It was going to be a real long-shot, with million-to-one odds. It was going to be the first time in living memory that the King of a country commissioned and funded a truly independent report on the widespread civil strife taking place in his country, and personally heard the authors tell him his army was killing its own people and the police were torturing citizens they took into custody. More amazing still, the King expressed ignorance of these dreadful actions, accepted the report, and promised reform.
As Steve Royston commented in Voice of the Middle East, “The report is extraordinary in that it deals with events so recent. In the United Kingdom it took a quarter of a decade for the government to commission an inquiry into the events in Londonderry known as Bloody Sunday. The Chilcot Inquiry into the circumstances of the Iraq war of 2003 is not due to report until 2012. Truth and reconciliation commissions in a number of countries where human rights abuses have taken place typically review events from many years in the past.”
The report, prepared by a team headed by a distinguished Egyptian judge, Cherif Bassiouni, was presented to the Sunni monarch, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, on November 23rd 2011. Today is January 7, 2012. What has happened since?
– A 15-year-old teenager was killed by a tear gas canister manufactured in the US and sold to the Bahraini regime. The boy was shot at close range by security forces during an anti-regime protest in Sitra, a town southeast of the capital Manama, on the last day of 2011. Later, his funeral turned violent after security forces fired tear gas to disperse mourners. Dozens of people have been killed since the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations in February 2011.
– An infant and a mother died from inhaling toxic tear gas fumes. Saudi- backed riot police attacked teenage protester stabbed him with a knife during a protest in Malkiya village.
– Thousands have been arrested and many of them suffered torture at the hands of the police.
– Even more thousands have been fired from their jobs for participating in peaceful demonstrations.
– Students have been dismissed from the University for the same reason.
– A large number of doctors and nurses have been imprisoned and sentenced to absurdly long sentences for providing hospital care for people who were injured in the protests.
The country’s leading opposition party said, the courts “are still sentencing the victims with harsh verdicts in cases related to the right of speech and the right of peaceful rallying, no week passes by without a number of victims whose right of freedom and physical integrity are being violated by these verdicts.”
All of those arrested and imprisoned are Shia Muslims, as they form the majority of the Bahraini population. The Royal Family are Sunni Muslims.
There is more, much more that could be written about the brutality and the mindless roundups of ordinary Bahrainis who started their campaign seeking reforms from the King, but hardened into non-negotiable abdication when the King – or whoever in the Palace is giving the orders – continually ramped up the campaign of repression.
But the Royal Family was not idle. It hired Miami police chief John Timoney, known for his trampling on civil rights of protesters to the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas.
It also hired a covey of high-priced public relations firms and communications consultants to do what PR people do: attempt to spin a positive narrative of the All the King’s Men that would supplant the images of soldiers firing tear gas and live ammo on peaceful demonstrators, including women and children.
One of the early fruits of this initiative was an Op-Ed in the conservative Washington Times. The piece appeared under the byline of the King himself. His piece extolled the economic opportunities awaiting foreign investors in peaceful Bahrain. Of the current conflict, he wrote, “Unfortunately, the legitimate demands of the opposition were hijacked by extremist elements with ties to foreign governments in the region.”
But then Justin Elliott at Salon reported that a top executive at Lockheed Martin recently worked with lobbyists for Bahrain to place the op-ed. But the newspaper didn’t bother to tell its readers of the role of the regime’s lobbyists. So how could they know that the pro-Bahrain opinion column they were reading was published at the behest of … Bahrain?
The link between Bahrain and Lockheed Martin isn’t complicated: Each year defense contractor sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware to the tiny island kingdom. This was Washington-style Customer Service 101.
The Crown Prince has also been active, traveling to Washington for consultations with the US State Department and a meeting with President Obama, for whom Bahrain has a special strategic priority because it’s the home of the US Fifth Fleet (the fleet now in the center of the dispute with Iran over access to the Strait of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf).
Obama, seeming to walk on eggs for fear of offending America’s friends, the Saudis, evenhandedly expressed the hope that the government and the people of Bahrain would be able to resolve their differences peacefully. Seemingly, the only concrete action taken by the Obama Administration was to hold up a scheduled shipment of arms to Bahrain.
So, it seems to me there is only one reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the current perilous situation in Bahrain: The promise of dialogue and reform from His Majesty is rapidly gaining all the credibility of one of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation letters.
William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.