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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Transparency needed on the Bahrain crisis

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© ApImages
© ApImages
© ApImages

Before I turn on the TV these days, to watch the news, I brace myself for violence, misery and devastation. The moment 2011 was rung-in, our world appeared to go mad. For me, the greatest madness is what’s happening to Bahrain, which just a few weeks ago, was considered a bastion of stability and prosperity.

Almost as crazy is the way the regional media is reporting on the issue. Some local editors are keeping clear of it, or minimising the column inches devoted to it, while international dailies are slanting reports in favour of the protesters. Some of the biggest names in the Arabic media are almost pretending it doesn’t exist.

Regional newspapers are just as coy. Others characterise the situation as nonsectarian when in fact what began as a peaceful protest has been hijacked by agenda-led hardliners.

Yet others have placed halos on demonstrators’ heads, even as masked gangs have thrown petrol bombs at security forces and beaten Pakistani and Indian workers. Meanwhile angry crowds have been occupying the Bahrain Financial Harbour, setting upon a woman driver and damaging her vehicle.

The media should quit insulting our intelligence. News can’t be kept hidden. People will simply turn to foreign satellite channels that have their own inherent biases, and they may reach skewed conclusions as a result.

Furthermore, nations need to be more honest with their people. The Japanese authorities for example are under fire now for failing to disclose the full extent of their recent nuclear disaster.

Burying our heads in the sand is not an option. If governments are transparent, people will cooperate with them to protect their land.

Let’s be clear. Popular uprisings may be fashionable but each country should be taken on a case-by-case basis. I support the aspirations of oppressed and hungry people, however, in the case of Bahrain; I am convinced there are other forces driving the protest organisers.

Last month, Bahrain’s King, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, authorised Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad to open dialogue with opposition groups. The Crown Prince then spoke on Bahraini State TV, calling for unity. His appeal fell on deaf ears. Since then, Manama has become clogged with demonstrators, many clamouring for the King’s deposition. They say they want the monarchy replaced by a democracy, when what they really seek is a pro-Iranian state.

Anyone who believes a successful uprising wouldn’t be in Iran’s interests should remember Iran’s territorial claims to the island and listen to the disapproving noises currently coming out of Bahrain’s mammoth neighbour.

When Tehran is treating its own dissenters with brutality and imprisoning top opposition figures, the Iranians have no moral right to point a finger at the Bahraini leadership for requesting assistance from the GCC.

The GCC’s decision to send in troops was to protect the state installations. It was also a show of solidarity, as well as a message to Tehran that Bahrain isn’t up for grabs. It was legally implemented under the principles of the GCC Peninsula Shield Force treaty.

The GCC cannot permit Iran to have free rein to influence. If the Bahrainis who have questionable loyalties, albeit a minority, were to bring about a pro-Iranian entity that no longer represents a buffer between Saudi and Iran, the integrity of the Gulf region would be violated and the regional balance of power would shift in Tehran’s favour. Such a state of affairs would also alter Bahrain’s historically open, liberal character. Bahrain is, of course, home to the US 5th Fleet, which is why I find Washington’s negative attitude to the GCC intervention perplexing. At first, it was believed that the White House had given its blessing to the protests since they occurred subsequent to a meeting between the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and King Hamad. But American officials were swift to deny foreknowledge of the events. Believe that if you will. On Wednesday, I was dismayed by comments made by the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to CBS, to the effect that the four GCC member states which have sent troops to Bahrain “are on the wrong track”, adding, “There is no security answer to the aspirations and demands of the demonstrators”. When the protesters have declined to participate in negotiations, I can only wonder what solution the Americans are backing.

As if handing over Iraq to Iran wasn’t bad enough, it appears the US is intent on presenting Bahrain to Tehran, while condemning its GCC allies for making a decisive move that not only serves the interests of peace-loving Bahrainis but also those of America.

I’m certain that King Hamad is deeply aggrieved by the turmoil in his country that has precipitated a number of deaths and caused injuries. However, he has a major dilemma on his hands. Foreign banks are closing their branches in Bahrain, the Bahrain Stock Exchange cannot open its doors; and several countries are urging their nationals to get the next plane out. Bahrain is one of the region’s major banking centres and cannot afford to lose its international credibility as a secure and stable place for investors.

The ball is now in the demonstrators’ court. They must stop crossing the red lines, or else they will not only destroy the country, they will also risk triggering a major regional conflict. The only way forward for all concerned is dialogue; anything else is a certain road to self-destruction.

Lastly, I would ask the regional authorities and the media to stop treating the public like children and for GCC governments to act without referring to fickle, self-interested Western allies that, when it suits them, turn on their ‘friends’ in a heartbeat. This problem is ours and the responsibility to solve it is ours and ours alone.

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