Defending Bahrain from criticism

Ebtisam Khalifa Bahar
11 December 2011

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While everyone agrees that Bahrain needs to work on restoring national unity, Corinna Mullin and Azadeh Shahshahani in their recent piece 'The Bahrain 'Spring': The revolution that wasn't televised' are wrong to refer to Bahrain’s efforts at democratic reform as “rhetoric”.

They are the ones who have fallen for the “rhetoric” of certain oppositional parties and NGOs. This is especially true if you think what happened in Bahrain is similar to what is taking place in the so-called ‘Arab spring’ countries, and that “the violence and repression the Bahraini protesters met has matched, if not exceeded in some instances, those elsewhere in the region”. Bahrain sadly experienced 35 casualties during February and March, including protestors, policemen, ex-pats and innocent bystanders. But there is no way that this can be compared with what has happened in Libya or Syria, for example.

Bahrain’s diplomatic ties remain strong, as noted in the recent Op-Ed by Vice-Admiral Charles Moore in the Washington Times (30 November). In a volatile region, with a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, hosting the Fifth Fleet is a win-win scenario. The United States sees it to their advantage to nurture the reforms that have taken place over the past ten years in Bahrain, and Bahrain can feel more secure against outside threats.

It’s not surprising that those who have been fed the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed victims in Bahrain look down on our attempts to learn from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and implement its recommendations. Almost any effective policeman can expect to receive criticism from some quarters; nevertheless, John Timoney and John Yates have long, distinguished careers in law enforcement and will play a key role in retraining police and security forces.

To imply that there is institutionalized discrimination against Shi’a Bahrainis in all sectors of society is simply not true. The truth is that Bahrain is known for its religious co-existence and you will find people of all faiths in every segment of society. All Bahrainis know there are Shi’a Ministers, Shi’a politicians, and prominent Shi’a businessmen. As for the issue of immigration, it is important to note that many Shi’a Bahrainis themselves have benefited from and dominated naturalization processes during periods of Bahrain’s history over the last 60 years. Most recently in 2001-2002, after the ascension of King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa to the throne, Shia’s of Iranian origin made up 81% of the naturalized citizens.

With regard to the BICI findings about Iran, it is important to note that the BICI findings stated: “Given that most of the claims made by the GoB related to allegations of intelligence operations undertaken by Iranian operatives, sources of which, by their nature, are not publicly available, the Commission has not been able to investigate or independently verify these allegations of Iranian involvement in the events of February and March 2011” (para 1584). Furthermore, it states that, “The GoB has indicated to the Commission that it has further information in its possession that demonstrates involvement by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the internal affairs of Bahrain. Due to security and confidentiality considerations, however, the GoB has declined to share this information with the Commission” (para 1585). Thus it is clear to anyone who reads with an open mind that the Commission could neither confirm or deny the involvement of Iran because of ongoing security issues.

Finally, the authors’ attempts to disparage the BICI and cast aspersions on its distinguished panel of commissioners who have dedicated their lives to Human Rights and International Law, as well as stating the report is not meant for Bahrain’s Shia citizens is both shameful and ludicrous. The BICI was established for ALL Bahrainis and its recommendations will benefit ALL Bahrainis. The authors’ attempts to increase sectarian division is not worthy of a forum that is meant to promote democratic reforms.

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