One year into the unrest, uprising or revolution (depending on where you stand on the political spectrum!), a new political landscape has been drawn, and only its understanding and acknowledgment of its existence would lead to a viable solution to the Bahrain problem, not for our sake, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren (hence my selection of the picture above). Our current problem is that people tend to either be ignorant to this landscape or simply live in denial of its existence. Let me put it this way:
- The Bahrain regime only acknowledges the “legalized” political societies, and singles out Al Wefaq for all the opposition’s actions (which could be playing politics as I talk about later)
- The opposition political societies remain positive that they command “overwhelming” support from all the opposition base, and sees the fight with the regime as the only front they need to tackle, seemingly ignoring other factions of the opposition.
- The “faceless” Coalition of the 14 February Youth, again only deal with their fight against an oppressive regime, assuming unity amongst all opposition factions. An immense misgiving given where they stand.
In short, we are all simply living in denial, and no where near a solution to our current problems.
Zooming in on the opposition, I’ve always said that the unity of the opposition is circumstantial and a unity of convenience stemming from the indiscriminate brutality of the Bahrain regime towards all the opposition, not a unity of choice. After the opposition political societies’ “Manama Document” beginning of October of 2011, the Coalition of 14 February Youth issued their own “Lulu Charter” last week. While the grievances remain absolutely aligned, and the broad reasons for opposing the regime remain the same in both documents, the differences in tactics, strategies and ultimate goals cannot be more strikingly different. The Manama Document addresses the political system without touching the monarchy, while the Lulu Charter calls for the complete “overthrow of the Khalifa tribal regime”. However, while the Manama Document never mentions another opposition faction in Bahrain demanding the complete overthrow of the monarch, the Lulu Charter mentions this as part of the goals of the revolution:
2. The confirmation and emphasis on the people’s right to self-determination and giving them the choice of any political system they agree on (Constitutional Monarchy, Republic, etc.,) that will satisfy the people’s ambitions and needs.
In their view, this indirectly acknowledges that ‘there is a significant other side of the opposition that does not agree with us, we respect their view (of a Constitutional Monarchy) and we stand united’. However, calling for the overthrow of the monarchy and, one line later, accepting a Constitutional Monarchy is not good public rhetoric, especially for its base, as it seems highly contradictory. Nevertheless, it might be seen as good politics, in saying that ‘we are working towards a goal, but we remain open-minded enough to accept what the majority of the people of Bahrain decides’, although I do not necessarily agree that this is good politics myself.
In understanding where we finally stand today, compared to a year, 5 years and 10 years ago, in the political scene in Bahrain, consider this (the figures are for illustration purposes only, although I believe that they are highly representative of the splits -/+ 5%, and an overlap obviously exists between adjacent groups):
So this is how things developed:
2001: The King (then Emir) introduces the National Action Charter to a referendum, which received a 98.4% affirmative vote, with the opposition getting assurances from him of a new page in the political life in Bahrain.
2002: The King single-handedly amends the constitution, and most opposition political societies decide to boycott the Parliamentary elections of the same year in protest. The next 4 years preside over a period of relative stagnation in the political scene in Bahrain, but with a highly united opposition front.
2006: The hawks and doves disagree within the Al Wefaq board over the participation in the Parliamentary elections of 2006, leading to the resignation of many hardliners from the Al Wefaq board and members, including the Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Hasan Mushaima, who went on to create the “Haq Movement”. Most political societies participate in the elections in the same year. The base of the opposition remains united and willing to give Al Wefaq a chance to prove the viability of its participation in the Parliamentary elections and advocating “change from within the system”
2010: After 4 years of sporadic street activism and international activism by the Haq Movement (leading to the arrest of a number of its members in August 2010) coupled with the poor performance of the Al Wefaq MPs in Parliament, the opposition base is further split between Haq and Al Wefaq, although Al Wefaq still maintained more support, albeit clearly reduced, and evidenced by their reduced votes in the 2010 elections, which they competed in.
Come 2012, and one year on from the 14 February revolution, a new reality emerges.
You will notice that the Bahrain regime’s support base hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years, but what changed is the split within the opposition. The opposition base today is almost evenly split between opposition political societies (hugely represented by Al Wefaq), and the Coalition of 14 February Youth. However, since the Coalition and the Bahrain regime will never meet in any middle ground, it is Al Wefaq (with the other opposition political societies) that will determine who has the majority country-wide, even if Al Wefaq doesn’t have this majority “alone”.
Simply put, the Bahrain regime doesn’t enjoy majority, hence legitimacy, without Al Wefaq. And on the flip side, the Coalition of 14 February Youth will lose legitimacy as soon as Al Wefaq agrees terms with the Bahrain regime. So Al Wefaq doesn’t have a straight-forward majority, but sure controls the middle ground between two extremes, hence giving it the upper hand.
No wonder Obama wanted the Bahrain regime to talk to Al Wefaq!!