Bahrain Should Combat Violence with an Iron Fist

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Anyone who seriously believes the protests in Bahrain are just another manifestation of the misnamed ‘Arab Spring’ – ordinary people peacefully seeking political reforms – are either ideologically-led, grossly misinformed or they’ve been duped by propaganda. Patriotic Bahrainis realise they’re some of the luckiest people on earth to have been born as a citizen of this paradisiacal island nation with one of the most liberal and diversified economies in the MENA region.

Bahrain’s population of just over one million (excluding expatriates) enjoyed a per capita income of almost US$30,000 in 2013 – the 49th highest on the planet. Moreover, its cost of living is the lowest in the GCC. Manama has always respected the human rights and, last month, Bahrain’s government was congratulated by the United Nations Human Rights Council for its efforts to enhance the status of Bahraini women. That’s no thanks to the opposition Wefaq Shiite Party that in 2004 adopted a fatwa issued by a Shiite cleric depriving women legal, civil and family rights.

Instead of counting their blessings, demonstrators – or rather rioters – have been disrupting the peaceful nature of this Gulf State and chipping away at its economic progress for the last three years; they throw rocks and Molotov Cocktails at security forces, close roads to traffic and pollute the air with burning tyres. The so-called ‘February 14 Coalition’ formed by students on social media in 2011 has morphed into a radical organisation that calls for armed revolution and proudly admits its involvement in terrorist bombings.

Recently, a bomb exploded just west of the Bahraini capital killing three police personnel including an Emirati national – and wounding a child. Dubai’s Deputy Chairman of Police and General Security Dahi Khalfan Tamim has blamed Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. “The suspect who planted the bomb has visited Lebanon and was trained by Hezbollah on carrying out bombings,” he tweeted. Bahrain was also quick to place the blame squarely on Iran.

Those anarchists have nothing of real substance to complain about in terms of living standards, opportunity and freedom of expression. They are criminals who ruthlessly dream-up pretexts to serve a greater goal, one cooked-up by their masters in Tehran that’s long asserted a trumped-up territorial claim on Bahrain and works to expand the so-called Shiite Triangle stretching from Iraq to Syria and southwards into Yemen.

Iran is indoctrinating and funding elements within the island’s Shiite minority to foment social and economic turbulence.  Iranian television networks, including the English-language Iranian channel Press TV, spew out one-sided propagandist reports painting the Bahraini authorities in a bad light and the demonstrators as poor, hard-done-by innocents.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the far left in the US and Europe have fallen for that baloney hook, line and sinker while human rights organisations and NGOs – some of which I suspect are fronts for hostile governments – have leapt on the bash Bahrain train. Their unfounded gripes should be filed in the trash can. Neither Bahrain nor its Gulf allies can afford to heed the ‘advice’ of rabble-rousers in foreign capitals masquerading as do-gooders when their national security is imperilled. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has been co-opted as a mouthpiece of that gang. He’s apparently concerned about reports of clashes and has urged the Bahraini authorities to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations. What about the human rights of patriotic Bahrainis sick and tired of disruption to their everyday lives; people eager to build not destroy?

On the 10th of this month a letter was sent to President Obama signed by self-described “experts”. The missive urges Obama to put pressure on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to ‘persuade’ Bahrain to “ensure that individuals are no longer charged or detained for exercising their right to free speech” and to “create conditions for dialogue” with the opposition. No mention of the fact that Bahrain is battling terrorism, nothing but a shallow attempt to twist the Bahrain’s government’s arm to give-in to blackmail.

And who are those “experts”? They’re representatives of the same think tanks that stirred-up civil unrest in the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine – Freedom House, the Carnegie Endowment, Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, etc.  My sincere hope is that King Abdullah has some choice words for Obama should he dare to criticise Manama. The US President forfeited his right to interfere in Arab affairs when he reneged on his pledge to end the Syrian conflict, punished Egypt for ridding itself of a Muslim Brotherhood government and began sweet talking the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There was a time when I was Obama’s number one fan. No longer! Those of us who believed his reach-out to the Arab World made early on during his first presidential term were fooled. I strongly suspect that he harbours an unsavoury secret agenda favouring some type of Grand Bargain with the Iranian ayatollahs.

An opinion column by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed published in Asharq Al Awsat under the heading “Obama’s opinion of Sunnis and Shiites” is illuminating. The writer highlights Obama’s comments made to the Atlantic magazine defending his decision to begin negotiations with Iran and urging the region to coexist. When he was asked to give his view on the respective dangers of Sunni and Shiite extremists, he tilted in favour of Shiites, characterising Iran’s behaviour as being driven by strategic imperatives and, therefore, based on cost-benefit analyses. He went on to praise Iran as a large country that sees itself as a major global player with no desire to commit suicide. His words should ring alarm bells throughout the GCC.

“Mr. President, Shiite extremists are exactly like Sunni extremists,” Al-Rashed rightly argues. “Let me explain the difference to you. Shiite extremists are in positions of authority – in Khamenei’s regime in Tehran and Hezbollah’s in Beirut. On the other hand, Sunni extremists are in the opposition camp, like Al Qaeda. They are outcasts living in caves.”

Enough is enough! Bahrain must do everything at its disposal to eradicate this disease from the Gulf before it infects its neighbours. His Highness King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah should work with fellow GCC leaders to halt this decay once and for all. As people flock to the Gulf from all over the world to work and retire because they recognise that we offer what most other countries can’t, Bahraini Shiites who reject our way of life and our style of governance must reconsider before they isolate themselves even further.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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