Bahrain saw its third consecutive days of protests against the forthcoming Formula One Grand Prix, as the leading Shia opposition group said it would hold a major demonstration to coincide with preparations for the event.
“The authorities are trying to use the Grand Prix as a platform to show progress, with claims that the human rights situation has improved, whilst stepping up repression in order to ensure nothing disturbs their public image,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s regional deputy director.
Bahrain’s largely-Sunni authorities reacted to the peaceful pro-democracy movement that started in February 2011 with a crackdown that killed 80 people, and the arrest and systematic torture of thousands. “In spite of all of these abuses, the Arab and international media has failed to cover Bahrain in the way they covered other revolutions in the ‘Arab Spring’”, writes Sayed Yousif Al-Mahafdah an official with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
“We, as human rights activists in Bahrain, ask journalists who are coming to cover the F1 to see the other side of things here, the side hidden by the authorities,” he writes in The Huffington Post. “We ask them to come and see the daily protests in over 40 areas of Bahrain where people demand their freedom and their right of self-determination.”
Irish Lawyers for Human Rights this week submitted a formal complaint to the President of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), calling for the expulsion of Bahrain from the association, according to the Project for Middle East Democracy.
A recent conference in the Bahrain capital Manama failed in its attempt to demonstrate that the ongoing national dialog was making progress toward democratic governance or addressing the grievances of the majority Shiite population, because there was “no empirical data or other direct evidence” to support such claims, says a leading analyst.
“The government has offered no concessions to meet the opposition’s demands and the dialogue has been virtually ineffective,” according to Geneive Abdo, a fellow at the Stimson Center and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.
She was also unconvinced by claims that opposition groups, including the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, are attempting to establish an Iranian-style theocracy with the collusion of Iran.
“There is little doubt that for more than 30 years Shiite Iran has tried to assert its influence through military force and soft power throughout the Middle East,” Abdo wrote in a recent issue of Foreign Policy:
But to date, there is no evidence — at least based upon public information and my own research of the country — that Iran is working to topple the Bahraini government, even though Tehran would welcome a change in Manama. A member of the royal family agreed with me that a distinction needs to be made between Iran’s direct intervention in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and its indirect influence in Bahrain. For example, Iranian state-owned media broadcasts its programming into Bahrain on an estimated 30 media outlets in Arabic. The message is generally that the Sunni Bahraini government represses the Shiite population, and Iran is the guardian of all Shiites.
“If the conference was any guide, the Bahraini political elites do not want to be perceived as presiding over a repressive state. Therefore, the moderates within the Bahrain government — those in the crown prince’s inner circle — should seize upon the moment and push for reform,” says Abdo, the author of the forthcoming, The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi’a-Sunni Divide, published by Brookings.
“This would be far more effective at improving Bahrain’s image and showing a commitment to reform than conferences in which there is little or no talk about addressing the grievances of the opposition.”
The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy
invites you to a luncheon presentation entitled
“Understanding the Struggle for Power
and the Democratization Process in Bahrain”
Matar Ebrahim Matar Visiting Fellow, National Endowment for Democracy
with comments by
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Thursday, April 25, 2013 12 noon–2:00 p.m.
(Lunch served 12:00–12:30 p.m.) 1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Tuesday, April 23
Bahrain’s political landscape is often reduced by western media to a discussion of the Sunni minority’s rule over a Shia majority population, an oversimplification that ignores the fact that the sectarian nature of the Bahraini regime is only a symptom of a much deeper problem. Moreover, the international community tends to focus on the prevention of human rights abuses, rather than examining the root causes of the violations.
In his presentation, leading democracy advocate Matar Ebrahim Matar will describe how Bahrain is dominated by a kleptocratic regime, in which the ruling royal family and its allies rely on an exploitative system to maintain control over the country’s resources. He argues that a reconceptualization of power dynamics can provide a better explanation for the country’s political and economic challenges and also lead to more realistic and effective solutions for meeting the complex challenges in Bahrain. Drawing upon his experiences in parliament and on the streets of Bahrain during the 2011 uprising, Mr. Matar will offer first-hand insights into the democracy movement in his country and propose recommendations for local and international stakeholders. His presentation will be followed by comments by Sarah Chayes.
Mr. Matar Ebrahim Matar is a well-known political activist who served as Bahrain’s youngest-elected member of parliament, representing its largest constituency. In February 2012, along with eighteen members of his al-Wefaq political party, he resigned from parliament in protest of the Bahraini regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. During the February 2011 uprisings, he encouraged youth participation and informed the media and foreign officials of ongoing developments, actions that later made him a government target. Mr. Matar continues to speak out on behalf of the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain and has testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the United States Congress. The author of several articles and book chapters on prospects for democratic reform in Bahrain, he was awarded the Leaders of Democracy Award by the Project on Middle East Democracy in 2011. During his fellowship at NED, he is analyzing labor market reforms and its impact on democratization in the Gulf region. Ms. Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.