Bahrain: A Beginner's Guide
6 years later... Are we democratized yet?
“Washington is nowhere as slick, or as manipulative, or as Machiavellian, or even often as competent as people in the Middle East or in Europe think. I think that, you know, there’s just a lot of cock-ups happening here all the time.” -brian dooley
This month marks the 6th anniversary since the world held their breath and watched on as the fire of revolution began to sweep across the Middle East. Today, we take a close look at Bahrain, and with the help of some excellent experts, analyze its democracy story.
A very special thanks to today’s guests; Former Bahrain Prime Minister Matar Ebrahim Ali Matar @Matar_Matar, Director at Human Rights First Brian Dooley @dooley_dooley, Exeter research fellow and key member of Bahrain Watch Marc Owen Jones @marcowenjones, and the great PM “himself” - @SheikhKhalifaPM. You guys are awesome.
Show image by Mahmood Al-Yousif @malyousif via Flickr. Music provided via www.freemusicarchive.com through Creative Commons licensing. This show’s music by Evil Bear Boris, Daizy, Sequoia, Steve Combs, Ketsa, Blue Dot Sessions, and The Owl.
Al Jazeera. “Bahrain: Shouting in the dark”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaTKDMYOBOU. Uploaded on Aug 4, 2011.
Al Jazeera. “Bahrain strips Sheikh Isa Qassim of nationality”. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/bahrain-strips-religious-leader-nationality-160620122338238.html. 21 June 2016.
Bassiouni, Mahmoud Cherif, Chair, et al. Report
of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. Manama, Bahrain. 23 November 2011.
Dooley, Brian. Interview by Gregory Haddock. Majority Villain. July 2016. Podcast.
Jones, Marc Owen. Interview by Gregory Haddock. Majority Villain. February 2017. Podcast.
Matar Ibrahim Matar. Interview by Gregory Haddock. Majority Villain. July 2016. Podcast.
Seeker Daily. “Why Do Saudi Arabia and Iran Hate Each Other”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-dMM3HRnhY. Published on Apr 5, 2015.
Vice News. “The Revolt That Never Went Away — Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fVF0qQU3kc&t=1055s. Published on Nov 10, 2014.
In the spring of 2011 it was almost impossible to turn on a TV and not see the scene taking place seemingly everywhere in the Arab world. Beginning in late 2010, a fruit merchant by the name of Muhammad al-Bouazizi set himself on fire in the streets of Tunisia after having his product once again arbitrarily confiscated by police. Although the protest of self-immolation was not new to the region, the act became a wildfire for wide spread unrest, and within a short amount of time thousands were out in the street protesting and rioting against corruption, unemployment and high food prices. Soon thereafter, in January of 2011 riots broke out in Algiers. Amidst demands, Tunisian president Ben Ali promised to step down by 2014, and then the very next day fled the country to Saudi Arabia. A few days go by and soon massive protests break out in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya. Dozens are killed when security forces come to qualm rising tensions, only to add to the unrest. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan dismiss their governments and promise reform. Demonstrations erupt in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Palestine. Morocco, Oman and Syria add their names to the list and just as if it had slipped as silently out of our conscience as it had abruptly entered - it appeared to be over. The majority of countries appeared to go back to business as usual. Tunisia was one of the lucky ones as experts deemed it a revolutionary success in Democratic reform. Unfortunately, not all could make that claim. Syria spun into total disarray and civil war that is the mess we see today. Similarly Yemen has spiraled into civil war and has been largely forgotten in the media as its people are squeezed between two powerhouses of the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the two engage in an indirect form of conflict called a proxy war.
Millions around the world watched on televisions, newspapers and social media with warm regards of the promise of Democracy for millions. Perhaps I should only speak for myself in saying that I truly believed a great thing was in the making, and despite awful tragedies of the price being paid its citizens, I reveled in the idea that we were witnessing a sincere rebirth for many nations - a fresh start. I was wrong.
There pervades a mythology in American society that the path to Democracy is inevitable, and that one need only to get the ball rolling in the right direction. The spirit of Lady Liberty and the ghosts of our forefathers will do the rest, as if the rest of the world somehow secretly wanted (or was even ready for that matter) for a heavy dose of export ed US Democracy. If we have learned anything in this time, it is this: Democracy takes an immeasurable amount of patience, diligence, commitment, heart and courage - and in no way it is ever guaranteed.
Today on Majority Villain we look at one country’s engagement in the Arab Spring: Bahrain.
The small island nation of Bahrain lies just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and it has like many other nations of the Persian Gulf, more humble beginnings. It was known for most of its history for its pearl fisheries, and Great Britain had long been a presence in the region before the 1931 discovery of petroleum. Rapid modernization and a series of flirtations with parliamentary politics followed thereafter.
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, meaning it has both a royal family and a constitution. Matar was a member of the political party Al-Wefaq, and even though the government has three separate legislatures of 40 seats each the relative strength of checks and balances is largely overpowered by the will of the King, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Al-Khalifa royal family has maintained considerable control over the nation, and it wasn’t until 2006 that opposition party Al-Wefaq won a majority of seats in parliament. Matar was a member of this party.
The Bahrain Uprising: On February 4th protests erupt outside the Egyptian embassy in Manama. The 14th became dubbed the “Day of Rage” as thousands of people got out to protest in rallies. Security forces immediately began to crack down on demonstrators. That evening, one protestor by the name of Ali Mushaima is shot in the back and killed. The next days of mourning brought only more sympathizers to rally around the Pearl Roundabout, a massive monument to the country’s humble beginnings in the pearl fisheries in the days long before the discovery of petroleum.
The early hours of February 17th would come to be known as “Bloody Thursday” when nearly 1000 police came to break up the meager 1500 or so protestors who had begun camping in the area. Over 200 were hospitalized and 3 were killed. That evening, 18 members of parliament from the opposition group Al-Wefaq resigned. Matar was among them.
A vast amount of tension in the middle east stems from conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran is a Shia Majority nation that has become increasingly fundamentalist since their revolution in 1979. Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni country that has an understanding of shared power between the Saudi family (literally where the country gets its name. How about that for a birthday present) and Wahhabism - an extremely fundamentalist and conservative branch of state-sponsored Sunni Islam. While Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are politically intertwined, Iran and Bahrain that are both majority Shia. This places the Bahraini movement for democracy in a peculiar place.