Bahrain and the Invisibility Cloak
When does significance warrant obsolete obliviousness? How is it that a blindfold is attached over the eyes of the world regulating human compassion and action? These questions pose themselves through a series of familiar policies, both Western and Middle Eastern, that flourish amongst popular yet unfamiliar circumstances that have a substantial effect on civil liberties and human rights requiring immediate attentiveness. Bahrain is today found tormented with political circumstances that hold keys towards western interests. This article examines the detriments that come with these unfortunate keys.
When the Tunisian revolution kicked off a series of astounding movements in the Arab world on the 17th of December 2010, the international community shifted their vision across the equator. It was rare to find a western media network that neglected to inform its audiences about the work of courageous activists moving towards freedom which eventually lead towards the ousting of former President Ben Ali and his totalitarian regime. Indeed during this time Tunisian state media began what has become a common spectacle in the Middle East with its propaganda and fabrication, most of which was rightfully perceived by the world as what it was; falsehood.
Aside from the important media coverage, crucial words of support and condemnation of the crackdown came from ‘top of the ladder’ officials around the world. These were the same officials that have for years shook the hands of and committed support to the very dictators they have now called to be ousted. This was perhaps an unsurprising conclusion as it is a common rhetoric of Western policy to protect their political interests concealed under the veil of human rights, and with Tunisia, it was indeed beneficial for western powers to cling on to the trust of the revolutionaries.
This was certainly evident in the settings leading to the ousting of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi where important communications between former U.S assistant secretary of state David Welch and senior Libya officials were uncovered during the revolution. David Welch was indeed an important limb in the initiation of political relations between the two states in 2008. These documents, as uncovered by AJE, showed Welch informing Libyan officials of various methods that may defame the uprising linking it with bodies such as “Al Qaeda or other terrorist organisations”. Of course when this was unearthed and received mainstream media coverage, the U.S. government attempted, with success, to distance itself from the work of Welch. An aspect of Libya specific to its successful uprising was the intervention of NATO forces which provided affirmative intervention to oust the former dictator.
The spillover effect into Egypt created similar circumstances with protesters sparking an explosion of activism leading to a brutal government crackdown. “For many years President Mubarak has been a leader, a councilor and a friend to the United States” were the words spoken by President Barrack Obama in 2009 during a visit to Egypt to ‘show support for Mubarak’.
Fast-forward onto 2011 towards the evident U-turn taken by the U.S president which saw him utter the words; “The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same”. ‘In the name of human rights and civil liberties’ was the layer forged in between U.S policy that saw this drastic shift in approach but a move that many saw in the light of protecting U.S interests in Egypt.
Bahrain arrives, mouths shut, the media turns, politicians begin to whisper and the words ‘its complicated’ arose to block the way towards the peoples democratic aspirations. What has happened between the revolutions of Egypt and Libya is today formulated in a minimalistic approach.
The limited media support for the Bahrain revolt was not situated at the beginning of the peaceful revolt that detonated on the 14th of February 2011. Western media networks did offer news from Bahrain almost daily for the first week of the uprising only for an eventual media blackout to ensue only for it to reignite in occasional circumstances. The country faced, and is still facing, daily attacks from regime naturalized mercenaries, house raids, torture, insults, state media libel and arbitrary detention. Not only were activists targeted, but they were publicly named, shamed and had their pictures circled from amongst the crowds on state television. This led to midnight arrests, public beatings with barbaric torture to follow within prison dungeons.
Stories of the horrors that took place during the revolt have been limited to social networks as opposed to mainstream media. Big name activists such as the hunger striker Abdulhadi Al Khawaja were arrested and tortured to silence decent and recently president of the award winning Bahrain Centre for Human Right Nabeel Rajab was also detained. These stories received occasional media attention but were coupled along with notions of sectarian violence and ‘Shiite’ revolts amongst a Sunni minority further slandering democratic intent. The sectarian line was cast out by the Bahrain regime and the world has taken a considerable bite. This was most noticeable in the BBC who had been silent on Bahrain updates, ignoring the numerous deaths of protesters only to then release an article entitled ‘Bahrain protesters attack police’.
Bahrain has experienced similar tactics by the regime that has been in place for over two centuries. There are continued attempts to link the revolutionaries with Iran analogous to the regimes attempts to link previous revolutionaries with Egypt years before. This was the case even as the world stood by and witnessed Saudi troops entering and occupying Bahrain to unleash a torrent of suppression. As opposed to calling out the state media coverage of the events as ‘falsehood’, mainstream media channels and agents gobbled up the words only to reflect them in their own occasional coverage. A blanket of dissatisfaction with the happenings in Bahrain was reproduced and not only did the revolutionaries lack any ‘top of the ladder’ support, but the U.S and the UK were essentially offering provision to the oppressive regime. In a recent Parliamentary report it was found that the UK continued to sell arms to Bahrain during the government crackdown on protesters and that no open individual export licenses were rejected in 2011. Around 100 exports licenses were granted to Bahrain which is only 28 licenses less than its significantly larger neighbor Saudi Arabia.
More disturbingly, it has also been uncovered that surveillance technology has been sold to Bahrain which spies on activists by sending a file to the subjects email address disguised as a rar file. When downloaded the Trojan then acts as a real time spy engine to read the users documents, access his or her webcam and Skype conversations, and retrieve any images or emails.
Despite postponing arms trade with Bahrain, the U.S also resumed their sale during an era were human rights violations in the country were fierce. It was also noted by Foreign Policy magazine that the U.S had been using ‘legal loopholes’ to provide arms to the totalitarian regimen during the crackdown. All of this positive support for the regime has been to protect regional interests and to secure the imperative location that hosts its 5th fleet. Despite the obvious neglect of this oppressed nation, western powers still attempts to preach human rights and freedom to the world while secretly covering Bahrain in an invisibility cloak hiding its ally’s violations.
Indeed the British have had a helping hand for the survival of the Bahrain regime in place even before the country gained independence in 1971. Adam Curtis writes about the British-born Charles Belgrave who on paper was employed by the Al Khalifa dynasty as an ‘advisor’ only to end up running the government. Belgrave was also the person who designed the original drafts of Bahrain’s coat of arms. Curtis links Belgrave to the British government whom he says was sent to Bahrain to stifle growing demands for democracy that would affect British interests.
He writes: “British advisers also worked with the rulers of Bahrain to exercise a cynical technique of divide and rule - setting Shia against Sunni in a very successful attempt to keep Bahrain locked in an old, decaying and corrupt system of tribal and religious rivalries. The deliberate aim was to stop democracy ever emerging”.
A shocking similarity to earlier counter-revolutions in Bahrain has been the regimes employment of another Brit in the form of John Yates to ‘reform the police’ in December 2011. As opposed to the written intention of his employment, it seems like Yates has been used as a catalyst to improve the deteriorating impression of Bahrain’s monarchy. It was not long after his arrival where he wrote an article on the Independent praising Bahrains ‘reformed system’. Yates writes that he is “bewildered at the level of ignorance about what is really happening here (Bahrain), at the level of animosity and bile, at the media bias”.
Asides from these public declarations of support for the Bahrain regime, his scripted objective for employment has not made a lasting impression. Police forces continue their nightly assaults on villages, torture continues away from the public eye in secret locations and since the arrival of Yates over 50 innocent men women and children have been killed. Physicians for Human Rights have also released a report documenting the intensive use of toxic agents by Bahrain’s police force that use specific tactics of “firing tear gas canisters directly at civilians, into their cars, houses, or other closed spaces where toxic effects are greatly exacerbated”.
The undeniable significance here, that has warranted the illogical need for obsolete obliviousness, has been the protection of western interests. The invisibility cloak has been placed over a nation to slander and defame their common objectives for the sole intention of keeping western sponsored oppression alive under the veil of human rights.
LLB Ahmed Ali