Category Archives: Politics

The Pearl Revolution: From “Active” to “Reactive”

Spending most of the time observing things from the ground, the scene in Bahrain looks something like this:

  • Nightly youth protests confined to villages all over Bahrain brutally suppressed by regime forces; now back to using shotguns in addition to the showering of villages with teargas.
  • Weekly “mass protest rallies” organized by the coalition of opposition political societies in areas considered their strongholds, and nowhere near Manama, the capital.
  • The Bahrain regime playing its usual PR game locally & internationally, albeit relatively poorly, and buying time.

In short, you could be in Bahrain, avoid the “hot areas” in the country, and you would be oblivious to any kind of struggle, although it very much exists in the minds, hearts and souls of the majority of the country’s people. If you are outside the country, simply avoid googling “Bahrain”, and the country’s people’s plight will be non-existent to you!

The reason for this is fairly simple: the opposition has lost the initiative. Protests have become reactive to the regime’s atrocities, i.e. the fall of a martyr, the beating of protesters on the streets, the imprisonment of protest leaders, …etc, instead of actively staying the course, regardless of the sacrifices.

Both opposition political societies (lead by Al Wefaq) and the Coalition of 14 February Youth seem lost for ideas, with the former thinking that weekly protests in the suburbs will achieve something, and the latter resorting to violence which will achieve nothing. Neither has a clear plan or path, are happy in agreeing to disagree on everything, and remain delusional about “unity”. They need to join forces sooner than later and combine their methods somewhere in the middle. Put simply, the opposition political societies need to become more confrontational, and the Coalition of 14 February Youth need to denounce violence altogether.

The regime is playing the usual PR game, and getting more effective at it after failing miserably during the past year. In the meantime it’s strengthening its stronghold onto power. The opposition needs to understand that violence will play to the regime’s advantage and alienate many sympathizers. On the flip side, relying on ineffective mass protest rallies in the suburbs will also be used as a propaganda tool for the regime to prove that “Freedom of Expression and Assembly” is respected in the Kingdom.

The opposition needs to agree, join forces, and step up its game if it wants to achieve anything. It needs to regain the initiative and stop being a commentator to whatever the regime does.

One last word: change will only come from the inside, waiting for outside help and/or support without the internal momentum is fruitless.

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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Bahrain, Politics


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The Bahrain Political Landscape: The National Action Charter, Manama Document & Lulu Charter

Bahrain kid plants flag during rally


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!!


Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Bahrain, Politics


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Nabeel Rajab’s Speech During the Political Societies’ Mass Gathering

The opposition political societies in Bahrain have drawn a red line for themselves, refraining from criticizing the King of Bahrain and its Crown Prince, in a belief that the way forward is for the call for a Constitutional Monarchy. Therefore, in all their weekly gatherings and political protest marches, they have only gone as far as calling for the resignation of the Government, headed by the King’s uncle.

However, in their weekly gathering on Thursday, 12th January, 2012, Nabeel Rajab (President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights) dropped quite a shock to both the regime and the political societies when he took to the podium by making the King of Bahrain his main target. This could well be a new page in the struggle for Freedom in Bahrain. The video of his speech and the English translation are below. Judge for yourself….

“On the topic of lying down, it seems that tens of thousands are going to lie down in Manama tonight. For this reason, the regime has closed down all the entrances to the area and all the entrances to the capital. So we can say that we have accomplished half the desired result up to now, and the other half will – God willing – be accomplished after this gathering when we go to Manama.

Brothers & sisters, after the publication of the Bassiouni [BICI] report, it has become clear that the regime is insisting on its existing policies, its recklessness, its brutality and its tyranny. And it doesn’t seem like there is any glimpse of hope or sign that we cling on to that indicates to us that the regime is going to reform itself. The persistent use of excessive force against protesters, and the new strategy of kidnapping the youth from the villages, dragging them to isolated places like the Youth Hostel, municipality buildings and stable in Budaiya, and torturing them there indicates that the new strategy is not to take them to police stations to do this, so that these institutions are able to distance themselves from these crimes, and for them not to be accused of ill-treatment and/or torture. This shows that this regime does not learn from its past mistakes, and does not learn from what is going on in the world around it.

I think that we are entering a new phase of activism. We are entering a phase in which we have to escalate our activism work as individuals, organizations, activists and human rights defenders. The regime has undoubtedly gotten used to the current rhythm of protests, just like a body that gets used to certain drugs. The regime got used to these gatherings and to the small village protests that it ends and disperses using tear gas. At the same time it tries to mislead the world public opinion in saying that Bahrain does not have any problems except for some small protests inside the villages and these gatherings.

We have to be clear in our speech. Our problem is not with the Prime Minister, nor with the government of the Prime Minister, whom are all merely employees. Our problem is with the King of Bahrain.
Our problem is with the King, whom since his ascendancy to the throne we have been facing tragedies. It’s the same King that was behind the Bandar Report [Bandargate], the same King that was behind the sectarian cleansing in public institutions, the same King that tried to implement sectarian segregation, and the same King that is trying to change the demographic composition of the country. As I said before, we tried to give the King a chance. We have rarely criticized the King in our speeches and writings to allow him a way back from his policies and for him to reform. However, it is now clear that this strategy has not produced any results with the King. So it is now important that we openly confront the King with honesty.

[Speaking to the King] We have given you a great opportunity to reform yourself. If you cannot get rid of the heavy weights of your regime and the crimes that your regime has committed, then it is the appropriate time now for you to leave.

I call on the patriotic lawyers, that have played a crucial role during this crisis and deserve all the thanks and gratitude from us, to start filing court cases against all the criminals and human rights violators that have killed and tortured. Especially that most of the international courts of justice do not accept cases in their courts until after exhausting all the local means of obtaining justice. Therefore, I would request the lawyers, again which have already exerted considerable effort in the legal movement in the courts and have themselves been victims of detention, like Mohammed Al Tajer, and threats, like Jalila Al Sayed, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohammed Al Jishi and others, to start filing these court cases, and to start with members of the ruling family that have been complicit in these crimes, headed by the sons of the King; Nasser & Khalid. Adding to them, the Commander of the BDF, Khalifa bin Ahmed, the Head of the NSA (that has been recently promoted), Khalifa bin Abdulla, the Head of the Riffa Police Station, Khalifa bin Ahmed, and also Sh. Noora. These people, and according to many statements received by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, have been complicit in crimes of torture either directly or indirectly.

On another point, we must get past the protest marches and gatherings that wait for the permission of the authorities.

I do not know if the King of Bahrain is looking at the thousands chanting “Down with Hamad”. And these are the same people that have greeted him when he first ascended to the throne with chants of “With our Blood & Soul, we would sacrifice ourselves for you, Abu Slaman [Hamad]”. [Speaking to the King] What have you done to yourself and your regime?! What is the scale of crimes that your regime has committed!? What has changed in these innocent people, that have greeted you and carried your car in Sitra, to now unanimously chant “Down with Hamad”?!?

I think that activists, human rights defenders and leaders in all the areas and villages need to start rallying the people in their areas and villages. I can see that we are entering a new phase, and this new phase requires steadfastness and insistence, and it provides a new challenge. We are entering a phase of “to be or not to be”. This regime is targeting our very existence, our culture and our faith. This regime is waging a war against us. It is now imperative that we start rallying the youth and the elderly, the men and the women, in all our areas and villages to be ready for the new phase in our struggle.

As I have mentioned before, these protests need to include everyone. It should not be restricted to any age, social or economic group. These protesters are defending all our dignity, that of the merchants of us and that of the poor, that of the women and that of the men, that of the Islamists and that of the Leftists, that of the Shias and that of the Sunnis. Therefore, everyone must participate in these protests regardless of age, social and economic status, or political and religious ideology, and not restrict the participation in a few youth from certain areas and villages.

Apparently, keeping some of the leaders of the opposition in prison until now seems like they are being held as hostages. Even after the publication of the Bassiouni Report and its consideration of these prisoners as prisoners of conscience, the regime has kept them in prison. It seems that they are being kept in prison in order for the regime to be able to use them as a bargaining chip. But we say to this regime that, whether you release them today or tomorrow, we will relentlessly continue our struggle for their release and will not accept to bargain on their release!

I get asked a lot whether I am with this group or that. Whether it’s myself, as Nabeel, or the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, we do not adopt a political stance, whether it’s the reform of the regime or its downfall. We leave this decision to the political societies and political movements both those inside and outside prison. But we stand with a consensus between all the political societies and political movements, and we want to push for them to sit with each other and reach this consensus and we will struggle for this. We do not encourage disagreement between groups whereby people from one side would criticize or abuse the other. This has cost us a lot in the past period. We need to unite now more than any other period. We have all been equally targeted, whether you are an Islamist, a Leftist, a youth from Haq, a youth from Al Wafa’a or a youth from Al Wefaq, we have been targeted by the regime equally and indiscriminately. Therefore, I ask the youth, especially those active online, not to engage in discussions to point out our differences. Be on the side that unites and not the one that puts us apart.

Manama is the capital of the people of Bahrain, and not the capital of the regime. Manama will be the subject of the coming phase in our struggle. With you, and with all the political societies, political movements and rights organizations, we will work on moving all our protests to the capital of the country, and we ask you to support these protests. We also ask the people of Manama to open their doors for all the protests, starting from tonight. We have to influence this regime that wants all our protest movements to be confined within our villages and be isolated. This is what the Minister of Interior said to the Parliament two days ago, claiming that by February all protests will be over. We have to prove to him that the protests are not over, and that we will continue in our protests and our struggle whether he likes it or not.

Brothers & sisters, you will probably have to excuse me since I will have to leave you and head to Manama where I will be waiting for you. I hope that as soon as this gathering is over you will all, men and women, head to Manama to join me.

I also ask you, since I don’t know what would happen to me today or tomorrow, not to surrender or let go of your rights. Don’t bargain with your rights, even if they put all your leaders behind bars. Even if we had to sacrifice more and put forth more martyrs, don’t relinquish your rights. We have conceded enough in the past, and the regime has enslaved us for too long. To this day, this regime is breaking into houses, stealing property, arresting women, beating the elderly and demolishing mosques. So we have to ask, what has this regime done 50 years ago, if it is doing this now in spite of the media and the whole world watching!? We have to admit, we were the reason that allowed the regime to commit these crimes until now. Even being from the Bin Rajab family, I have to say, we strengthened the regime in the past by allowing it to rule in this brutal way against its people and not standing up. Therefore, I ask you again, not knowing if I may ever be kidnapped, imprisoned or even killed, which I do not fear, to not ever surrender your rights for freedom of expression, against illegal detention,….

I am waiting for you in Manama!”


Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Bahrain, Politics


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Al Wefaq & The 14 Feb Phenomenon


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.


Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Bahrain, Politics


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