The sentiments of so many people seeking freedom across the “Arab Spring” this year has not been lost on Bahrain, where thousands are demanding the Sunni monarchy there listen to their concerns.
April 28, 2011
BAHRAINIAN DISSIDENTS SAY THEY’RE MODERATE – The sentiments of so many people seeking freedom across the “Arab Spring” this year has not been lost on Bahrain, where thousands are demanding the Sunni monarchy there listen to their concerns. Thousands of Shiites have lost their jobs, including lawyers, teachers, business people, as well as human rights activists and others. “Is there something wrong with this community or is there something wrong with this regime,” one opposition leader said by video teleconference on April 26 at USIP. Muneera Fakhro, a political activist educated in the U.S. who participated on the panel event, said the government is moving from one that respected rights to a sectarian-style government. “What you see on TV, it’s like McCarthyism in the 1950s in the U.S.,” she said.
“TURNING A BLIND EYE?” – Other members of the opposition who spoke at USIP said the U.S. is “turning a blind eye” to what is going on there. American officials have not condemned the crackdown to the degree opposition leaders would like.
BAHRAIN ON THE EDGE – The event featured four speakers from the Bahrain opposition. It was to include representatives from the Al Wefaq Islamic National Society, the Al Wa’ad Party, the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions and the Bahrain Youth Center for Human Rights. Only four were able to attend the live event due to security and other concerns. Never before has USIP had to embargo the names of panelists for such an event, a reflection of the situation playing out there.
USIP’S HEYDEMANN’S TAKEAWAY – “What we saw was a very dedicated and committed group of opposition activists representing diverse organizations outlining for an American audience the challenges they face in response to a very systematic effort by the government of Bahrain to silence them,” USIP’s Steve Heydemann, who co-moderated the event, says. “What seemed was most important for an American audience to understand is that the efforts to characterize the opposition as extremist and sectarian really are out of sync with the way the opposition has defined itself and that it is in fact moderate, pluralistic opposition movements in Bahrain.”
“HOLLOWING OUT THE MIDDLE” – National Democratic Institute’s Les Campbell, who co-moderated the event, agreed. He worries that the middle is being “hollowed out” during the crisis in Bahrain and that could doom the chances for peace. The “firing of the middle class,” and the shutting down of an opposition newspaper aren’t good signs for reform. “We’re seeing a pattern that has played out many many times in the Middle East,” he said.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD? – Members of the opposition were asked how the situation there would play out. They largely shrugged. “Some of the participants set out a set of preconditions that they think the regime should meet… and I think the expectation is that these are not preconditions that the regime is prepared to meet,” Heydemann says. “That raises the question, then what do you do? I think we saw an opposition that is really struggling.”
THE ANSWER: A DIALOGUE – NDI’s Campbell said it’s wrong to term what’s going on in Bahrain as sectarian, and the parliamentarian representatives don’t represent the interests of all Bahrainians. But moderate voices have been “shut down or jailed,” Campbell said. “The only way to solve the problem is for both sides to enter into a constructive and probably a protracted dialogue,” he said. “Until the basic issues of representation are addressed, the problem won’t go away.”
BUT – “Dialogue for dialogue’s sake is a waste of time,” said one opposition representative.