Narrow by
Use this menu to filter your search results. Check boxes below to return search results related to any combination of issue and regional interest.
Stay Connected to Sada Subscribe Sada is published in English and Arabic and available as articles are published or in a weekly digest.
Enter name and address (All fields are required)
Select Delivery

Sada - Analysis

We Know What Happened in Bahrain: Now What?


Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry has confirmed virtually every criticism of the regime that surfaced in the past ten month. As the opposition is emboldened to demand sweeping changes, the regime shows no signs that more moderate figures will reassert themselves. Bahrain remains stuck in what seems an intractable political crisis. Since March its security services have waged a brutal campaign to suppress the country’s pro-democracy movement. Thousands of citizens suffered injury, and dozens were killed in the violence. No one who supported the call for political reform was spared: journalists, well-known athletes, activists, students, teachers, and thousands of workers (even medical professionals who treated the wounded) suffered trauma—from widespread loss of employment to physical harm. 

While the intensity of the violence has since diminished, the cycles of protest and recrimination continue. For the most part, however, the regime has succeeded in bottling up the protest movement by permanently establishing a security presence in the poor villages that are home to most would-be demonstrators. Police continue to use disproportionate force to break up funerals, protests, and otherwise peaceful political gatherings. 
The country’s rulers, however, do appear to understand that intimidation and violence are unsustainable. The costs of the crackdown have been considerable. The economy has slowed. Investors have moved capital abroad. And although the United States (to date) has refused to directly challenge the regime’s excessive responses, there is the fear that American officials may be eventually compelled to rethink their long-standing strategic relationship should the crisis endure—or worsen. 
The BICI report has inadvertently provided the opposition with renewed power, and the only path forward is for the government to get serious about fundamental political reform. 
The most significant sign of this recognition came in late June, when King Hamad issued a decree establishing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an investigatory body chaired by the respected legal scholar Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni. Along with establishing a narrative timeline and context for the protests, the commission was asked “to determine whether the events of February and March 2011 (and thereafter) involved violations of international human rights laws and norms, and to make recommendations that it deems appropriate.” 
Since the summer, activists and a wide range of opposition figures have expressed skepticism about whether the commission was capable of independent analysis. Bassiouni stoked uncertainty after making careless comments to the media that suggested the government was not responsible for March’s horrors. Despite this skepticism, a great deal has been pinned on the commission’s recommendations both locally and internationally. Most immediately affected in US-Bahrain relations has been a $53 million arms sale, which remains dependent on the Bahraini government’s response to the report’s recommendations.
On November 23, the BICI released its findings, and they are nothing short of remarkable. The BICI made clear that Bahrain’s security services had used “excessive force” in breaking up the protests, documenting a devastating pattern of violence, torture, and systematic abuse. In exacting detail, the report confirmed virtually every criticism of the regime that surfaced in the past ten months. Contrary to the shrill cries of conspiracy in Manama and Riyadh, the commission concluded that there was no “discernable link” between protests in Bahrain and the Iranian government, and that the pro-democracy movement was not part of a broader international scheme.
To be sure, the report was also critical of demonstrators who used violence, and it criticized al-Wefaq and several other leading political societies for failing to seize an opportunity for dialogue offered by Crown Prince Salman in March. 
The real political utility of the commission’s findings remains unclear. It documents the excessive use of force and a scope of human rights abuses, but it is less clear on matters of accountability. The commission directed its most significant criticisms toward the security services at large rather than their political masters. It demands punishment for those who violated the criminal code and an end to military trials, but stops short of holding senior government officials responsible—let alone members of the ruling family.
Bahrain’s rulers have predictably given no indication that real political reform is even on the table, and on this, the commission provides no guidance. In his comments following the report’s release, King Hamad indicated that he sought to turn the page. But in reality, officials appear to be looking for ways to evade the structural political issues facing them. One of the king’s first directives was to establish a second commission to study BICI’s recommendations: a project that could drag on indefinitely and which was rejected by the opposition. The government has sought to implement minor security reforms, but these seem mostly cosmetic—gestures that technically comply with report’s recommendations, but do little more. On November 29 the king sacked Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah, who had headed the National Security Agency. Authorities also announced that they would develop a code of conduct for police and bring in foreign security personnel to help with training. 
Most telling about how far the ruling family may be willing to go is that the security presence on the streets has hardly diminished—if anything, state violence has intensified. Just hours before the public ceremony in which the commission outlined its findings, police killed Abdulnabi Kadhem in the village of A‘ali. At the same time Bassiouni was outlining the report’s findings in front of the king at a public press conference, police brutally dispersed protesters in nearby villages. 
Although the commission has avoided any direct political guidance, that it was created at all has certainly impacted the country’s political landscape. It is widely believed that in the chaos of the spring Bahrain’s long-serving Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and the hardliners around him had asserted their primacy and marginalized more “moderate” figures within the ruling family—most notably Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who in March had tried and failed to negotiate a political compromise with al-Wefaq. 
Many believe that the creation of the commission and its resulting recommendations would create a new opening for the Crown Prince and his supporters. It is clear that the report considers the opposition’s failure to accept the Crown Prince’s March offer for dialogue as the moment when the situation unraveled. Even so, and while implicitly casting the regime’s hardliners in a bad light, the report does not offer a roadmap nor set of political mechanisms for more moderate figures to reassert themselves.  
The BICI made clear that Bahrain’s security services had used “excessive force” in breaking up the protests, documenting a devastating pattern of violence, torture, and systematic abuse.
Most importantly, though, the report’s wrenching account of official brutality has emboldened a cross-section of Bahrain’s opposition—raising expectations that sweeping changes are necessary. Opposition leaders, from al-Wefaq to those who have led small, but ongoing street protests since the spring, including those who identify with the youths who spearheaded the original February 14th movement, have already gone on record calling for the resignation of the government, a real commitment to fundamental political reform, and justice for those killed and tortured in the last ten months. Anything else, they aver, will render the report a lost opportunity. 
The apparent hardening of al-Wefaq’s position is a direct result of the BICI report. In October, along with several other opposition societies, the country’s largest political organization sent signals that it would be willing to revisit the terms offered by the Crown Prince in March as a way out of the impasse. With the release of the BICI report, this may no longer be the case. For the thousands of Bahrainis who are not aligned with the formal opposition, and who have driven the protest movement, the report has had a similar effect, legitimizing their struggles and convincing them that they now possess a significant source of credible leverage to insist on sweeping political change. While the king and his supporters may have believed that the commission would alter the country’s political landscape in their favor, it appears that they miscalculated, at least in the short term.  
For now, Bahrain is stuck: the burden to act is clearly on the regime, which does not appear to possess the political will to move forward seriously. Their preference, it seems, is to turn the clock back to early March in the hope that they will convince the opposition to meet them half-way. Given their long-term track record, the consequences of their own brutal choices, and BICI’s findings, this is wishful thinking. The BICI report has inadvertently provided the opposition with renewed power, and the only path forward is for the government to get serious about fundamental political reform. In the short term, it can send a clear signal by releasing political prisoners, reducing the security presence on the streets, and taking immediate measures to hold all of those responsible for torture accountable. Anything short of real reform will only ensure that Bahrain’s crisis will go on. 
Toby C. Jones is an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University. You can follow him on Twitter at @tobycraigjones.


Comments (15)

  • antidemocrator
    "the country’s pro-democracy movement" remind me of Foucault's assessment of the Iranian revolution, when he backed up the Mullahs, confusing emancipation with the "disposal" of a dictatorship .................!!!!!!!!!!!! historical contextualization is urgently needed, for Iran has always claimed Bahrain as apart of Iranian territory. After The Arab Spring I guess we need to wait the post-elections-era to know more about the reality of the PRO-DEMOCRATIC movements in the region,....uprising alone dose not make anyone a democrat, democratization depends on the real existence of substantial political values, which have to be founded theoretically not only rhetorically, and have to be established within a pluralistic culture of deliberation, and practiced in institutionalized framework .
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahraini
    the next step can be found in the following links:
    !) John Timoney, Former Miami Police Chief, To Train Police in Middle East Kingdom of Bahrain

    2) John Timoney, America’s Worst Cop
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • free bahrain
    Free bahrain from the regime !!
    All the world have to do something about this case because its a true revolution
    and bahrainis desreve to live a btr life !!
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • VictoriousBH
    Do you think that this is not done in purpose? The king is saying to his people "That's it! I'm going to crackdown on you by any mean however brutal it is, you should know that my regime will never surrender whatever the situation is , so you should reach the end and give up!!" . Moreover he says "political changes can only be through the completely loyal handicaped parliament" , so the situation is frustrating and more unrest is going to unfold.
    The king is seizing the opportunity of US - Iran tension relation. So he is very comfortable with the Bassiouni report!!??
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahraini
    Bahrain government is well known by everybody it's way of moving forward!
    The writer is correct, they will start releasing opposition leaders, offering government positions to opposition leaders, do some fake trials to some government staff.... And finally come up with canceling all cases against opposition and government people to star again!

    To Bahrain government: we do not trust you any more.... SORRY, you have to GO
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahraini Fighter
    it is always claim that Iran interferer in Bahrain but the fact it is a pure demands from Bahraini people to end the dictators and mold regime whom does not want to accept any changes, the people of Bahrain are Arabs Shias and Suni fighting for there freedom long time ago. but the authoritarian regime does not want to accept the change like the other Arab dictators who the should be remove and smashed like Mobark and Gathafi.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • PillyLilly
    Antiodemocrator, if you had followed the Bahrain protests you'd know that they didn't want to get rid of the AlKhalifa's. They wanted to get reform.   Expecting the ruling incumbents to even know what "theoretically founded political values" means is a big ask. Meanwhile, the government is going for a more acceptable version of Ian Henderson in Timoney. They are promoting abusers and they are not exactly rushing into implementing any of the recommendations of the BICI. How simple would it be to let students go back to Uni and workers go back to work? No. We need a commission of government lackeys to look into the recommendations of the commission. Jolly good idea while we work out what we can do to maintain the status quo, convince the mindless heads of other goverments that we're doing a frightfully good job and keep on sticking it to the hapless citizens.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahrain lover
    All what mentioned about bahrains regime dectatorship is lies and only lies. In Bahrain u really feel free and ur allowed to do many things better than any country in th eglobal. Im not asking to just listen to what I say, but ask th eexpats who live in this country for years and know more than any other people that just listening to single source, whom are the rioters. Sheia in BAHRAIN are trapped them selves in dectatorship as they only listen and obey their supreme leaders blindly. So who is then doenst like decomcracy??? they call of democracy and they dont belive in it> Really strange people!!!!
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Ted
    The lack of action from the Bahrain regime is outrageous.

    @fawaz_alkhalifa tweeted:
    HM issued a royal order to set up a national commission to follow up and implement the recommendations of Bahrain independent commission

    The new commission includes Khalifa AlKhalifa . Read BCHR report (Aug 2010) about role of National Security Apparatus headed by Khalifa AlKhalifa in torture.

    There should be an official accpetance of the crimes andauthorities should formally appologize to the ppl for committing them.

    @SuhailAlgosaibi tweeted:
    HM: we are upset & distraught about abuses in prisons. #BICI

    But these abuses have been highlighted by multiple HR reports for many YEARS!
    The present political system in Bahrain is not fit for the 21st century
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahraini
    John Yates named to to train police in Bahrain >> Please read about his phone-hacking scandal
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Joe Hurr
    The BICI was commissioned by the King of Bahrain to help him avoid the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

    He has succeeded and the oppressed people of Bahrain have been fooled one again!

    I’m sure his day in court will come, with or without American help.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahrainian
    I like 'what you said?' ...... BUT are you talking about 'Bahrain'. To all:- out of 60 villages in Bahrain ... every night there are rally in 45 to 50 villages again the regime .... PLEASE .... see YOUTUBE every night, everything are documented & every day ... evry single movement. We are more than 70% they have EITHER change or leave, finally we will win, and the victory will for all including you - Bahrain Lover ? if u r so?
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • John
    This is a thorough analysis of the political scene in Bahrain. I felt that the writer is a Bahraini or living in Bahrain. This kind of independent thinking will definitely be met with opposition by the thugs of the regime. The truth is always harmful for the oppressors. Well done Professor Toby, and thank you for your efforts.   
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Bahraini
    In Bahrain, we feel there are more then one government!
    The kings issue orders that never actioned!
    He ordered for invistigation on the killing ofvthe first 2 killed by the police, nothing happened!
    He ordered to return all the sacked employees within 2weeks... Nothing happened
    He ordered to investigate albander report... Nothing happened
    He ordered to investigate the government corruption and lands stolen... Nothing happened!
    I thing the king does not have the power.. It's all in Saudi Arabia control... That is another reason we want to have a control by our own.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Sawa Juma
    Bahrain is made of so many factions of Sunni and Shiite and where people live in real abundance brought about by government subsidies and a welfare system that doesn't segregate between any type of people.

    Do you think that all the shiites are against the Government...the merchant shiites, the persian shiites and other denomination of Shiites. Do you wish that the sunnis had no voice either and the christians and the jews of Bahrain?

    There were many mistakes made during the uprising...but nothing compares us to the poverty and humiliation that the Egyptians suffered and other Arab Countries.   

    Where is the story of the rubbish parliament that didn't even try to have an emergency meeting during these terrible times!!!? We have had 10 years of parlimentary rule and all you talk about is the King ...why aren't the parlimentarians accountable for 10 years of sleeping. Of not looking at income distributions and employment but at trying to segregate Bahrain University and other silly ideas.

    Also, a deep look needs to be taken into the infaltration of Bahraini youth by external forces from Saudi Arabi and Iran through legitimate societies and political parties that only Bahrain allows in the Gulf region. Do you think that Iran or Saudi Arabia would allow such entities to exist in their systems? We should not fall victim and play out their cold side is better than the other.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel

Stay Connected

Subscribe to Sada:
Subscription Options Sada is published in English and Arabic and available as articles are published or in a weekly digest.
Select Delivery
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 P: 202.483.7600 F: 202.483.1840
Carnegie Middle East Center Emir Bechir Street, Lazarieh Tower Bldg. No. 2026 1210, 5th flr. Downtown Beirut P.O.Box 11-1061 Riad El Solh Lebanon P: +961 1 99 12 91 F: +961 1 99 15 91