ever since, although it still remains the largest “single” group in the country, and its position as “the backbone of the opposition” (as self-described by its Secretary-General Sh. Ali Salman) has been hugely challenged. In fact, in many instances, the society has found itself leading from behind. Its leaders will need to review and restructure not only the Youth Center, but more importantly the strategies & structure of the society as a whole if they are to maintain their status within the opposition.
As a final note, I’ve been asked “how can you trust someone you don’t know?” referring to the Coalition of February 14 Youth. My answer would be “you don’t need to trust anyone. Simply trust what they stand for, and what they’re doing to achieve it”. The Coalition’s leadership has been seriously tested and have so far proven its mettle.