Friday, June 8, 2012

Still Shouting in the Dark #Bahrain

While I followed the anti-government protests closely at their onset, I, like many, became tired of attending countless lectures by professors and guest speakers in Ann Arbor. However, I think the success of Egypt's ability to televise a presidential debate, hold legitimate elections, and the suspense of this month's run-off elections -- has rekindled the interest of many who follow Middle Eastern affairs. When we know that an end is possible -- inshallah --, it becomes worthy to understand the means.

As I found myself more active on Twitter this week, I've noticed many tweets about the continuing situation in Bahrain. I was very interested particularly in the Bahraini protests, because they challenge the reasoning that the wealthy GCC nations have no need to reform their governments, since they are materially content.

At its onset, the Bahraini effort was intent on equality for the Shi'a majority living under the reign of Sunni King Hamad. However, the government was relentless in its approach to the civil uprising centered in Pearl Roundabout. The result was a nation under "martial law."

Better than my words, the Al Jazeera documentary "Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark" provides an excellent testimony to this desperate time.

One aspect of this documentary that I found exceptionally provoking was the manner in which the government used the momentum of social media against the protestors. The government aggregated photos available on platforms such as Facebook and used its sources to identify individuals participating in "illegal protests." These individuals were later jailed or killed.

But why am I writing this post today? Even though King Hamad commissioned an independent inquiry  into the happenings, he does not seem to abide by any of the findings. The commission found that the government itself was guilty of human rights violations and various types of torture. The commission also stated that the roots of the uprisings were not from Iran -- which the government accuses of rallying Shi'as in Bahrain as treasonous puppets of the Iranian regime.

Throughout the week, I've been following the tweets of @angryarabiya and @MaryamAlKhawaja (of Bahrain Center for Human Rights). I keep coming across a myriad of accounts of arrests and teargas used on protesters. In particular, I read of a number of children under the age of 16 being arrested for taking part in protests.
As I needed to find out more about this resurfacing of the political crackdown in Bahrain, I checked Al Jazeera hoping to find a story about Bahrain hidden in some corner -- but it was a headline story!
So what does this mean? While the world is busy with election anxiety in Egypt and Assad's daily efforts to transform Syria into a big slaughterhouse -- Bahrainis are still shouting in the dark. No one is holding the King accountable, for there is too much at risk. The Bahraini monarchy's relationship with their fellow Sunnis in Saudi Arabia is close as we saw KSA sent tanks to Bahrain last March. In effect, this creates two camps from a geopolitical perspective -- one centered around Saudi Arabia, the other around Iran.

However, USA Today reports on the United States' attempts to persuade King Hamad to appease Shi'a demands, without stepping on the toes of the Saudis:
Bahrain's rulers have crucial support from neighboring Saudi Arabia, but are under pressure from their U.S. allies to reopen dialogue with Shiite opposition factions. A new government initiative for talks is expected to be announced next week. But main Shiite groups have already signaled that negotiations are futile unless the ruling dynasty agrees to give up its near total control of government affairs in the strategic island, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Finally, Shi'as in Bahrain want to make clear that being Shi'a does not mean association with Iran. Similarly, not all Sunnis see their country as another province of Saudi Arabia. Rather, by protesting they are more intently expressing their desires to participate in the civil culture of their own nation.
"No to the unification of the GCC; Yes to the unification of the opposition powers!"
"Bahrain is not for sale!"

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