Bahrain Opposition Provokes Authorities to Retaliate With Force

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A lot of venom has been spewed lately by the Shiite Bahraini opposition about the way their religious observance of Ashura (the day of mourning for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) last week was disturbed by police action to remove Ashura banners and decorations.

The police action was labelled “suppression of religious rituals” by the main Shiite opposition movement Wefaq, Shiite leaders in the Kingdom and their handlers in Iran who also accused police of “excessive use of force” to carry out the operation in villages. In expression of their surprise they also claimed that for decades in the past nothing like this had been witnessed in Bahrain implying it was a new move to suppress them.

On the contrary, Public Security Chief of Bahrain Major-General Tariq Al Hassan issued a statement clarifying that the authorities respected religious occasions including Ashura, saying that the flags and decorations had to be removed because they hindered the flow of traffic and some of the decorations and signs were purely political in nature. While police were busy removing these, they were attacked by protesters, mainly the youth, with Molotov cocktails and a homemade gun, he said, and police therefore had to respond to the “lawbreakers.”

Incidentally, there were no major injuries and no one died.

This entire episode has to be viewed not as an isolated instance of unwarranted police action but in the light of the ever-new ways the opposition seems to adopt in their attempts to embarrass the government since western media stopped taking notice of their routine ritual of tyre-burning and blocking the highways and byways in expectation of making headlines.

One needs to recall that Wefaq secretary-general Ali Salman is in jail for anti-regime activities and while his appeal is pending, the news has hardly made ripples the opposition was expecting in world media which has become tired of the Bahrain opposition’s usual anti-national activities. Other opposition ‘stalwarts’ such as Maryam Al Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab also failed to create a flutter despite their best antics to draw attention.

In this scenario one has to ask the opposition when there had been minimal government intervention in the past on the occasion of Ashura, why did it become imperative for police to act this year? The reason was opposition provocation.

Surprised and disheartened that the trial of a high-profile leader such as Ali Salman had generated barely lukewarm media response and the ‘travails’ of Maryam and Rajab had been virtually ingnored if not forgotten, the opposition calculated that Ashura could be a good occasion to bring Bahrain into the media centrestage.

That’s the reason the opposition chose to use a solemn ritual like Ashura to unnecessarily put up anti-government signs and slogans and also inordinately increase the length of the symbolic banners so they fluttered into running traffic, thereby deliberately provoking and challenging the authorities who had to act in such cases.

The opposition knew how the plot would unfold. Therefore as soon as police began to remove the unwarranted items the youth brigades of the opposition were ready with Molotov cocktails. Clashes were inevitable and resulted in the standard opposition criticism of “excessive use of force” as if in the UK, France or the US the Molotov-throwers can expect to be garlanded by police for bravery.

When protests fail to work provocation is the next instrument in any opposition’s armoury. Maryam provoked a response by tearing up the King’s portrait in the court and was handed a prison sentence to the opposition’s glee since its purpose of garnering attention was achieved. Nabeel Rajab took to unacceptable ‘Twittering’ to provoke and was jailed and though eventually pardoned by the king, repeated the performance to gain headlines for a day and is in jail again. All of them claim to be ‘martyrs’ but one wonders what is their cause.

The Bahrain government has often repeated its invitation to the opposition to come and sit at the negotiating table and sort the matters out without any pre-conditions on either side. The prime minister has often spoken of Bahrain’s one-family spirit.

Looking back, it can be seen that the opposition have steadfastly refused the path of negotiation and are stuck in the rut of recriminations and protests.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.