The case of Shiites in Bahrain is not a casual or temporary one, but an old and continuing issue. It is represented in the relationship between a ruler and the ruled, a king and a sheikh, and Persians and Arabs. There may be similar cases in several Arab countries, where there is blockage in political relations. But the case in Bahrain is more complicated as multiple factors are involved, perhaps the most important of which is the sectarian and racial identity. Researcher Abdul-Aziz al-Khamis review the political conflict in Bahrain.
Sectarianism can be seen by many to play an important role in the Bahraini political conflict. Bahrain may have been on its way to presenting a unique model of peaceful co-existence and relations, governed by a constitution and freedoms. However, politicians reached a deadlock. It has been suggested that if they had sought for a way out of this situation this could have been prevented. However rather than striving to solve this issue, they were busy fighting, and the streets of Manama and Al-Mahraq turned into battlefields, where young people prevailed, hooligans had their landmarks, and where liars specialized in modifying pictures, be they officials or oppositionists.
Who has led Bahrain to a new Karbala (in reference to the historical battle in Iraq when Imam Hussein was killed)? Who thought that blood could bring a citizen closer to a homeland that loves life? Is it the turban- and robe-wearing Sunnis and Shiites? Or is it the intransigence of a ruling regime that would not like to lose its control and interests, and allows citizens to get involved in political life only with conditions?
Has the political decision maker in Bahrain become preoccupied solely with foiling protests and benefiting from the support of lookalike regimes? Or is it the religious decision maker that went out of his mosque to pollute his purity with politics and share it with politicians, exploiting the simple people and their emotions under the guise of things that are holy?
Where is Bahrain heading to? Has it become a new Lebanon and a Saudi-Iranian fighting ring? Where are the wise men of a country that enjoyed civilized institutions and was the pearl of the Gulf, at a time when its neighbours were leading a life of hardships?
What is the map of Shiite forces in Bahrain, being the important player on the Bahraini political stage? Where do the majority of Shiite forces stand, and with whom? Perhaps more importantly, against which forces?
In this paper, we review the conflict between the Bahraini regime and the Shiite forces in that small island.
The History of conflict
|Clerks in politically murky tracks|
The rise of Arab revolutions was not new to Bahrain, as confrontations between the ruling Al-Khalifa family and Shiites in Bahrain had existed since it was a British protectorate.
In 1954, the Committee of National Union collected the signatures of 25,000 Bahrainis out of a total of 80,000, the country’s population at the time, calling for wider political freedoms. The situation began to evolve in 1956, resulting in the disbanding of the committee and the imprisonment of its leaders.
The demands of the committee were: enacting a constitution for the country, establishing a legislative assembly, allowing workers to set up their own syndicate, developing the state apparatuses, reforming the judiciary, and the formulation of jobs for the people of Bahrain.
On 14 August, after Britain relinquished its protection of Bahrain, its Emir Eissa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa declared the independence of his country. However Iran demanded Bahrain form official affiliations to it. This urged the Bahraini people to call a UN-supervised referendum, for the establishment of an independent state, under the rule of Al-Khalifa.
The referendum was conducted under the supervision of the representative of the UN’s secretary-general, Genyo Spardi.
Sheikh Eissa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa issued a law decree number (12) for the year 1972, focusing on the establishment of a constituent assembly, in order to draft a constitution for the state.
The first session of the constituent assembly was held on 16 December 1972, following the election of 22 members of the assembly. These members were joined by eight members chosen by Emir Eissa, and 12 government ministers. This make-up of the assembly gave the upper hand to the elected members, rather than to the wing of the government.
In 1973, the Bahrainis elected the members of the National Assembly, which enjoyed control and legislative powers. Despite the Emir having extensive executive authority; it was him who appointed the prime minister and ministers..
In 1975, following the Lebanese crisis, the Emir disbanded the assembly, this lead to a rise in the tension inside Bahrain, between Shiites and Sunnis.
The Bahrainis opposing the policy of Al-Khalifa did not stop dreaming of a re-application of the 1972 constitution. Pleas were submitted to the Emir several times and under multiple names, including “elite plea” and the “popular plea”. In 1992, the late Emir Eissa Bin Salman set up a shura council in order to absorb the popular tension, but unfortunately this proved to be un-successful.
In 2000, the succeeding Emir Hamad Bin Eissa, decided to revert to the national action covenant. He formed a committee for this purposes and started dialogue with the opposition. The people later voted, and overwhelmingly agreed upon a draft whose introduction was headlined “historical character of Bahrain, civilization and development”. This was followed by seven further chapters, whose headlines were: basic factors, ruling regime, economic foundations of society, national security, parliamentary life, Gulf relations, foreign relations, and was concluded by a chapter “the predictions of the future”, which included two paragraphs, the first about the name of the state of Bahrain, and the second about its legislative power.
After that, the king felt more able to institute reforms and changed the name of his small state into a kingdom, and his title from emir to king. He then embarked up conducting free and direct parliamentary elections (24 October 2002) to elect the members of a legislative assembly (parliament).
But it was not long before this beautiful island, whose people were known for their kindness and civilization, bore witness to the revolt of the Shiite sect against the king.
Goals of fighters
|Ali Salman, enmity, threat, now negotiator|
The Shiite sect in Bahrain is divided into two sections. The first supports integration with the state and the royal institution, and the other rejects and even opposes the state.
When reviewing the Bahraini government’s view of the Shiite trend attention must be given to the organisations within it. In a leaked document on the activities of the Shiite organizations and associations in Bahrain, a copy of which was obtained by Middle East Online website, it can be seen that since 2004, the authority in Bahrain has identified its main enemy as the SUC. The authority accuses this council of being the Iranian spearhead in Bahrain and the centre of operations, which lead and direct the activities of Shiite institutions and events.
The Bahraini government believes that the Shiite Ulammae Council (SUC) represents Wilayat-e-Faqih in Bahrain, follows its orders, and is considered in its means to unify Shiite efforts behind Iran; encouraging obedience and affiliation to the council.
The government considers the SUC to be the body opposing the legitimacy of the king and the state and one that threatens national sovereignty. The government believes that the council takes calculated steps towards the overthrow of the national security strategy, which includes the laws of political associations, gatherings, terrorism and others. It is the concern of the government, that through these activities, the council is attempting to seize power.
The Bahraini government, according to the document, works to bridle, contain and weaken the SUC and is engaged in a fierce battle with it. The battle is intended to create a democratic atmosphere that would serve the interests of the regime and its institutions. The council would also be weakened through the establishment of responsible municipal councils, which would encourage the participation of the people over the council, which is the Islamic Wifaq Association. The Sunni street would also be encouraged, through the SUC, to stand against the Iranian interference, in the affairs of Bahrain. National unity would also be strengthened.
Axes of conflict
|Mosques’ agitations tuned into crisis|
The Bahraini government started to implement a plan, the most important part of which was to contain the promoters of Wilayat-e-Faqih, represented in the field leadership of the SUC. In order to do so, a governmental project was created under the chairmanship of the head of the royal court. The aim of the project was to tighten security, political, organizational and religious control around the council, its promoters and supporters.
It was also intended to support the independent and neutral Shiite blocs and the Shiites who are in agreement with the king’s reformist project. This project would also assist in the development of these groups into a positive alternative to the SUC within Shiites.
For its part, it is felt that the SUC focuses its efforts on the Shiite centres of population, in order to create a high sectarian sense that not only is related to specific causes, but also increases to such a degree that it becomes an active nationalist and Islamic sense.
The council tries to offer important ideas to the Bahrainis in relation to their security, interests, aspirations and critical causes. Such recipes help the Shiite citizen to form a principled position at both the individual and societal levels, but also provides them with the ability to adapt in line with the change of the local, regional and international living conditions.
At the Bahraini level, the document, obtained by Middle East Online, identifies that the SUC raises issues for discussion at the fundamental level which are: Naturalization, dual nationality, sectarian discrimination, constitutional reforms, financial and moral corruption, and fair distribution of wealth, unemployment, services and environment.
At the regional level, the council works to make its supporters aware that they have to be sensitive towards the issue of Palestine and its interrelations with the Lebanon. It encourages the understanding of the internal war in Iraq, and above all encourages solidarity with Iran.
The council works, through its organizational tools (Wifaq Association, Haqq), to target the Bahraini youths as part of a cultural and ideological building programme that, according to the governmental view, is based on spreading the culture of rebellion, disobedience, revolution, and the values of sword and blood. It is also thought to be based on intensification of the symbols of “Al-Mazlumiyah” which is related to Islamic history, which gradually boosts their strength and helps them impose their moral influence. They are different from the other political blocs which lack an organized ideological approach.
The government accuses the SUC of working to besmear the experience of reform, democratic transformation, its system and those in charge of it. The government also accuses the council of mobilizing public opinion against the state and working to stir seditions, unrest and to undermine stability and by doing so, turn loyalty towards the Shiite reference authority, represented in the SUC.
The SUC attacks, publicly and implicitly, the King of Bahrain, with the aim of shaking the prestige of the symbols of government. It is felt that the Council also spreads negative rumours about the government in an attempt to undermine it.
The king’s supporters suggest that the SUC - in a systematic process - has gradually removed the political legitimacy of the king in its political discourse, and has in its place encouraged the slogan “the symbolic rule for Hamad, and the real rule for Ayatollah Qasim”. It has been suggested that use this slogan to represent the religious symbol Eissa Ahmad Qasim, Iran’s man in Bahrain, as described by the king’s supporters.
It is felt that in an attempt to weaken the king, the SUC distances the Sunni sect from its constants and cripples its movement and encourages, defeatism and frustration among their ranks. It is also thought to promote positive symbols of the opposition leaders and impart the qualities of heroism and sacrifice on those involved in violence and its promotions.
The king’s supporters identify that the SUC has started to flex its militia muscles, as it took advantage of several gatherings to deploy uniformed, young supporters, to supervise traffic outside the meeting centres. Some of them stood as personal guards beside their leaders, while they were delivering morale-boosting sermons, in an approximation to the militia form of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The matter extended beyond this to the point of holding physical, ideological and spiritual training camps on a periodic basis.
In comparison, the Bahraini government appears to have been aware of what was going on, but it relied on its official power which is part of the state. This appears to have been undertaken amid calls from the enemies of the SUC, that the reply should be in kind, and that incubators and bodies independent of the state should be formed to practise the same role of incitement against the council. It has been suggested that these bodies should be composed of Sunnis and Shiites, loyal to the king and to an open, civilized system that sees “Bahrain is first” as the only respectable slogan in the island.
As the SUC was mobilizing its supporters to face the king, the king was allowing the right of assembly, marches and demonstrations in line with the constitution. Bahrain became the number one country in the region with the largest number of marches and demonstrations. Indeed the state was seen to be protecting them and facilitating their movements.
The government was so tolerant that the Shiite Mutabaroon (head cutters in mourning), during the Ashura celebration ceremonies, used to have their swords and knives sterilized by the government Red Crescent vehicles, for their safety.
The king and his various interventions have tried to contain the political changes under the framework of his institution and through Bahraini traditions that respect his political presence. However the representatives of the Wilayat-e-Faqih in Bahrain failed to acknowledge the game and rebelled against it in the first Arab revolutionary spark. They believed that the time had come to be liberated from the monarchy, to topple the regime and to launch the first Islamic Shiite republic in the Arab world..
The mechanism of conflict
|Homeland imprisoned by sectarian strive|
According to the point of view associated with the Bahraini regime, what is happening in Bahrain now is described as a power struggle between Ali Akbar Khamenei and Hamad bin Eissa Al-Khalifa.
The talk about civil peaceful demands from the Bahraini people is something that has some truth in it, but it must be considered that the battle is between Iran and Bahrain, between old ambitions taking advantage of new situations. With particular focus upon the Arab revolution, with its youths, hopes and popular demands of reform.
Nobody can deny that the people of Bahrain have the right to see their political system developed, but those who suggest there is no Iranian interference in the conflict, must be seen to be deluding themselves. Documents, statements, workshops and conferences, speak of an Iranian dream that has to be achieved at the expense of the Arab identity and through the manipulation of the demands of the country’s people.
These ambitions can be reviewed through statements by Iranian officials:
- When internal problems occurred in Bahrain in 1919, there were several calls from Iran for the appointment of a Bahrain representative in the Iranian parliament, and a suggestion of electoral reform..
- Iran was behind the unrest that took place in Bahrain in 1922, when it was inciting some residents of Iranian origin to instigate discontent..
- In June 1922, the British consulate in Bandar Abbas sent a report to its government, in which it said that the Iranian passport clerks in the Bandar Lanjah Airport had confiscated the passports of Bahraini nationals visiting Iran and declared that they were considered Iranian nationals.
- In 1923, the Iranian consul, in holy Najaf, stressed to all Iranians and nationals of Bahrain, which they need to, register their names with the Iranian consulate in the holy Najaf.
- In 1927, Iran objected to the treaty between King Abd Al-Aziz bin Saud and the British government, in which the king pledged to keep friendly relations and peace with Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the Omani coast, all of which had special relations with the British government. In its objection, Iran said that it did not recognize the presence of a treaty between Bahrain and Britain, and that what came in the treaty of King Abd Al-Aziz was considered a violation of the Persian sovereignty over its regional counties.
- Also in 1927, Iran resorted to alternative methods of applying pressure, including sending its agents and emigrants to Bahrain with the aim of turning the people against their rulers and stir sectarian sedition in the country. This was mentioned in memos sent by the British political resident in the Gulf, to the Indian government in which he said: “Bahrain has become a base for Iranian conspiracies, and intensive Iranian emigration to Bahrain must be stopped.”
- In 1934, Iran objected to the signing, by Bahrain, of a contract with a foreign company pertaining to oil privileges, and said that the agreement was made without the approval of Iran, it was further suggested that it reserved its right in the case of profit, or compensation in the case of loss.
- Iran resorted to intensifying the waves of emigration to Bahrain, which forced the government of Bahrain to issue the nationality and monarchy law in 1939, in order to control Iranians being awarded Bahraini nationality.
- On 12 September 1945, Nayroz an Iran newspaper, included in its editorial, a speech delivered by the Iranian foreign minister at the parliamentary council, in which he asked the US to take its time in extracting oil from the Bahrain fields, “given the Iranian rights and property in Bahrain”.
- In 1946, the Iranian parliament issued a decision that Iran intends to practise its sovereignty over Bahrain and apply internal postal fees on letters issued to Bahrain.
- In 1951, the Iranian Ministry of Education issued a decision that students at schools should learn that Bahrain belongs to Iran.
- In 1957, Iran announced a decision to attach Bahrain to the Iranian divisions, and in 1958 dedicated two seats in its parliament for Bahrainian officials, these seats were occupied by Abdallah Al-Zabrah and Abd-al-Hamid Al-Eliwa.
- In 1975, the Iranian government issued a new decision to attach Bahrain, which the decision called the 14th province, to the Iranian territory.
- On 4 January 1967, during a visit to New Delhi, Iran’s Shah Muhmmad Reza Bahlavi made a statement regarding his policy towards Bahrain, saying “The Bahraini islands were separated, by the British, from our country 150 years ago and attached to their [the British] empire”.
- In July 2007, Hussein Sharietemdari, the editor-in-chief of the famous Iranian Kihan newspaper and the advisor to the supreme leader of the Iranian revolution Ali Khamanei, reported that Bahrain is considered part of Iran.
- In the Iranian Mashhad city in February 2009, Ali Akbar Natiq Nuri, the head of the general inspection at the office of the leader of the Islamic revolution Khamenei, claimed that Bahrain belongs to Iran, saying that it was the 14th Iranian province and was represented by a deputy at the National Shura Council.
- On 30 April 2011, in statements, the chief of staff Major General Hasan Fayiruz Abadi attacked the Gulf region, and said that it was hostile to Iran, claiming that “this region was always property of Iran”.
- After this historical chronicle, we can notice how the Iranian ambitions in Bahrain have not stopped, although Iran declared its recognition of Bahrain as an independent state during the days of the shah. But it is not long before Iran returns to declare its interest in the region. The ambitions were previously due to the detection of oil, which was discovered in Alto. However it is felt that current interest is due to the desire of officials to expand their political influence and get closer to the holy lands in the Arabian Peninsula.
The government mechanisms
According to the government’s document on the SUC, we can see that there are key strategic measures in place to address the activity of council, which the Bahraini government accuses of being Iranian in terms of foundation, including its work and objectives.
The strategy includes several axes, the first of which is to create and organize a database about the supporters of Wilayat-e-Faqih in Bahrain, which operates through the SUC. This will allow for the dedication of government forces towards this, with a focus on national security, the investigation, and the ministries of Islamic affairs and endowments, justice and social affairs.
The second axis is to re-affirm control and fully contain the influence centres of the SUC, to embody the active national presence.
The third axis is to create an alternative organizational structure, to coordinate and support the rehabilitation of the supporters of Wilayat-e-Faqih, with missions, mechanisms and calculated and specific programmes, directed towards encouraging loyalty to the national constants, as specified by the king.
In order to implement this strategy, the Bahraini security systems employed a strategy of engagement and appropriate use of resources, in order to visit - on a daily basis - Shiite places, and organize and support media, entertainment and religious activities, in order to rival the activities of the anti-government bodies. They attempted to resist the great expansion of the SUC, which fiercely resisted the government intervention, and used money (which the regime believes comes from Iran through Shiite personalities in Kuwait) and men to charge with betrayal, anyone who cooperates with the regime including those who were independent of Wilayat-e-Faqih, in terms of thought and action.
The Bahraini regime has attempted to contain the power of the SUC and its supporters. The regime’s semi-impossible mission was to create an effective alternative to the influence of Wilayat-e-Faqih, as represented by the SUC. The regime established an independent unit in the national security apparatus, concerned with analysing and monitoring the Shiite, and even the Sunni, religious activity.
The regime also tried to fill vacancies in places of worship, with imams not associated with Wilayat-e-Faqih and its SUC. The regime organized programmes and mechanisms to rehabilitate the religious education in the Jaafari Education Institute in Al-Jafeer. Designed to be a suitable alternative to those associated with Wilayat-e-Faqih. The unit also recruited religious science graduates to encourage the best of them to find a suitable alternative, as opposed to the SUC. The Bahraini regime also encouraged the development of the fiqh, intellectual, and political orientations, which would rival Wilayat-e-Faqih. This programme would be undertaken through comprehensive and integrated activities, such as workshops, personal invitations, visits, publications and conferences.
The containment strategy, adopted by the government, became noisier when the national newspapers, radio and television, were used to strengthen the campaign against the SUC. But the stronger the campaign against the Council, the more support and credibility the council won among the Shiite youths.
The mechanisms of opposition
|After agitation, Iran send a ship full of “chanting’|
The conflict between the political blocs opposing the government was non-stop. The regime did not find it easy, and the opposition could not have exclusive presence on the popular scene. The places of worship were considered to be the fighting ring between the two sides and were related to the events of Ashura. It was felt, during this period that the opposition took advantage of the places of worship politically. The Husseiniyah funerals, represented a time and place where the regime was in an unenviable position.
At the Shiite level, the regime faced the SUC, which has played a big role since the king tried to establish a legitimate constitutional monarchy, unfortunately he has not been able to achieve this goal. The SUC can be considered to be a thorn in the throat of the regime and its project. The Council led an opposition, derived from the thought of Wilayat-e-Faqih and opposes the legitimacy of the state and threatens its sovereignty.
The reason for the establishment of this council was the absence of a unified religious authority for Shiites in Bahrain. This is the announced objective, however the aim that the government promotes as being the fundamental reason for establishment is Iran’s desire to control the Shiite scene and direct it to carry out its agenda.
The defenders of the Council see that the keystone for understanding the religious situation in Bahrain, and the political position also, is that there is clear schism within the sect, and the tradition is changeable, different and multiple, which makes many people able to work freely inside the Shiite circle, in accordance with the other Gulf states, but it results in to a discrepancy in the process of working to establish the rights of Shiites and their interests.
In order to fill the religious authority vacuum, an important group of Shiite scholars established the Ulamma Islamic Council in October 2004.
According to a statement by the member of the central committee of the council, Sheikh Muhammad Sanqur, all (Shiite) Islamic trends were invited to participate in the establishment of the Council. He suggested that the essential mission of the council is related to the religious and social affairs. However the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Islamic affairs Sheikh Abdallah bin Khalid Al-Khalifa, suggested that the SUC was violating the constitution.
It has been suggested that the establishment of this Council was a rejection of the affiliation of the Shiite religious institution to the regime and an important declaration of organizational independence of the religious body of the state. The council is considered to be a representative of the promoters of Wilayat-e-Faqih, as proposed by its opponents inside the Shiite body.
The monarchy supporters in Bahrain accuse this council of having been established to topple the Bahraini regime, and say that the activities, protests and clashes that took place after its establishment, were planned by the council and were conducted in agreement with Iran.
At the time of the formation of this council, the official bodies in charge of the organization of religious affairs, as described by the special report, gave little consideration to adjusting their positions, in line with the requirements of national security. This may have made the Shiite citizen fall in the hand of the doctrinal politicization and affiliation to Wilayat-e-Faqih through the supporters of the SUC.
With the government failure and the rise in the stakes of the SUC, the independent imams found themselves in an unenviable position; as a result they became, according to some, more narrow-minded and formed affiliations with the SUC. The imams’ opposition to the regime appeared as a religious certificate of good conduct and behaviour.
With the growing activities of the SUC, the prestige of the state inside places of worship has declined and the mosques have become, as described by the document, nurseries for negative opposition, incitement and incubators of terrorist and extremist thought. As a result of this the state describes the appearance of ‘preachers of hatred’.
|Started peaceful. Then came Hezbollah|
It was felt that it was not beneficial for the state to use excessive security measures in order to restructure the religious space, as demonstrated by the governments in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria. It can be considered that as a result the security measures in Bahrain moved from one mistake another. However it can be suggested that the Bahrainis may not be entirely to blame for this, for how can they stand in front of a ghoul like Iran and its agents?
But are the efforts of the state and its fight with SUC, Iran’s strong arm in Bahrain, the only battles the council faced?
The reality is that there are other battles taking place on the Shiite scene, along the lines of other Shiite Arab scenes. It is true that Iran’s financial support for its supporters has strengthened the influence of Khamenei, but there were Shiites who have acknowledged their love for their Arab identity and were pride of their nationalism and their being Arab Shiites.
The late Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah was widely praised and respected by many Bahrainis. This is because his fatwas represented a source of attraction that caused concern for the followers of Khamenei, particularly as Fadlallah was working to strengthen the Najaf Hawza (religious school), and many Sunnis respected him because he did not accept the word of everyone who spoke to him, including those talking about the responsibility of Caliph Omar bin Khattab, for the death of Fatima Al-Zahraa (daughter of Prophet Mohammed).
Fadlallah was very popular inside Bahrain and among its youths, who wanted to strengthen their Arab roots, through the maintenance of their Arab commitment. As a result of the rise in popularity of the star of the sheikh, the Wali Faqih incited Ayatollah Najati, from his pulpit in the Al-Hiyak Mosque in Al-Mahraq, to sign, together with eight of Qum scholars, a famous statement in which they denounced Fadlallah.
Fadlallah was not the only one who fought the ideas of the Wali Faqih. Mr Hani Fahs can also be considered to have railed against this organisation. He represented an enlightened thought among the Shiites of Bahrain and was open-minded towards officials; he also visited Bahrain many times and met with its officials. Hani Fahs also dealt with the Bahraini youths, some of who saw in him as a religious man representing them, he presented as being open-minded towards to arts, despite his graduation from the Najaf Hawza.
Hani Fahs offered Bahrain and its Shiites an intellectually open-minded figure that was different from the Wali Faqih and his thoughts of unification, which demanded the affiliation of Bahrain to his ideas..
Iran promoted ideas which appeared to be in direct opposition to those of the Wali Faqih; and as a result many Bahrainis returned from Iran carrying progressive Shiite ideas, not only at the level of their sect, but also at the entire Islamic level. The ideas of Abdel Kareem Sarush, Muhammad Laghnhawzin, Mustafa Malikan and Sheikh Muhammad Mujtahid Sebtsheri came under a great intellectual title, the school of the new science of speech and the religious knowledge trend. These ideas have contributed to the maturity of a new thought among the Shiite youths, promoting ideas of religious plurality and co-existence between religions and cultures.
Above all this, those thinkers do not monopolize the truth, nor do they claim that it belongs to them only. They share and accept others.
One of the Shiite schools which the Bahraini regime failed to support is the school of the authority Muhammad Al-Amin Zayin Al-Din. He was of Bahraini origin and was considered to have achieved the highest religious rank among Bahrainis.
This authority sheikh died, leaving behind a strong decline in the Ikhbari trend, which was imitated by the majority of Bahrainis before they turned to the fundamentalist trend, influenced by the Khomeini revolution.
Bahrain will not forget that this sheikh stood bravely against those who tried to burn and destroy other institutions during the 1990s, when he religiously forbade this behaviour and called for social rapport. He said that rights could be established through peaceful demands. It was due to this stand that he paid a heavy price, as he received many enmities, perhaps the most obvious of which was generated by the Iranian apparatuses.
If Iran hated this man, it displayed public hatred towards the thought of Sheikh Sulayman Al-Madani and his followers who did not believe in Wilayat-e-Faqih. Their cars were burnt and they were tortured by the followers of Iran. They were also insulted, and the matter escalated to the point where the sheikh was described with titles, such as “Abi Al-Dajaj - Father of Chickens”.
The followers of Iran hated the sheikh and his ideas because they called for plurality and not drifting behind Wilayat-e-Faqih. Muhammad Tahir, the son of Sheikh Al-Madani, now - in cooperation with Sheikh Shafiq Al-Sharqi - leads the Islamic League Association which represents this trend, these ideas can be considered to be a return to important postulates, including the acceptance of plurality and involvement in the judiciary institutions as well as other state institutions.
The followers of Iran attacked another trend and tried to eliminate it from inside the Bahraini Shiite body, this trend is otherwise identified as the group of Al-Sifarah - Abdel-Wahhab Al-Bisri.
Relatively recently, the Khomenei supporters religiously forbade eating with the supporters of Sheikh Al-Bisri, marrying from their numbers, drinking with them, or saying peace to them. The Bahraini government perceived these acts as a violation of the human rights covenants which are now sought by the perpetrators..
The clear fear, on the part of the supporters of the SUC, was that those who did not rally under its command prevented its control of the Bahraini Shiite scene and as a result limited the extent of its power. .
Although the Bahraini regime has previously attempted to play on these differences, it failed for the primary reason, that it was faced with an organisation which has far more potential and leverage than a small kingdom may possess.
There were forces that the defenders of the regime depicted as creators of chaos, disrupters of national unity and implanters of every division and hypocrisy in the national body, particularly as they incited Shiites to deny the existence of a state, let alone a king.
|Smile, for the official photo|
The conflict was between free Arab Shiite forces over which nobody has power and those who want to be part of a state and other larger forces and want to be affiliated with Iran and its Wali.
The Bahraini government has previously tried to press and strengthen the concept of citizenship, but it was on one plain and the activity of the Shiite street was on another.. In light of the growth of the star of Iran, its power in the region and the success of Hezbollah in hijacking the attention, the Shiite street found itself drifting towards Iran in order to find salvation.
It can be considered that the Bahraini king’s attempt in 2000, to increase the integration of the Shiite forces into the national body met with popular acceptance, however the two sides, whether the regime or the opposition, returned to disputes, this in turn, resulted in the loss of momentum for the project. As a result the king did not finish his reform task and the demands of the opposition, which was accused of receiving guidance from Iran, did not come to an end.
The opposition, represented in the National Wifaq Association, proceeded with undertakings previously vilified by the organisation. They tried to exert power over members of the community, and attempted to monopolize the Shiite representation, with guidance from the SUC, and applied ideas of Iranian dictatorship practised by the Wali Faqi.. The National Wifaq Association was associated with the Da’wah Party and its orientations. However the latter then became part of the arsenal at the disposal of the Iranian government, as a means of preventing the king monopolizing power.
According to the accusations directed at it, the association adopted the tactics of Hezbollah as it pushed the dossier of constitutional reform and considered that the king’s projects were despotic in nature. The association actively protested in both Europe and the US. At a time when it was resisting this project, the association actually joined it, in order to benefit from it and to organize itself in a manner which would allow it to operate in public, through the law for political associations. The National Wifaq Association can be seen to have been working with three arms, an arm with the king’s reformist project, a second arm with those opposing the project, and a third foreign media arm, with the aim of promoting propaganda against the reformist project.
Strangely, this association did not pledge allegiance to Sheikh Hamad Bin Eissa Al-Khalifa as king of Bahrain, despite the fact that it is at the same time, active amongst the participants in his government, through the process of elections and other parliamentary tools.
When its leaders are asked, they say that they do not pledge allegiance to any Sunni leadership, thus continuing to reject the legitimacy of any regime whose leadership is Sunni, since the days of the caliphate after the Prophet Peace be Upon Him.
Those do not hide their rejection of the system of government in Bahrain and their call for rebelling against it; suggest that their stance derives its legitimacy from the Hussein revolution against the unjust sultan.
Everyone is waiting the return of the absent imam. Until he comes, there is an imam who replaces him in Tehran, and the absence may be long.
|In search of truth and salvation|
Despite all this, when a dialogue is held with them, their leaders speak on the basis that they are a political institution, calling for a peaceful struggle and not following a sectarian agenda. In the history of the SUC, we find a historical sequence where sectarianism is clear.
The Council appears to have changed gradually. It would appear that the Council began as a part of the Islamic Awareness-Raising Association, established in 1969 and led by prominent opposition figure Sheikh Eissa Ahmad Qasim, this appears to correspond to the ideas advocated by the Shiite Cultural Social Association in Kuwait. The association went through key stages, perhaps the most outstanding of which is its suspension by the Bahraini government, due to its relationship with the opposition parties. Despite this, it was allowed back into operation in 2002.
It is noted that one of the most important reasons for the establishment of this council, was to resist the Leftist trend expansion in Bahrain, with particular focus upon the Shiite circles. Its founders were thought to be from the cream of the religious Hawza students in Iraq.
This association established several schools and a centre for Islamic studies. The association received significant financial support from the Bahraini government, it has been suggested that this donation was not made due to any sense of love for Shi’ism; rather this support was granted as a result of the Leftist trend flourishing in Bahrain and the rise in its power. The Islamic Awareness-Raising Association, when established, was considered a political front for the Islamic Da’wah Party in Bahrain. The association and its members have known connections with the Iraqi Da’wah Party which is currently ruling in Iraq.
The actions of this association caused reactions within Bahraini society, particularly amongst the Sunni circles. This was because the association was felt to promote Shiite slogans, which detract from Islamic symbols respected among Sunnis. This appears to be the sustaining reason behind the tension inside Bahrain, suggesting that the homelands maybe destined to pay the price for the political differences that occurred 1400 years ago.
The Islamic Awareness-Raising Association developed politically to the point where it existed within the Islamic National Wifaq Association, which was established in 2001. It is thought to be one of the biggest Shiite organizations in Bahrain and is considered an extension of the Islamic Awareness-Raising Association.
The Islamic National Wifaq Association has a large capacity for mobilisation within Bahraini society, as it can gather thousands of participants for a meeting. Some estimate its active members at 2,500. It is currently led by its secretary-general Sheikh Ali Salman. Sheikh Eissa Qasim is considered to be the father and spiritual leader of this association.
The Wifaq currently implements the agendas of the SUC on the street. It is the organisation that led the people to the Pearl Roundabout demonstrations, although it was moving towards more peaceful protesting. It has also identified the other movements as bringing violence to the Roundabout, while it is responsible for its initiation. The organisation makes particular reference to the “Haqq” group, which calls for the removal of the prime minister. It was this group, with the leadership of Hassan Mushaimaa, which raised the ceiling of demands to the expulsion of the Al-Khalifa family, in its entirety, from Bahrain. It was this dramatic development that resulted in the peaceful sit-in heading towards a collision with the authorities and the Bahraini Sunni forces.
Results of conflict
|God, King then Motherland, or God, Motherland then King|
The result of this tough conflict in Bahrain is that the inevitability of democracy as a civilized solution clashes with dimensions that are not within the borders of the Bahraini island, but are far beyond. Hyenas stand on the opposite coasts waiting for the chance to attack this simple society, which lived for thousands of years in peace. It was previously considered to be a haven for those escaping from the domination of other societies..
Bahraini society today finds itself within a game that, in order to address well, requires the expulsion of all foreign factors from its calculations. It also needs to organize the conflict in a local way, and responds with the understanding that all parties have the right to participate and perform a role on the political stage.
The difficult task facing the organizers of the political game is the percentage of influence each party should receive and questions; Will the Bahraini society produce, through peaceful dialogue, a civilized agreement or will the hyenas step in and turn the national dialogue into a fighting ring?
Is there light at the end of the Bahraini tunnel?
It can be said that Bahraini thinker Muhammad Jabir Al-Ansari, has contributed to enlightening others when he stressed the importance of taking into account the presence of essential forces in any society which may be undemocratic and even hostile to democracy.
He noted that, for a democratic change to exist, there must be a political will, with the ruler and a social base complete with social and civil institutions, but with the understanding that the democratic action was not a means of establishing power.
The solution to the Bahraini dilemma lies on its land and with its people.
If King Hamad Bin Eissa and Sheikh Eissa Qasim had sat with a thinker of the stature of Al-Ansari and discussed the matter with him comfortably and with understanding and without pre-set agendas, they would have been able to end the concern of Bahrain and would have nipped in the bud the ambitions of mullahs. The organisations could have dropped their spears with real national solidarity and, working together, could have build a happy, free and open-minded homeland, as it is always considered to be the pearl of the Gulf.
The political and sectarian conflict in Bahrain resulted in the opposition being split into four directions: firstly, an opposition that wants to talk officially with the regime in public and promotes its political demands to gain time. Secondly, a group that moves behind the curtains with semi-legal figures and through social and cultural fronts. Thirdly, a group that is silent in public but works under the ground and has direct contact with the Iranian revolutionary guard, and finally a group that escaped to Iran and Syria through the neighbouring countries and knows it is wanted by the Bahraini judiciary.
Thousands of Shiites went out against the ruling family, influenced by what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Those group members found themselves in an unenviable position, as they succeeded in shaking the regime, but they discovered an important truth, which is that the demands did not follow a logical gradual pattern. The demands on these organisations increased and their ceiling went up to the expulsion of the family of the king from Bahrain, on the basis that they are occupiers. This brought about a strong review, especially after hard-liners joined in, mainly Hassan Mushaimaa who came from London, possessing him the seeds of narrow-mindedness.
The subsequent mistakes were large; they included the use of slogans that contained insults and slander of senior state figures. Some demonstrators even vented their anger with chants and slogans against a man who died 1400 years ago, Yazid bin Mu’awiyah.
This historical rush was joined by others to demand an Islamic republic along the Iranian lines.
Those that were not content with calling for the trial of Al-Khalifa and Yazid bin Mu’awiyah, closed an important avenue to those earning their living. It is the street that extends from the Pearl Roundabout to Bahrain financial facility. This was done by demonstrators who appeared, in an organized manner, as militia men.
Those were not content followed Hassan Mushaimaa, after his excessive slogans, he asked his supporters to head to the king’s , passing through Sunni districts which paved the way for a clash, tension and weakness of national unity.
Some Shiites asked themselves: What if the ceiling of demands was reasonable and could continue peacefully, without occupying hospitals, as the government says, or running over security men, destroying Sunni mosque minarets, killing a muezzin or committing violent acts that give clear indications to the regime to strongly hit these demonstrations?
Their wise men asked: What if Mushaimaa did not come to Bahrain?
Did the demonstrators think that the Bahraini regime is isolated, and as a result can be removed through a popular revolution?
Did not they read the regional map and the calculations of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf regimes?
Did not they understand that Iran incites and does little when its agents fall into a crisis and leaves them vulnerable to attack by their enemies, as it left Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008?
Through these calculations are difficult; Bahrain presented to the Arabs, an intellectual crisis that must be studied well, particularly by scholars. At a time when you stand with the simple people, in order to achieve their rights, you find yourself rejecting the foreign interference represented in Iran. As a result individuals will have to wait for the day when the people of Bahrain can practise their political rights, without the involvement of Persians.
The new political development, which may affect the conflict between the Wali Faqih and the Bahraini king, is the SUC’s acceptance to engage in dialogue, followed the actions of demonstrators, who took a hard line and called for the overthrow of the regime, this resulted in a big retreat and a return to the starting point between the two sides. The last statement, issued days ago by the council, was perhaps an indication and direction to all parties to go back to the dialogue table. This action would undoubtedly lead to a renewal of the situation and a reassurance to Bahrain people.
|You go to the street, we go to the street|
What pushed the council to do this?
Is it Iran, after Oman sought to persuade it to change its tone and direct its loyalists in Bahrain to dialogue?
Did the Omani foreign minister carry, to Manama last Friday, a nucleus of an Iranian-Bahraini agreement in which there is coordination with regard to initiating calm and relieving the tension?
The last statement from the SUC, carried between its lines a defence of its identity and powers and included within it an explanation that it is only a religious institution which that can express a political opinion rather than being active in the field of politics.
In previous lines, I reviewed the historical chronicle of the Iranian ambitions, and one may ask why and how the foreign ambitions and the internal political activity are linked?
The truth is that the Iranian role is present and clearly cannot be neglected when assessing the Bahraini situation.
The conflict in Bahrain is not between a poor oppressed people calling for their political freedom, and a ruler, it is between Iranian and Arab political forces, whether desired or not.
If there was a hope in Bahrain, it would be that Bahrainis rise above sectarianism, cling to the foundation of their homeland and forget all their differences in order to think of Bahrain for Bahrainis only.