What now for the Bahrain rebellion?


Just over one month ago, the Bahraini capital of Manama, and a number of surrounding villages, witnessed pro-democracy demonstrations in response to a call put out by a loose group of youth activists calling themselves “the Bahrain Rebellion” or Tamarod Bahrain.

Ostensibly, 15 August marks the anniversary of Bahrain’s independence from British rule back in 1971, and the day before was chosen as the date for the escalation in protests for freedom and democracy which have been taking place since 14 February 2011.

But the protests were stifled by security forces who confronted demonstrators with tear gas, pump-action shotguns and birdshots.

Far fewer demonstrators than expected turned out and dozens were detained, according to Yusuf al-Muhafeza, a monitor at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) –many of whom still haven’t been released.

Official government’s statements reported that the Tamarod movement “failed” due to the precautionary measures taken by the authorities to strengthen criminal and anti-terrorism laws and the heavy security presence.

The latest arrests include a 14-year-old boy named Ali Hatem Ali Salman who was arrested on 26 August 2013 and reportedly tortured during an interrogation to “confess” to rioting.

Nonetheless, demonstration organisers stated that they achieved their aim of staging peaceful protests.


Anti-terrorism laws

The National Council is the name given to the meeting of the two chambers – elected and appointed – of the Bahraini parliament.

It is controlled by the majority loyal to the government and previously issued 22 recommendations to counter any popular protest.

At a joint meeting – a first in Bahraini politics – both chambers recommended making penalties under the country’s anti-terrorism laws even more severe. This included withdrawing Bahraini citizenship from all perpetrators – or instigators – of “terrorist crimes”, as well as the prohibition of all sit-ins, marches and gatherings in Manama.

The two chambers also granted security forces additional powers against political groups supporting “terrorism”.

These recommendations received a positive response from the ruling regime in Bahrain. King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain issued a number of royal decrees through which the anti-terrorism law has been amended. The government also met in an extraordinary session to carry out the recommendations.


International criticism

Since the start of demonstrations calling for democracy in February 2011, the Law on the Protection of the Community against Terrorist Acts has been applied to political opposition and human rights’ activists.

Many of them are currently serving jail sentences, ranging from one year to life sentences, some of which were issued by military courts and later upheld by civil courts.

For their part, local and international human rights organisations have criticised all the pre-emptive measures taken by the government of Bahrain.

In a statement, Amnesty International said that the passing of amendments to anti-terrorism laws “will lead to more violations of Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.”

Amnesty also expressed fears that these amendments will lead to “the further erosion of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and to form associations,” referring to the “manner in which authorities have abused existing legislation to suppress dissent.”

For its part, the BCHR also expressed its deep concern about what it has described as actions by the Bahraini authorities “to confer legitimacy to human rights violations.”


Different methods of rebellion

But in spite of all the intimidation and the massive threat to personal safety and liberty, thousands of demonstrators went out onto the streets on 14 August.

A number of demonstrations started in the morning. Some estimates put the number of demonstrations at more than 60, covering most areas in Bahrain, including Manama.

To circumnavigate the security crackdown, demonstrators also invented new forms of protests where families would sit in front of their homes holding up pro-democracy placards and calling for the release of political prisoners.

The Bahraini public has argued about the Rebellion’s success or failure.

Even at a time at which the government, and political parties loyal to it, are still praising the security forces’ ability to suppress these demonstrations, the opposition groups and youth movements still believe that the Rebellion’s call has been successful.

The evidence for this is that many demonstrations took place, even in the capital.

They stress the spirit of responsibility of citizens as they demonstrated, confirming that the Bahraini movement is a peaceful protest movement.


But are there any opportunities to resolve the Bahrain crisis?

Since February 2011, Bahrain has been experiencing a political and security crisis, claiming many victims.

Harsh sentences have been passed against a number of political leaders and human rights activists. Thousands of workers and trade unionists have been dismissed from their jobs and some trade unionists and workers still have not returned to their jobs.

Despite repeated pledges from the government that it is committed to upholding human rights standards, the opposition and human rights organisations are still demanding that the government apply “effectively and honestly” the recommendations of the fact-finding committee, known locally as the “Bassiouni Commission recommendations” as well as the recommendations issued by the human rights council.

It is hoped that soon another round of political dialogue featuring key opposition groups will begin, in spite of their reservations about the mechanism to determine participants in the dialogue and the subjects to be discussed, not to mention how agreements made during the dialogue will be implemented.

However, observers do not expect this dialogue to result in any serious agreements freeing the country from bottleneck it is in, especially in light of the international support the Bahraini government enjoys and the financial support sent from its brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In addition, the presence of reform-obstructing parties within the ruling family under the leadership of the prime minister, who still holds his post after 40 years, means that the Crown Prince (whom Bahraini opposition parties see as being capable of moving the country to an area of limited reforms) has his hands tied.