On Saturday 24th November Bahrain held its second general election since the “Arab Spring” and the burst of peaceful protest which occurred in that small Arab island on the 14th February 2011, following which a series of crackdowns against opposition leaders, arrest of protesters, and the stripping of citizenship from opposition members and activists has become the norm in the country.
For past couple of months, Bahrain has been bragging about holding “democratic elections for the second time during the security crisis,” as state media announced, and it won’t let “Iran-supported protests disrupt democracy.” Such a strange statement comes from the state that has stripped the citizenship of 512 persons, amongst them journalists and parliament members, just for supporting reforms to the country’s constitution.
This strategy started on the 7th November 2012 when Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior announced that 31 locals were stripped of their citizenship, which was a method to silence the opposition.
Among those who were stripped of their citizenship, an act that can only to be done to those who commit terrorist attacks or commit treason, were top Muslim clerics who had called for reforms and heads of opposition movements, some of whom are in jail suffering severe health problems, such as Mr Hussein Mushayme’, whose son has been on hunger-strike in front of the Bahraini embassy in London to protest the torture and maltreatment of his father by Bahraini authorities.
It is worth noting that Bahrain’s officials have called most of the opposition members “terrorists” and would imprison them for several years. Most recently the head of the largest opposition group, The Islamic Wifaq Organization, Ali Salman, a shia cleric, was sentenced to life in prison for allegations that he was “performing violent acts against the state and receiving money from a hostile state,” [Qatar], “in return for military secrets and information about the general situation in Bahrain,”. The ‘hostile acts’ involved calling for constitutional reform.
What is peculiar about Mr Salman’s case is that the judicial decision was to set him free on the 21st June this year, alongside two former members of parliament, Ali al-Aswad and Hasan Sultan. Yet that decision was cancelled and he was condemned to life in prison, although the only evidence the court had was a two minute phone call between Mr Salman and Qatar’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. The latter has stated in several TV interviews that he had called the Bahraini opposition leader to get his approval on conducting peace-talks with the Bahraini government, as part of a Qatari-US plan to restore stability in the small Arab state.
The phone call happened in 2011, seven years ago, and it never caused any issues for Bahraini authorities until the political crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia last year, in which Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt set up a blockade against Qatar.
Apart from that, Mr Salman wouldn’t be able to participate in the elections even if he were set free due to a legislative decision by Bahrain banning anyone who has spent time in prison from participating in the elections. This means most, if not all, of the opposition. It’s as if US president Donald Trump called a general election where ONLY the Republican Party were allowed to participate, leaving Democrats, independents, and other parties to sit back and watch.
So what’s the solution? It’s hard for the opposition to do this on its own. They have already called for a boycott since they consider the election to be a “bad joke and an insult” for Bahrainis, as London-based Bahraini activist Sayed al Wadei said at a discussion panel about the elections on Thursday 22nd November. He added that Bahrain gets a media-blackout about its human rights abuses because of its arms-trade with the US and the UK. They also have joint military training programs with the UK on how to handle protests, one thing that Bahrain has been famous for is its over-use of power during the apprehension of protesters.
The solution lies with the parliaments of countries that grant cover and immunity to Bahrain, and leaders of other Arab states. These leaders can implement sanctions against or at least jeopardise arms-sale to countries that have a long bloody record in silencing opposition and violating basic human rights. Trump couldn’t have said it better when he commented that he won’t jeopardise US-Saudi relations over the death of a journalist, “Saudi pays big money for weapons;” a statement that freed Saudi crown prince Mohamad bin Salman from responsibility for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This statement was also an indirect message for Bahrain – keep buying weapons from the US and the UK, and you’ll be granted immunity.
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This post was written by Mohamad Kleit