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Sada - Analysis

Bahrain, Kingdom of Silence

May 4, 2011 عربي

  Since protests began in Bahrain, the island’s rulers have employed harsh measures in order to silence all opposition and create an uncontested narrative of events. An eerie silence and a paralyzing sense of fear currently grip Bahrain. Since mid-March, when tens of thousands of protesters last took to the streets demanding political reform, Bahraini security and military forces have engaged in an ongoing, systematic, and brutal campaign to crush the country’s pro-democracy forces. The crackdown has been sweeping and shocking. Dozens of activists have been killed. Hundreds more have been imprisoned and tortured. Bahrain’s leading independent newspaper, al-Wasat, is expected to close down on May 10. 

Provocative government actions belie claims that all the monarchy seeks is to re-establish law and order. It is apparent, instead, that the government is using martial law to carry out a vendetta against those who challenged the authority of the ruling al-Khalifa. Checkpoints have been set up to harass the country’s Shi’i citizens, who make up the majority of Bahrain’s native population and of its political opposition. Security forces have laid siege to the island’s hospitals and arrested scores of medical personnel, in what appears to be an especially inhumane and spiteful kind of intimidation. For weeks police and pro-regime supporters roamed the streets of Shi’i villages destroying cars and other property. Those who supported the protests now fear leaving their homes, lest they be publicly accosted or, worse, arrested and disappeared. 

The regime is also taking dramatic steps to quiet critics. Authorities have targeted newspapers, journalists, and bloggers in order to stymie public criticism, to control reporting about the scale of the crackdown, and to frighten into silence those who might speak out. In the last few weeks Bahraini blogs and twitter feeds that are normally vibrant have gone quiet, stunned into submission by the brutality of what is happening around them. 

And they have reason to fear. Those who have spoken out or who have attempted to report events going on around them are paying a high price. 

The Cautionary Tale of al-Wasat

In early April government officials took aim at Bahrain’s largest independent newspaper, al-Wasat, and accused it of “deliberate news fabrication and falsification.” Al-Wasat’s editor Mansoor al-Jamri resigned in an effort to deflect criticism from the newspaper. Instead, al-Jamri and two of his staff members will likely face a politically motivated trial. Al-Jamri was replaced with the pro-government Obaidly al-Obaidly. On April 5 authorities arrested Karim Fakhrawi, one of the newspaper’s founders and a member of the opposition political society al-Wefaq; on April 12 Fakhrawi died mysteriously while in police custody. On April 22 police extended their assault on al-Wasat by beating and arresting the columnist Haidar Muhammad al-Naimi, whose whereabouts and fate remain unknown. In light of these pressures, members of al-Wasat’s board of directors and the paper’s investors have reportedly decided to cease publication as of May 10. 

Those associated with opposition political groups have been hit the hardest, but they are not the only ones to have felt the brunt of the regime’s assault on speech. Two of Bahrain’s most prominent bloggers, Mahmood al-Yousef and Muhammad al-Maskati, were arrested in early April for bearing witness to developments in the country. Although both have been critical of the violence deployed by state security, neither belongs to the country’s opposition. For weeks they routinely appealed for calm and encouraged the government and protesters to avoid provocation and escalation. Their detentions sent a clear signal that the regime’s tolerance for being off message was very low.

Mobilizing State Media

In addition to serving as a form of punishment, the regime’s crackdown on public and social media reflects its struggle to control the narrative. Alongside the silencing of critical voices, authorities have also mobilized state-controlled media to assert their dominance and to offer an alternative view of the country’s domestic conflict. Bahrain’s national TV station led the way in detailing the public case against al-Wasat on April 2 when it broadcast a program outlining charges that the paper had published fake news. The station has launched similar campaigns against prominent activists as well, including the human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab.

Bahrain TV’s most important role has been to frame the country’s domestic struggle not as a contest of democracy versus autocracy, but as a sectarian clash. The state media has used the specters of Iranian meddling and the potential empowerment of the country’s Shi’i population to frighten the smaller Sunni community into supporting the political status quo and the current crackdown.  

Bahraini state media have also, however, served to expose the regime’s extreme tactics. On April 28 authorities revealed that four activists had been sentenced to death and three others to life imprisonment for their alleged roles in the deaths of two Bahraini policemen. The seven men were tried in closed military courts. Sensitive to claims that the government had not given the men a fair trial, Bahraini officials released a video of the men allegedly confessing to the murders. 

More damning than the purported confessions, which were likely extracted under pressure, was the appearance of an eighth man, Ali Isa Saqer, on the video. Saqer died in police custody on April 9. After announcing his death, authorities claimed that he had created “chaos in the detention center.” An unruly prisoner or not, the images of Saqer’s body showed signs of devastating physical abuse. Whether Saqer’s presence on the video was intended or not, the message of his treatment was unmistakable. And it is the same message that the regime has been sending through its abuse of the media.

The regime has few powerful challengers when it comes to the media. The domestic independent media has been cowed. The regional media, most notably the two most widely-watched satellite news stations, Qatar-based al-Jazeera and Dubai-based al-Arabiya, have kept their distance from Bahrain, apparently due to Qatari and Saudi support for the crackdown. Although the Bahraini government has allowed a handful of Western journalists into the country, many others have been forbidden entry. And journalists who maintain contacts with Bahrainis report that they are increasingly unwilling to go public with their stories out of fear of retribution.

Despite Bahraini rulers’ claims to be exposing the true nature of the uprising as an Iranian plot to destabilize the kingdom, it is clear that they are solely concerned with protecting themselves and punishing their rivals—and that they will use any means necessary to accomplish both. For the present, Bahraini citizens are left to with little to do other than ponder their fate and do so in silence. The current quiet is misleading, however: the conflict between a monarchy determined to preserve authoritarian rule and a majority population keen to secure a voice for itself is far from over.

Toby C. Jones is assistant professor of Middle East history at Rutgers University. He is the author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Harvard, 2010) and is an editor at Middle East Report.

 
عربي

Comments (41)

 
 
  • An oppressed Bahraini
    It is self evident what the dictatorship is doing with us, the question is: Why on earth most Human Rights Organizations are quite?!
     
     
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  • Fine Thinkers
    we are still in the ancient times of the Abbasi Khaleefa!! tribal regimes are not suitable for 21st century !! Al-Khaleefa tribe is grabbing all the sovereign miniseries & more!! the most outrageous crime is resorting to sectarianism !!
     
     
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  • Mohammed Chebli
    several protesters were killed, not activists. second of all, why do you think the bahraini "revolution" never succeeded? even though the revolution did succeed in countries where there governments used far more crackdown power? plus, the sunni minority were not "convinced" by the government to agree on the crackdown, the sunni's have been loyal to the royal family even before the revolution started. and that is why i believe this eleged revolution did not succeed, its because not all bahraini's want it,
     
     
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  • FATEMA
    they are suffocating us... but Thank God we still have the internet + social websites + youtube
    we still could expose their crimes to the wrold... but what could we do if the world chose to remain silent?
     
     
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  • al zaki
    thank you
     
     
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  • naser
    thank you
     
     
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  • Oppressed Bahraini m
    Thank you
     
     
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  • um tommy
    Thanks alot Sir Toby , what you have wrote is the clearly truth of what happining in bahrain , believe me if you come here and walk inside our villiges you will see more and more of what human being cant stand it , at night it become like we live in a cemetary ، you didnt talk about the employees lay offs from diffrent sectors, about the medical staff and many other brutal actions have been taken agaist us
    again big thanks for your wonderful article you are a great man
    with love
    um tommy
     
     
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  • Rimoman
    Thank you for keeping Bahrain on your attention, we are losing hope as the whole world is watching us being humiliated, detained, kidnapped and killed while the whole media is quiet and do nothing.
    I am shi'i me and all of the poeple in my village also all of the poeple I know doing the same we don't go out after the sunset by 7 P.M our day is over once we come back to our house we don't go out we are afraid of being kidnapped or detained in the country's checkpoints, those checkpoints are there just to harras us.
    Yet we are watching our own media liying every day, they know they are lying they are charging a doctor for trying to save a protester where the army shot him in his head, no trail no condemns to the army yet they are trailing the doctor this is happening only in Bahrain.
    Again thank you, please raise your voice we need it, HELP US.
     
     
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  • Sofia
    Tanks for the valuable report
    we are Bahraini, we are asking for:
    1- A real democracy.
    2- foreign troops to get out.
    3- Stop killing us.
    4- Government to be elected
    5- Army & police to be Bahraini, not Pakistani, not Yamani, not Jordon, not Syrian.
    is that too much?!?!?!?!
     
     
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  • mahd,jab
    hehehe very funny ,, is this a tragic movie script??
     
     
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  • Ahned
    Thank you
     
     
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  • ام فاطمة من البحرين
    جزيل الشكر للكتاب الشرفاء
     
     
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  • Free bahraini women
    Thankyou from all Bahraini people
     
     
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  • Bahrani
    Thank you dear Toby C. Jones because u wrote about Bahrain and keep countinue
    Best Regards
     
     
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  • zah88
    thank u very much for posting this article about bahrain
     
     
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  • gfdd
    thank you very much mr.toby jones Thank you for your sympathy with the people of Bahrain
     
     
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  • Bahraini
    dear proffessor Toby, I would like to thank you for this artical. in addition, I would like to add more events which I am sure you know about it but its was not included in the artical which is the dmobilization of more then 2000 workers for paricipating in the protests. moreover, hundreds of business people were forced to closedown their business because of the brutal crackdown on the people. and still there are more government workers are under investigation and wil be sacked from their jobs. you can imagine, over 2000 families without income! what will happened to them???
     
     
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  • lema
    from all people in Bahrain and as the lulu roundabout teach as to say >>>> thank you thank you from my hart
     
     
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  • Bahraini Citizen
    I think the goverment did the right thing during the protests, initally the demands were legal and called for reform, and everyone myself included joined in, those reforms were simple and pretty much possible, then radical groups took over the protests and started calling for the fall of the reigme and the establishment of an islamic republic in Bahrain which is a very open and moderate country, that initiated the crackdown and it was done with minimal casulties (the total number of people killed in month of protest was 20, Syria kills 3 times as much everyday) .. i think reform will still happen in Bahrain but those who crippled the country for a whole month and ruined its reputation should be trailed first.
     
     
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  • Abdulla Alabdulla
    First, thank you from my heart to drive your article from the objectivity and credibility of the events. As you know, after the events, the latter became the government in the eyes of all weak after the crackdown on citizens, whether death or torture, which is still ongoing and we see between our villages, there will be a step most prejudice of the citizens is linked to the country's system Foreign control in the country as they wish and keep the chair of King more as possible. Nations of the region progressing from time to time but what we see in this royal family (gang) are increasingly backwardness and reactionary, they talk about democracy but they can't apply it.

    Many of orgnazation watch what is happening in Bahrain some of them talk and the other prefer to remain silent, we have become among the pincer between Iran and Saudi Arabia, is not the right of the people of Bahrain to live free from slavery?

    Thank you again
     
     
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  • I am a Bahraini and this is the best report ever, this report is 100% accurate.
    I am a Bahraini and this is the best report ever, this report is 100% accurate.   
     
     
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  • bahraini4ever
    The problem in Bahrain minority living at the expense of the majority, if we look now to the army and the police in Bahrain, mostly foreigners from Arab countries, Pakistan and India, there is no problem with being killed and tortured for the money, now Dr. Professor, engineer and teacher and intellectuals in jail, you may be a system in Bahrain kills People to stay in power?
     
     
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  • bahrainia
    Thank you Professor
     
     
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  • alzaki
    thank you too much for you really
     
     
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  • We need Our Freedom
    Thanks you Toby Jones
     
     
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  • amal
    thanks for supporting bahraini people
     
     
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  • Bahrain friend of freedom
    There are a number of other issues that need to be addressed. The trade union movement in Bahrain has been under vicious attack and many of its leaders have been discharged. This is a totally non-sectarian organization that has pushed for democratic dialigue for years - they are being systgematically eviscerated and now over one thousand have been discharged - economic capital punishment.
    The viciousness of the response is also tied to Saudi paranoia and hatred of democratic discourse that inevitabl;y leads to the challenge of the divine right of Kings. Not good on your doorstep.
    And the third point is the deafening silence of the USG - have they bought into the title of Dr Jones's article?
    Thanks however, for keeping this on the front burner. Bahrain's Arab Spring will undoubtedly bring its own winter of discontent.
     
     
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  • Sad American
    Please open your eyes America. It is time to do the right thing. Imagine if you were one of the ones in prison, getting tortured, or awaiting an unfair execution and no one was coming to rescue you.
     
     
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  • Bahraini with no support
    People of Bahrain would like to thank Mr Toby C. Jones and I would like to add that the regeim has also encouraged students in the schools to complain and accuse their Shi'a teachers of lies just to be arrested and insulted. All shiaa live in fear that they might be arrested at anytime. We have no one to support us because of the strong relation between USA and Bahraini regiems.
     
     
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  • Ward Muhamadi-Bahrain
    After the Saudi invasion of Bahrain, the regime in Bahrain became hystrical.They started systematic ethnic cleansing, shiias are arrested, detained and toutured.They are kidnapped at checkpoints. Schools, universities, hopsitals and houses are raided by the Saudi, Emrati and Bahraini armies at any time to vandalise, pull down houses and terrify people. Students do not feel safe when they go to schools. The regime encourged sunni to report any shiiai who they suspect as an anti-government. There are spies everywher and we do not trust them anymore.Even mosques were knocked down by the Wahabis of the Saudi army.Villages and towns are raided and seiged by the riot police.What is happening is inhuman and illogical and it is all done with the approval of the USA governemnt and European governemnt. Where is your stand for democarcy and freedom? The western governemnts lost their credibility.They think by supporting the dictators they will protect their interest. They are mistaken, they are putting their interests at risk and we will work hard on kicking out
    the USA from the region because it became our enemy NO1.
     
     
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  • Fatima Ali
    First of all, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your effort Mr. Jones & I have a comment that : Their regime had proven its illegitimacy since the murder of the first martyr Ali Mushaimaa .. Their days in our beloved country are done .. We want them OUT and we will still demand our rights even if it costs us our lives.. We prefer to die in pride rather than in misery .. They are trying to freighting us using their troops & guns , but we won’t give up .. This is our land & this is our future ..

    Thanks Again :) from a Bahraini Citizen :D
     
     
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  • Noor
    Bahrain got in the middle of the game between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    Now, some of the Gulf countries are putting all their forces to buy people so that they do not speak about what is going on in Bahrain.

    The silence by the U.S, the country who speaks for democracy and human rights, will not be forgotten by people and history.America's credibility on democracy and reform has bruised.

    Any way, I am sure that ALKHLIFIA and their support will loss in the end.

    Thanks Mr. JONES for the great article and info.
     
     
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  • umhamzah
    Excellent article. The deafening silence that needs to be condemned is the one practised by the West and the Arab media. It is a disgrace of al azeera to be so cowed by its sponsors, and keeps its silence while drumming up the brutality in Syria and Libya. It has lost a lot of credibility. Without the collapse of Saudi Arabia's brutal regime, very little can happen in the rest of the Gulf. Saudi Arabia holds the key there. We Arabs should be ashamed by our silence on what Al khalifa are doing to Bahrainis.
     
     
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  • Bahraini Dreams
    Mr. Toby thanks alot for this article and for your stand beside us where others are blind and deaf or we became invisible!!!

    agains big thanks to all the writters like you searching for the truth and clearing it to others who can't see one meter infront.

    our faith in justice is our power to survive and win by the help of god "Allah".
     
     
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  • Yomade Momoh(Nigerian)
    ...its rather unfair that people behave this way in the 21st century.....judging from what i have read,heard and seen; its so sickening to know that children and women most especially are preys for these MadMen who want to remain sit tight as leaders.........
     
     
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  • Yayo
    A lot of you facts are False, or clearly Fabricated by your 1 sided sources. Suggest that you make a real effort in checking our your so called facts before embarrasing yourself with taking a sides on any issue without know all the facts. If you had the decency of checking out the historical background of Obaodli Al Obaidli, you would not have called him a Pro Government Editor..Shame on you...
     
     
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  • Lily
    we are here in Bahrain and i can tell you this, the ruling family is the most caring most decent and most generous ruler you can ever wish. those protesters are product of Iran, originated from Iran and they are all out here to ruin the peaceful prosper and well loved country. we are expat but our hearts are with its REAL PEOPLE, REAL BAHRAINI headed by the AL KHALIFA FAMILY. we will always pray to God to bless BAHRAIN and the AL KHALIFA's forever.
     
     
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  • Scott Catino, Ph.D.
    The author has not conducted any valid research into the matter, and therefore recycles media reports and rumors.
    Having served as a US Fulbright Scholar in Bahrain (2007-2009) I witnessed Shia leaders agitating, organizing, and fomenting an insurgency that has now taken place in Bahrain. The tactics were no different from the Iranian tactics used in their revolution in 1979.

    Recently in Bahrain, mosques, hospitals, student organizations, and media outlets were all used to carry out not only protests but violent actions against the goverment of Bahrain and innocent bystanders of the political scene: south Asian migrant workers and students at the University of Bahrain.

    No doubt the government of Bahrain needs to reform. But using insurgent tactics, violence against civilians, and outright lies and misinformation to the global publc are the works of terrorists and not reformers.

    The sad fact is that radical Shia leaders hijacked a reform movement and protest movement that could have brought peaceful reform. The real losers are the many decent Shia people of Bahrain, who have been used by their Shia imams and political groups for selfish gain.
     
     
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  • Matt
    Dr. Catino, what is "valid research" in this context? Do you know Dr. Jones, who is an expert in Gulf history and society? What Shia agitation did you witness in Bahrain? Do you speak Arabic? I would be curious to know on what basis you make such claims, and please cite specific examples. After all, you seem to have written a book on the Vietnam War, which is fine but does not suggest that you really know what you're talking about here. Instead, you seem to parrot the Bahraini regime line. Maybe you can also comment on the videos of government soldiers firing live ammunition at peaceful protesters.
     
     
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  • Scott Catino
    Hi Matt,
    Allow me to answer your questions directly, not just for you, but those who may also benefit.
    1. The background of the expert. Here is the problem: these scholars are experts in social and Gulf History but not insurgent tactics. Wish their backgrounds were in Military Studies, Insurgencies, modern warfare, etc.
    2. Language skills: Arabic? Think these experts need to study the language of insurgency rather than secondary issues. They should be studying insurgent literature and life from the ancient period to the present: particularly Lenin, Mao, Ho, Che, Khomeini, and other modern insurgents. No need to focus on words too much. Look to the deeds. Jesus was right: Don't strain at a gnat and swallow a camel."
    3. My expertise: Have served in two counterinsurgencies (Iraq and Afghanistan). Am presently a Senior Intelligence Analyst in Afghanistan who studies the bad guys daily and in detail. Am also teaching graduate military studies and the course: The Non State Soldier, which addresses insurgencies. But I still find that these insurgents in Afghanistan can trip me up and keep me guessing at times.

    But it is not about me. It is about not being tricked again. And it is about the young people who should have a better future, particularly the young Shia of Bahrain, who deserve the best.

    My views on the Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) of the insurgency in Bahrain are in my blog article. http://www.thoughts.com/martinscottcatino/the-insurgency-in-bahrain

    Wish you the best.


     
     
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Source: http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/05/04/bahrain-kingdom-of-silence/6b7s
 

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