Why is Bahrain Opposition Still Out With Protests?

Sporadic low-key violent protests by knots of youth in Bahrain’s countryside and villages have begun again. These are reminiscent of the incidents some years ago when tyre-burning, garbage-skip fires, stone-throwing and obnoxious graffiti had become the order of the day.

In the most recent incident, a number of policemen were injured while trying to control unruly mobs spearheaded by some youth and one policeman had to undergo surgery for a head injury. One does not have to go very far to find out who is behind these exercises by misguided youth. All the incidents occurred in Sanabis and other Shia-dominated areas.

One would like to know and understand why these youth, obviously under direction from some of the opposition leaders, are indulging in these destructive acts which are bound to further vitiate the political atmosphere instead of bringing various communities together and generate harmony among them which the government is trying its best to do.

Towards achieving that end, the government lately has taken a number of measures starting with holding a National Consensus Dialogue, releasing prisoners, giving a number of sacked government employees their jobs back, asking the private sector to do the same, and most importantly, instituting a detailed, open and independent inquiry into the incidents since February 14 when the troubles started.

In addition, some former MPs who were under detention have been freed and are going to be allowed to re-contest elections [they had previously resigned on their own volition].

It is generally believed that one of the causes of opposition ‘anger’ is the National Dialogue, which is now over. Its recommendations have been accepted by the King and he has ordered their implementation. It was an exercise which brought together 300 personalities from all walks of life to discuss every thorny and contentious issue relating to the civic, economic and social life of Bahrain.

However, the main opposition party, Al Wefaq, and some of the smaller ones which seem to take their cue from it, initially declared their resolve to boycott the dialogue due to various vague and mealy-mouthed reasons and ultimately reluctantly joined the exercise almost on the last day before the deadline, making it amply evident they were doing so grudgingly. And then half-way through the month-long dialogue they suddenly decided to withdraw, evidently on orders from their handlers in Iran if some of the media reports are to be believed.

This was meant solely to embarrass the government, though the ‘official’ reason given by Al Wefaq was that they were being given no more than five minutes to make a presentation on any issue under discussion. As if any other faction was being allowed even a minute more!!

As for the probe by five independent and respected international luminaries, lest someone stand up to claim [and some opposition spokesmen have implied that] it is mere whitewash, for the record, it has already led to the release of hundreds of prisoners and recommendations to investigate and prosecute some erring police officials and the work of the investigating committee is not yet over.

Therefore what gain Al Wefaq sees in being arrogantly dismissive on the political front and stridently destructive though the agency of its cadres of wayward youth in the areas where it dominates, is anybody’s guess. Indeed what the youth are trying to do is a repeat of what they did in the 1990s and it got them nowhere just as violence would not get anyone anywhere.

Al Wefaq had rejected the call to join the elections process during the first parliamentary poll in 2002 with no gain on the civic front. Realising the error of their judgement, they eventually came round to contesting elections in 2006 and again in 2010 and that gave them a voice in the parliament. But like spoilt children denied the goodies they wanted, their MPs quit en masse in February, returned to the negotiating table at the last moment and left yet again. This is certainly not the way a mature political group, claiming to have a fairly good following, behaves. In the latest development, they have decided to boycott the upcoming by-elections for the 17 parliamentary seats they had quit in high dudgeon.

It is precisely this lack of maturity which has prompted a well-known Shia cleric of Bahrain to launch a new party to counter Al Wefaq. In an interview with ‘The Washington Times’, Sheikh Mohsin Al Asfoor criticised Al Wefaq, claiming it represented Iranian interests, had a destructive agenda, and was led by religious lightweights.

“What people call a revolution wasn’t really a revolution,” he told the paper. “It was mimicking what happened in Tunis and Cairo. For a revolution you need the agreement of the entire population, which wasn’t the case here. Nobody had to die, but they created an environment in which people were killed and then used the blood of the dead to their advantage. Every step of the way where they could have been positive or constructive, they chose another direction.”

With this level of assessment of Al Wefaq’s doings during the recent unrest by one of its own, one need not look further for the party’s true colours.