Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Here We Have A Grand Prix To Enjoy"

Bahrain's dear and beloved foreign minister has a message for all those obnoxious journalists and human rights activists: Go bother someone else! 

Just a bit of background, after the Tunisian revolution and Egyptian overthrow of Hosni Mubarak the people of Bahrain joined their Arab compatriots in marching and rallying for democracy and representative government in their own country (a margin called for the outright abolishment of the carpet-bagging monarchy). Bahrain is effectively an apartheid state where a Sunni monarch favors the Sunni minority and disenfranchises the Shi'a majority; not only in parliamentary vote allocation (in the confined, to be generous, form of democratic-like governance allowed by the royals) but in state benefits and entitlements as well. This isn't a rigid form of apartheid akin to South Africa, but there is no denying that Shi'a are discriminated against based purely on the fact that they are Shi'a. 

Because of the sectarian schisms in the nation (a product of policy rather than history) the peaceful marches took on a sectarian character. They were never wholly Shi'a, but Sunni presence was less than forthcoming - Shi'a had a stronger claim to protest while many Sunnis feared a majoritarian government after growing accustomed to the benefits of minoritarian rule Whether the regime was willing to accommodate calls for a more robust parliament and fair distribution of votes and services is now speculation as the neighboring House of Saud sent in tanks across the Saudi Arabia-Bahrain causeway and ended the large-scale public displays of protest, although dissent and protest do continue in smaller, sporadic form (the al Saud have been aligned against any democratic movement in the Arab world, fearing precedents for their own highly repressive reign, and when they haven't been able to send tanks have sought to throw oil money in order to sabotage). And because of the sectarian split, the protests have been erroneously portrayed as pernicious doings of Shi'a Iran parlaying the Bahraini Shi'a as a fifth column to strike the Sunni Arab world. Okay then. 

For symbolic purposes, the regime even demolished the Pearl Roundabout which served as a meeting place akin to Cairo's Tahrir Square. The tanks have since left and Bahrain's government allowed for a human rights delegation as part of an effort to 'mend the wounds' and 'move on'. Really, they mean well. That delegation found evidence of not only heavy-handed police and military tactics, violent suppression of peaceful protests, arbitrary arrest and detention without charge, harassment of doctors treating the wounded, but also cases of official tortue which in many instances led to death. Over 20 Bahrains were killed during the initial phase of suppression and others have died since then (in a nation of 500,000 citizens). 

As for the Obama administration? Obama has since praised the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, but in Bahrain - where the US maintains the Navy's Fifth Fleet - the administration has adopted the following stance: "Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, reiterated the administration’s position that it condemns all forms of violence. “These are unproductive, unhelpful acts in building the kind of meaningful trust and reconciliation that is needed in Bahrain, and we’re calling for...demonstrators’ restraint in ensuring that they are peaceful"

The administration's coy behavior and complete disregard for the structure of violence inflicted by the regime against an unarmed civilian population (feigning as if regime violence and demonstrators with rocks are equal) is quite reminiscent of when Hillary Clinton, hedging her bets, said that the US is not "taking sides" between the Tunisian people and the now-defunct Ben 'Ali regime. Courageously, Obama called for free election in Tunisia...after Ben 'Ali's plane departed. 

In its PR campaign to whitewash a bloody suppression aided by one of the most oppressive regimes, the authoritarian royals of Bahrain have won back their staging rights to host a Formula One race: "Bahrain's government has spent $40 million to host the global luxury sporting event, hoping to demonstrate that normal life has returned to the Gulf island kingdom after it cracked down harshly on Arab Spring demonstrations last year.  But vivid televised images of streets ablaze - as masked youths hurl petrol bombs and police fire teargas and birdshot - threaten to embarrass Formula One and the global brands that lavish it with sponsorship.  "The government are using the Formula One race to serve their PR campaign," said rights activist Nabeel Rajab. "It's not turning out the way they wanted."

And Bahrain's Minister of Foreign (Subservience) Relations does not want to hear it anymore:  
"If any here to cover ugly bloody confrontations ,go to syria. Here we have a grand Prix to enjoy. Also, there is an ongoing war n the Sudan"

That was his Tweet. It's really cute. And made more so by borrowing the tactics of the Israeli government: 

Of course, this is a transparent tactic of obfuscation - by their standards the Syrian regime and Sudan, likewise, can point to...Bahrain and Israel. If you can't protest them all, why bother? 

But, then, why wouldn't Bahrain turn to Israel's model? It seems to have worked well enough for Israel.

The Israelis would take offense if the al Khalifa didn't. 

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