Following a recent healthy discussion online about the current situation in Bahrain and the various ways for the country to move forward I would like to take some time out from my blog of memories to raise a few hypothetical points.
The recent discussion was primarily between a group of non-Bahrainis who are extremely frustrated and exasperated at the seemingly hopeless situation in the country right now. Every night we see messages online of villages being teargassed, we hear of citizens still being abducted and arrested, testimonies of torture despite the promise of a “zero tolerance”, more lies tweeted by the Ministry of Interior accusing the protesters of the crimes that evidence shows the security forces guilty of committing. While our hearts go out to the oppressed and persecuted families from afar we wondered what solution could be found to end this madness.
One excellent and totally accurate opinion was recently put forward by Frankie Dolan here. She very correctly states that the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, is the main stumbling block on the road to a solution and that he should be sacked. I could not agree more.
Our group discussion revolved around the question of “what then”? If (and believe me, the idea of Bahrain without the Prime Minister is a massive IF) this was to happen, would it be the end of all the problems in Bahrain? Let’s no forget that the main plank of the protesters wishes is for a democratic system of government, where they can finally have some say in the running of their country. Yes, there are the famous calls for Down Down, Hamad as well as a strong desire for the end of the Khalifa regime but the simple question remains: would the exit of the Prime Minister automatically bring democracy to Bahrain? No, of course it wouldn’t.
Perhaps one of the most shocking observations that I witnessed when I was in Bahrain was the revelation of the real way the government (and therefore its band of loyalists) saw the protesters, a view that left me totally disgusted. They are not seen as merely the opposition as in Labour versus Conservative or Republican versus Democrat. The protesters were and are still seen as the enemy of Bahrain, a threat to its very existence and, in many circles, they are seen as foreigners who want to ultimately destroy the country by handing it over to another one. But even worse than that is the obvious feeling that their religious affiliation is also a threat to Bahrain. We hear that the foreign security forces call the protesters “filthy Shia” – where does this come from and what does it have to do with their protests? Well, quite simply, if the government (i.e the Khalifa family) say that Iran is behind the protests and Iran is fundamentally a Shia nation, then, by association, the mainly Shia protesters are the enemies of the State. A perfect example of this attitude was revealed when the Shia mosques were unlawfully demolished by the Khalifas. Why? Not because they were built without permits or were unsafe, etc – they were demolished because they were symbols of the imaginary enemy lurking across the Persian Gulf.
So my question is this: does anyone truly believe that the exit of the Prime Minister will herald the sudden willingness of the remaining Khalifas to hold fair elections for all and, since the protesters represent 70% of the population, a new government consisting of Shia members? The removal/retirement/exile of the Prime Minister could see an end to the tortue, the teargassing, the arrests, etc but is the descrimination against the Shia people of Bahrain all down to one man? With him gone would the remaining Khalifas suddenly see the Shia population in the same way they see their group of loyal supporters? Assuming the King was free to be a true King for the first time in his life (without his allegedly overbearing and hardline uncle looking over his shoulder) does one honestly believe that he would allow the “filthy Shia” even the remotest possibility of forming a government amongst themselves?
I must admit that I am depressed by the thought of exactly how the democracy-seeking protesters will ever have any political freedom in Bahrain. Once again, if the Prime Minister was gone (and hopefully the cruelty ceased) who would fill his vacant position? Would one of the Prime Minister’s hardline supporters force his way in there? Would the King have the fortitude to appoint a more moderate family member from the large list already within the government? Would he promote one of his own sons to the position? All this is, of course, pure speculation but the overwhelming point is that none of it will produce a true democracy.
There has also been talk of a constitutional monarchy being formed. The King’s role could become a purely ceremonial one, representing the country, receiving foreign dignitaries, sending and receiving cables, etc and having no role in the decision-making process. Personally, I think King Hamad would be relieved to have this role and to continue leaving the decisions of state to be made by others. But what of the other Khalifas? Would they be happy to relinquish their positions within the government so they could be voted out and replaced by the “filthy Shia”. Of course not.
So what is the solution? I am no expert, just a humble English teacher, but I cannot see democracy in Bahrain being simply handed to the protesters on a plate. Bahrain is a family-run business. Anyone involved in this business swears allegiance to the family, not to the country. The protesters (the “filthy Shia”) are, ironically, true patriots, whereas the Khalifa loyalists are merely a group of nationalists. Sydney Harris put it beautifully when he said, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.” The Khalifa family business and its loyal shareholders will always resist any form of takeover. Merely replacing or shuffling some of its Board of Directors, however corrupt they may be, will not bring it down. The solution, to me, seems to be in finding an effective way to take it completely out of business. Down Down, Hamad all the way.