If you’re new to my blog, I think it would help to read my previous posts on the Bahrain crisis, otherwise this might not make so much sense to you. I recommend the following:
1) The Bahraini Protests; An Attempt to Understand (an analysis done on the first week of the crisis)
2) My Bahrain TV interview about the crisis
Allow me to relay the story from my perspective. And let me remind you that everyone sees the world through their own lens; and I see the world through a Royalist-leaning, “silent majority” perspective. Here goes…
Before February 14th
In the days leading up to February 14th, I did not take the uprising seriously at all. I knew there was talk of protests on Twitter and the social media, but I was far too busy with other things to give them much thought. The most interesting bit I read about the upcoming protests was on my friend Mahmood Al-Yousif’s blog. Mahmood did not think the protests would succeed. Here’s what he said at the time:
“In Bahrain [compared to the Egypt uprising], I fear it’s a completely different situation. So far.
I am disgusted by what I read in various sites and feeds. The over-arching direction in the Bahraini sphere is not only religious, but overly sectarian. Have a look at this video which reached me this afternoon:
“read the comments which are dripping with hate and sectarianism (on both sides) and then just go over to the various Facebook pages set up for the cause here and here amongst others I’m sure and see the quality of discourse there. Do you really think that any such movement would succeed? And if they do succeed, do you realistically think they will last long enough to launch a new a modern democratic country?”
One thing no one can dispute, is that the protesters were well organised, and their logistics and coordination were fantastic. They claimed to be peaceful from the start and maintained this claim throughout the crisis. But some protesters were peaceful, others were provocative, while others were violent.
The great contradiction in my opinion was the fact that the protest was called the “Day of rage”, while proclaiming that it was peaceful. Also, they claimed to speak on behalf of “the people of Bahrain” while they were mostly Shia citizens.
Then things took a nasty turn when the first protester (God rest his soul) was shot (allegedly in the back) by the riot police. This event just seemed to have added fuel to the flames. The protests escalated which led to another person dying on the next day. More anger and more fuel.
Bit by bit, the protestors were gaining sympathy, nationally and internationally. And then things reached a whole new level of interesting when the pearl roundabout came into the scene (apparently the roundabout was named the GCC roundabout, which seemingly no one realised until the GCC forces showed up).
The protestors were removed violently from the roundabout, and army forces were brought to keep it clear. The protestors were determined to take it back, and as they approached some idiot from the army shot at them, and if I recall, killing one and fatally injuring another.
This was probably the hight of the sympathy for the protesters. Bahrain (and I’m sure many people around the world) held it’s breath! A terrible stand off took place, where both sides (government and protestors) showed remarkable stubbornness.
And then the Crown Prince came on Bahrain television.
Whew! A voice of calm and reason in the sea of madness. Thank God for Prince Salman. You know the story, troops were withdrawn, and the Pearl Roundabout – which no one ever thought of as a significant monument – became the protestors’ symbol.
What a major victory for the opposition! I think more or less everyone was relieved. The Crown Prince called for dialogue with no restrictions and no conditions. The King endorsed the Crown Prince’s initiative, and hope was in the air.
The opposition were seen as heros by many, and people thought it was just a matter of time until this crisis would be resolved. Bahrain would become a better place for future generations. Thank God for wise men!
The charming resistance leader and his beautiful words
By all accounts, Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of Al-Wefaq (the main opposition society, which is Islamist Shia) was charming (not to mention good looking), grounded and logical. He spoke about unity for all Bahrainis. He said that he did not want an Islamic Republic, but a just, constitutional monarchy.
He said Bahrain was not just a land for Sunnis and Shia, but also for people of other faiths and non-believers too. A land where everyone (including expatriates) had the right to live in dignity. What wonderful words! It seems whoever heard him speak was charmed by him (I never heard him speak myself).
He only said things that pretty much everyone agreed on. And since the Crown Prince agreed to dialogue, I thought this can only end up being good for Bahrain.
He said that they were committed to peaceful demonstrations, and renounced violence. Nice! What a leader! No wonder so many of our Shia brothers and sisters (not to mention some Sunnis) where so impressed! And the fact that six other political societies joined his cause only gave him more credibility.
They were on a role. The world had their attention, and so did the government. Speaking of the government, it was caught completely by surprise, and was totally unprepared for this kind of organised, well orchestrated operation. They had lost the first round, so to speak. Their PR and crisis management was a disaster, and the opposition was having a field day. Bahrain TV did not know what to do with itself, and did not even acknowledge the Lulu roundabout until very late in the game.
The strange contradiction and what I saw at the Lulu roundabout
The Lulu roundabout had a carnival atmosphere to it. It was like a desert picnic camp. There were families hanging out in tents and even a popcorn machine (which became rather famous). There were debates and speeches taking place daily or almost daily.
But there were some pretty glaring contradictions. Though I did not walk around at the roundabout, I drove around it two or three times. I saw the peaceful protestors hanging out there, but I also saw the disturbing posters saying “the people want to overthrow the regime!” Wait a minute, is this about peaceful reforms, or overthrowing the government? I thought. The roundabout also had posters with slogans such as “death to Al-Khalifa” and “down with Hamad.”
There were also posters showing undignified Photoshopped posters of the GCC leaders (long before GCC troops were brought in). And of course there were the gory posters of the rioters who were killed and injured. They were everywhere.
There were more contradictions. While the charming Sh. Ali Salman preached peace, others were calling for a complete overthrow of the government. I remember one day my wife being very distressed, and when I asked her what was wrong, she told me about a chilling Pearl Roundabout speech she heard online, that was so full of hate. It really bothered her. She advised me not to listen to it, and I took her advice.
The most arrogant opposition in the world?
The strange thing is, when the Crown Prince offered dialogue, he was snubbed! Sh. Ali Salman said something to the effect that “in order for dialogue to take place, the right framework must be put in place first.” They would not enter dialogue without having (lots) of demands met first. Talk about being difficult. The demands reportedly included a new constitution being written first, the government to resign, release of political prisoners, and much more.
What kind of dialogue is this where you demands have to be met in advance?? This is not a win-win attitude but my-way-or-no-way attitude, very destructive. In my opinion, no matter how justified you feel your demands are, for God’s sake you should still enter dialogue – that was endorsed by the highest authority in the land!
The government tried
Realising that this pseudo-peaceful rebellion is serious, the government reacted positively. As I recall, they did the following:
- A mini-cabinet reshuffle, where prominent (Shia) government official Dr. Nezar Al-Baharna was put in charge of the all important Ministry of Health.
- 20,000 new jobs were to be created in the Ministry of Interior
- New (quick) housing developments were promised
- Billions of dollars of aid was brought in from other GCC states
And the promise of dialogue was still on the table. And? The Crown Prince was still snubbed. The opposition’s demands still had to be met, or no dialogue!
I can’t imagine how distraught the Crown Prince must have felt. I imagine the only thing that kept him sane was his love for his country. So off he went and came back later with more concessions. They were, as reported by the Gulf Daily News:
1) An elected parliament with full vested powers and prerogatives
2) A government reflecting the will of people
3) fairly-demarcated electoral constituencies
5) Combating financial and administrative corruption
6) State properties
7) Addressing sectarian polarisation and animosity, in addition to other principles and topics.
You’d think this was pretty good, right? Nope, still not good enough. THIS is when I started having serious doubts about this opposition (I know, I’m slow sometimes). It left me to conclude that the opposition wanted nothing to do with dialogue. They had a totally different agenda.
As the days went by, the protestors started becoming more confident and brazen. A new protest was planned in front of the Royal Court in Riffa. What?? Are you crazy?? Why would you want to do that unless you purposefully wanted to provoke the government – and the pro-government street.
As you can imagine, pro-government groups showed up in the main roundabout in the Riffa area, ready to defend their king. According to rumours, many were army personal in civilian clothing. I suspect there is some truth to that, but I still cannot condone going to the Royal Court, especially after they’ve been given the green light to stay at the Pearl Roundabout. How can this be good for the protestors?
How would they feel if pro-government demonstrators went to the Shia dominated villages, chanting death threats to their religious leaders? How would they like it if someone took photographs of Sheikh Ali Salman and Ayatollah Isa Qasim [a very high ranking Shia cleric and resistance leader] and started tramping them?
It didn’t stop there, now the violence started to affect family. On one of the days buss drivers decided to support the protestors, and you could see dozens of busses lined up near the roundabout. There were a group of busses who took up all three lanes of the highway near the roundabout. They drove extremely slowly, causing a long line of traffic behind them.
One of my poor relatives was stuck right behind them. Every time she tried to pass they’d block her. At some point she saw a gap and went for it. One of the busses stopped her. She told me the driver rushed out out and tried to violently open her door, which thankfully was locked. He tried to open the other doors, and when he found them locked too he started banging on the window violently. My poor relative was scared out of her wits! She later told me “how he was like a volcano of rage. I tried to talk to him but he just wouldn’t listen. He was so angry!”
What made the terrible situation worse was the fact that none of the other people stepped in to stop him. In fact they egged him on! Someone only stepped in and pulled him back when they saw her taking out her phone. She told me it seemed like they were more worried about her filming the madman than actually calling someone. It took her days to get over the incident.
The most amazing thing about this story is that she forgave him. she said to me “you know Suhail his bus had all kinds of photos of people that died. Maybe one of them was related to him. I don’t know what possessed him but I choose to forgive him.” Quite remarkable I thought. She never went public with her story.
The Bahrain Financial Harbour
Now the supposed peaceful movement decided to block the road from the Pearl Roundabout to the Financial Harbour. Again, how can you call this movement peaceful if you’re disrupting the lives of every day people? How can this movement be peaceful if you’re terrorising families and children? On one of the days a the protestors attacked (or rather violently provoked) a lady in her car while she was trying to get to work in the Financial Harbour.
Whenever Sheikh Ali Salman was confronted with these facts, he dismissed these acts as being done by hooligans who have nothing to do with his “peaceful” movement. He said they were the responsibility of the police and security forces. How convenient. Aren’t you speaking on behalf of the protestors? If you are, how can you not have control over them??
On the second evening (I think) of surrounding the Bahrain Financial Harbour, my wife and I passed by that area. There were some youths there with loudspeakers chanting “DOWN DOWN WITH HAMAD! NO TO DIALOGUE!” You can imagine how upset we were when we heard that.
When I look back at the events, I guess it seemed kind of obvious that the only thing they wanted was to take over. God help us all if that had worked, because these young men were blood thirsty.
The fascinating spell that refused to break
What really fascinates me in all this, is that many of the believers in the cause still did not admit that it was not peaceful. I’m talking about intelligent and logical people. Here’s a parody of different conversations I’ve had, and have heard others have:
Pro government person: So I guess the cat is finally out of the bag, huh? These protests were not so peaceful.
Anti government person: what are you talking about? The protests were peaceful. It’s those government thugs (baltajia) that were using violence!
Pro: Look, let’s be fair here, not all the protestors were peaceful. Also, provoking the police, blocking key roads, terrorising people and stopping trade is not exactly peaceful. I know people who were attacked, and there were many reports of people being attacked.
Anti: Show me one shred of evidence that violence was used!
Pro: They showed it on TV…
Anti: Everything Bahrain TV shows is lies! Besides, what about those people that died, should we forget about them??
Pro: Of course not! Every loss should be mourned, including those of the security forces and the innocent bystanders! But I still don’t understand why people intentionally went to die! Especially since the option of dialogue was on the table! Why walk up, bare chested, to security forces in the midst of the chaos and dare them to shoot? It doesn’t make any sense!
Anti: Only a real Bahraini would understand. Someone who read Bahrain’s history…
The spell just won’t break! Look, if you’ve seen my other writings you’ll know that I think the government made some big mistakes and carries a large part of the blame, but to insist on the innocence of the protestors like this is just bizarre!
Basically, the uprising was a poorly-veiled attempt at overthrowing the regime completely, and replacing it with whoever was the smartest at hijacking it.
Okay, moving on to another topic…
What about Iran?
The government says it has proof of links the opposition had to Iran. I haven’t seen this proof, but for me, as the days went by the link to Iran was becoming quite obvious.
First, the opposition spoke mainly through Iran-backed media. If this movement was not backed or supported by Iran, why did they talk to Iranian and Hizbollah media? Second, why did Iran show such intense interest in the Bahraini protestors? Shouldn’t they have worried more about their own protesters, who reportedly were being killed by their security forces?
Third, why not appear on Bahrain TV? No one can deny that Bahrain TV was irresponsible, and extremely reactive during the crisis. But as time passed they seem to have gotten their act together, and on several occasions invited/challenged Sheikh Ali Salman to the studio. As far as I’m aware, these request were ignored, and the opposition continued to talk to the international and the Iranian media only. I know this does not constitute proof, but is sure looks suspicious to me.
Speaking of BTV…
I know I know, probably the world’s most biased channel! But I have to give credit where credit is due. This was a dying channel that probably had less than 10,000 viewers. They were used to showing plain vanilla programmes and parroting Bahrain’s Leader’s declarations. Just like everyone else, they were caught completely by surprise and did not know how to react.
As time passed, they seem to have found their voice and went on the offensive. For the first time things were discussed that were Taboo before the crisis. True, maybe 90% of their guests were pro-government, and their hosts were not exactly subtle, but can you really blame them for being like this? According to one estimate, the opposition had 41 channels supporting them, and as I mentioned most were Iran-backed. The opposition had eloquent spokespeople and what seemed an unending archive of photos and films of the alleged abuse they received. The government (and BTV) felt cornered, and they went on their own, biased offensive.
It seemed presenter Mohammed Al-Sheroogi had a particular grudge to settle with Al-Alam channel. He delighted in disproving opposition claims that were made on that channel.
I hope BTV tones it down now, and works on helping to rebuild Bahrain, rather than fanning the flames. The opposition and the rioters were beaten. The government brought in allies to make a point and to send a message, “we are not alone.” What BTV now needs to do is modernise, and make sure they are a constructive partner in building a better and more just Bahrain.
Social media, videos, photos and “proof”
The amount of videos and photos that were shot/created/embellished during this crisis could probably fill a whole museum! For every tears-inducing photo shown by the opposition, there were others showing you how violent they were. There are photos of what looks like a protestors head being blown to bits, while there are others showing you rioters ramming their cars into the police men, killing them. And on and on it goes. Welcome to 21st Century propaganda. Damn scary!
So what’s a sane person to do? All you can do is look at the (supposed) facts in their totality, and make your own conclusion. I did that, and what you are reading now is my conclusion. And I respect anyone who wants to disagree with me.
A parting message…
This, by any stretch of the imagination is NOT over. The angry rebellion has been squashed, but not silenced. Unless the government acts proactively soon, there will be a new generation of youth brought up to hate the government and all it stands for. They will hate the ruling family even more than the ones we saw in the last few weeks.
The rioters will go to their homes, and tell their children of the brave rebellion of February 2011. How their parents and older brothers and sisters stood for justice and peace, and how the government ruthlessly cracked down on them.
There are two steps the government needs to take right now to avoid this. First, establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As I said in a previous blog post “I think the very fact that people will be allowed to speak openly will help them to heal. The proceedings should be aired live without edits on a dedicated Bahrain TV channel for all the world to see.” This must be headed by someone the public (both Shia and Sunni) perceive as impeccable.
Government officials who are perceived as corrupt (and I hope we won’t have any anymore) shouldn’t be allowed within ten miles of the Commission. They should not be seen as endorsing or championing it in any way. Otherwise it will die before being born.
Second, the government, hand-in-hand with it’s people, must remove any causes for hate. Societal injustices must be corrected; corruption must be thwarted; the legal system must be modernised; the representational bodies must be reevaluated, and about another dozen other things.
The new generation must hear stories of struggle, but also of social triumph. They should hear stories of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was open and transparent, which led Bahrain to a new and better future.
They should hear of true, grass-roots reforms that were introduced by hard-working people that loved their country above all else. By people who did not look at sect or religion, but who valued each other as human beings.
I believe this can be achieved.
And I pray for it.