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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 Case for Non-Violent Civil Resistance in Bahrain

In Thomas Schelling’s writings about the dynamics of a conflict between violent and nonviolent opponents:

[The] tyrant and his subjects are in somewhat symmetrical positions. They can deny him most of what he wants – they can, that is, if they have the disciplined organization to refuse collaboration. And he can deny them just about everything they want – he can deny it by using the force at his command…
They can deny him the satisfaction of ruling a disciplined country, he can deny them the satisfaction of ruling themselves…
It is a bargaining situation in which either side, if adequately disciplined and organized, can deny most of what the other wants, and it remains to see who wins.

A lot of debate has been brewing within the opposition on whether “defensive violence” should be used against the Bahrain regime forces that are attacking protesters in their villages every night. And that’s not a debate that I would want to get into right now. However, I am just trying to list a few things that could add something more to think about in the discussion.

The main argument from proponents of “defensive violence” has been that if we’re going out peacefully, then get attacked, chased into our villages and houses, get beaten up, arrested, and suffocated in our own houses; it is our natural right to defend ourselves with any means possible. On the other side of the argument, opponents to the use of any means of violence argue that the use of violence undermines the cause and alienates supporters, both nationally and internationally. And that’s why the Bahrain regime has worked hard at portraying the opposition movement as a violent one at any chance it gets.

We have to learn from history, and in a paper published by Maria J. Stephan & Erica Chenoweth titled “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict” (which was expanded into a book in 2011), they did just that as they argued FOR the strategic choice of nonviolent civil resistance. They studied 323 resistance campaigns (violent & nonviolent) from 1900 to 2006, and they found that:

  • Nonviolent campaigns achieve success 53% of the time.
  • Violent campaigns achieve success only 26% of the time.
  • Violent repression of nonviolent campaigns usually backfires on its originators.
  • The internal and external costs of repressing nonviolent campaigns are higher than the costs of repressing violent campaigns.
  • In the face of regime crackdowns, nonviolent campaigns are more than 6 times likelier to achieve full success than violent campaigns.
  • The longer the campaign the more chance it will achieve limited success.

So based on this – and many more findings if you read the paper – the choice of nonviolence seems like a no-brainer and a straightforward one. However, there’s still a twist. Nonviolent campaigns throughout history have used a variety of methods ranging from economic boycotts, labor strikes, political and social noncooperation, and mass mobilization of the public to oppose different policies, to delegitimize adversaries, and to remove or restrict adversaries’ sources of power. The Bahrain opposition is currently not being effective in this regard.

The main source of frustration within the proponents of “defensive violence” in Bahrain has been the lack of an effective roadmap for resistence from the proponents of nonviolence, namely the opposition political societies, which have only been able to organize weekly gatherings that exert no real pressure on the regime except for emphasizing the existence and strength of the opposition.

Although the “Manama Document” produced by 5 opposition political societies is a valuable paper that draws a very balanced view of where Bahrain should be politically and socially, it does not provide for a clear and effective roadmap of nonviolent resistance to achieve it. The only way forward for the opposition is to address the frustrations of the masses by charting a way forward in the struggle against a brutally repressive regime. Otherwise, the streets will descend into chaos by a minority of the opposition, and make no mistake, the Bahrain regime will capitalize on that to frame the entire opposition based on the perceived violence of a few!

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Bahrain

 

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