Bahrain Monitor - A Monthly Newsletter on the Human Rights Situation in Bahrain

Bahrain: The Inevitability of Confronting Violence Advocates

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Hasan Moosa Shafaie

The recent events in Bahrain are a natural and logical result of the political and security path that the country has been taking for nearly a decade. The arrests which took place in the context of violence, riots and vandalism of properties were also expectable. These arrests represent a turning point in the confrontation with some parties that the Government accuse of instigating violence and riots.

The Government’s decision to take tough measures came late for some observers, and came on time for other observers because violence had escalated and commercial streets, touristic and social sites, which have never been targeted before, were targeted this time. This pushed the Government to interfere firmly in order to stop the deterioration of the security situation in Bahrain.

It is difficult for violence and riots to become part of a newly established democratic process. It seems that the Government’s attempt to separate security from politics in order to protect the new political process from any harm has failed. It also seems that the attempt to control extremists by letting them participate in the political process has also failed.

The political process has been harmed in a way or another due to violence, or at least has lost some of its vitality due to violence escalation. The development projects have also been damaged in the areas that witnessed continuous rioting for several years.

What distinguishes the current confrontation is the fact that the arrests in the past involved teenagers in general who were detained for a limited period of time then released. However, the recent arrests targeted political leaders and prominent figures who reject the political system and believe that the law does not apply to them. For instance, they refuse to register themselves as a political society or obtain a licence for organizing protests or demonstrations. These groups believe that it is not necessary to adhere to peaceful political action and that setting fires, using Molotov and cutting electricity off are peaceful activities. These leaders were hoping that the situation would escalate due to the response of the security forces to violence. They had hoped that clashes would take place injuring some people and result in the arrest of rioters and that the situation would finally develop and ruin the political process itself.

The regime in Bahrain was hesitant about taking tough measures knowing that this is not in the country’s interest. But the extremists misunderstood this hesitation as weakness and used violence and insulting language to extent that there was no room for reconciliation. The advocates of violence always wished to escalate the situation thinking that they could achieve their objectives, however this turned out to be contrary to their expectations.

Now that the Government has decided to carry out a comprehensive confrontation with the advocates of violence, it is legitimate to ask whether the Government will adhere to human rights standards with regards to detention, investigations and trial. It is clear that violations have taken place such as the failure to provide lawyers for the detainees, preventing their families from meeting them, failure of revealing the exact location of their detention and failure to identify the law according to which they have been detained. Some of these issues have been dealt with but others have been delayed. This situation has caused some concern to international human rights organizations, which issued statements in this regard.

There is no objection to the Bahraini Government’s right to impose law and order, confront riots and advocates of violence or detain and investigate with anyone who threatens the security of the country. The problem is how far the Government is willing to respect the legal and natural rights of the detainees as stated in the domestic legislations and international conventions. Failing to do so would be regarded as a human rights violation.

On the ground, there are many security procedures that prevent the continuation of violence, vandalism and rioting. Based on the large number of security forces on the street and the fact that internal instigation has almost stopped, violence should decrease. There is also political consensus between the different parties to condemn violence and riots and support the Government’s right to impose law and order.

On the legal level, unlike previous situations, which ended with royal pardon, the detainees could be imprisoned this time. Most importantly, the trials should be public and fair and in the presence of human rights organisations.

On the political level, all confrontations and their repercussions should end before the elections on the 23rd of next October. Some people believe that the elections will be less exciting due to the security situation and the existence of detainees. Others believe that the Government is going to provide sufficient incentives for the elections. On the other hand, Al- Wifaq Society, which is the largest Bahraini society, said that the incidents will not affect its participation in the next election. However, it seems that Al –Wifaq needs to put more effort in order to convince its voters to participate in the election. This is if it really wants to win the same number of seats it won in the 2006 elections.

Some people, including both Sunnis and Shias, view the situation from a sectarian perspective and describe the recent confrontations as a conflict between the ‘Sunni Government’ and the Shia citizens in Bahrain. Others emphasised this sectarian perspective for their own political interests and mobilisation. The extremist wing does not represent the Shia majority who are participating in the political process and have their own institutions, figures and interests. This Shia majority does not view itself as being in conflict with the Government and does not feel that it is targeted in the confrontation with violence advocates. The President of Al- Wifaq Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, stated during a Friday prayer that the majority of Shia are harmed and unhappy about the riots.

Also, there are some people who perceive the recent events as being part of an Iranian conspiracy. For example, on 21 August Al Qabas newspaper published an article based on Bahraini intelligence information. The newspaper stated that a network of 250 individuals were arrested in Bahrain a few days ago and that the network has strong links to a military body in Iran and planned to act as soon as Iran is attacked. On 23 August 2010, the Bahraini national security denied the news and said that the detainees have no connections to Iran and also denied ‘the existence of any connection between the detainees and the Islamic Republic of Iran’.

This does not mean that violence will end or that the political process is safe. There will always be some people who are against the political system in principle and not only the political process. However, the measures taken so far should prevent violence from occurring and stop those who instigate it.

After the situation calms down, the political process needs a new start in order to bring life back into politics, which has lost its vitality. This can be achieved through strengthening the relations between the legislative and executive authorities. This is in addition to a better performance by the House of Representatives and passing new laws that expand the margin of freedom including the new Press Law and the NGOs law etc.