Obama Needs to Update His Understanding of Bahrain Ground Reality

In a wide-ranging speech on Middle East issues delivered last week, US President Barack Obama also made a couple of references to Bahrain. One of these advised that “the only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.”

The other stated that the “Shias must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.”

But was Mr. Obama briefed properly by his advisers as to the ground reality in Bahrain. It does not appear to be the case. Let us take the case of the demolition of mosques first. That while demolishing mosques the government targeted any specific sect is a false claim.

Dismissing the allegation as lacking in credibility, the Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry said that “what have been removed were unlicensed cabins and structures that were illegally allocated and which belonged to both sects.” Indeed in some cases the cabins and constructions removed had no legal connection of water or electricity and pilfered them from elsewhere.

The Ministry also emphasized that beside the legal aspects about their status, places of worship should invariably be adequate and offer facilities that meet the worshippers’ needs. “A place where God is worshipped cannot be built on a land that is usurped and does not meet a minimum of requirements and facilities that help provide proper religious services,” it said.

As for Mr Obama’s call for a dialogue, if one goes back in time one notices that the King and subsequently the Crown Prince of Bahrain had been making calls upon the opposition groups to have a dialogue with the government and inviting them all through the period of their public protests.

But the opposition, egged on by some of their fiery leaders, continued to ignore those calls, kept away from the dialogue table, and remained recalcitrant while continuing to indulge in protests.

Even as late as the eve of the arrival of Saudi forces into Bahrain as part of the Peninsula Shied force under the GCC defence pact, the Crown Prince’s invitation for the dialogue – with seven points of contention spelled out – were printed on the front pages of the local dailies but went unheeded. Thus the ball was always in the opposition’s court and it is unfair for Mr Obama to blame the Bahrain government for its lack of will to enter into a dialogue. If anyone, it is the opposition itself to blame.

On the contrary, until as recently as the last week, certain elements of society egged on by the opposition were indulging in acts of arson and vandalism. In any case, thanks to the activities of the opposition in the last three months, commercial activity has suffered heavily, the process of infrastructure-building has slowed down, many expatriates employees have left the Kingdom in the wake of brutal attacks on them and banking and finance sector is unsure of its immediate future.

Yet, only last week the Cabinet again affirmed that the door for dialogue was open and would remain so and it hoped that the dialogue saw the participation of all to achieve a national consensus through constitutional establishments.

Thus, President Obama should improve his understanding of the political situation in Bahrain and update his information about its political forces.

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.