Bahrain’s Imprudent Crackdown on Shia Dissidents

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

عيسى قاسم 2The Government of Bahrain is deliberately pushing the Shia majority to a boiling point.  Instead of working toward a political solution to the country’s sectarian stalemate and decreasing the forced marginalization of the Shia, who make 70% of the population in Bahrain, the Al Khalifa Monarchy continues to adopt more oppressive measures.  It is hard to discern whether this policy is a choice of the Monarchy or imposed by the Saudi government, which enjoys great control on Bahraini politics and security — Saudi troops were sent to Bahrain in March 2011, after the beginning or the Shia uprising to save the Al Khalifa rule from an imminent collapse.

عيسى قاسم
Sheikh Isa Qassim attending the 1973 Constituent Assembly before Bahrain became an independent state.

The Government of Bahrain recently banned and dissolved three organizations, including the main Shia political opposition movement from political participation, subjected political activists to arbitrary travel bans, and prevented the Shia imams from any political speech.  Then, in an extremely provocative move, the regime withdrew the citizenship of the country’s highest religious authority, Sheikh Isa Qassim.  Despite being one of the founding fathers of the modern state in Bahrain, having been a member of the Constituent Assembly that framed the State’s constitutional system in 1973 (elected in 1972), Sheikh Qassim was unjustly targeted and fell victim of this arbitrary practice that became a political tool of first resort by the regime against political opposition and many Bahraini Shia had their citizenship withdrawn despite having roots in Bahrain that predate the Al Khalifa family itself.  More than 250 Bahraini citizens were stripped of their citizenship since mid-2014. In a statement by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Government reacted to this practice in the following words:

“We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain’s practice of withdrawing of nationality of its citizens arbitrarily…Our concern is further magnified by reports that Sheikh Qassim was unable to respond to the accusations against him before this decision was taken, or challenge the decision through a transparent legal process.”

The practice of provoking the majority of population on sectarian basis and arbitrarily targeting religious and spiritual authorities represents a wrongheaded policy that can only exacerbate the political conflict.  The Government of Bahrain must consider the consequences of causing the spiritual leader of its Shia majority to live in exile and give his followers a cause for a political struggle that will not end until his victorious return.

قاسم 3
Ayatollah Khomeini’s Return from Exile.

when the Shah of Iran deported Ayatollah Khomeini to Turkey, then Iraq in the early 1960s, the Ayatollah became the idol of devout Shia Iranians and his triumphant return to Iran in 1979 was marked by
the spectacular scene of up to five million people lining the streets of Tehran, to witness the homecoming.  By the time the Shah of Iran realized the grave mistake he made it was to late for him to do anything other than concede defeat and reflect for the remainder of the short time he lived in exile before his death.  But another tyrant took the lesson to heart and avoided the same mistake.

In the early 1980s, Saddam Hussein formed a high-profile committee of his senior lieutenants to study the possibilities of containing the highest religious authority in the Shia world, who resided in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassim al-Khoei (d. 1992).  One of the scenarios he asked the committee to consider was expelling the Grand Ayatollah to his country of birth, Iran.  After careful deliberation, the committee adopted the recommendation of the Director General of Security, Fadhil Al-Barrak, who urged the government to allow Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei to stay in Iraq where they could contain his activities and statements.  Al-Barrak argued that, if Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei left the Iraq, no one could tell what fatwas he would issue against the Iraqi regime and how the Shia Iraqis, a majority of the population, would react to these fatwas.  This kind of prudence seems to be missing in Bahrain these days.  The Al Khalifa regime, or the Saudi puppeteers who dictate its policies, seem to be blinded by their sectarian fear and prejudice and leaning toward making the same mistake the Shah of Iran made.  If Shia history teaches us anything, it would be that Bahrain can expect the same outcome as Iran.  The silver lining is that what seems to be a great injustice today may be the act that will pave the way for a correction of this historical deformity in Bahrain’s history.

Despotic rule should have no place in the twenty-first century, because any way we consider it, we see a system that is politically corrupt and morally deviant.


Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim

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