On September 18, Bahrain media reported that Crown Prince Salman, perceived as a conciliator, had sent a letter to his father, King Hamad, outlining areas of “common ground” in talks on political reforms, writes Simon Henderson, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Five core elements were listed: redistricting to ensure greater representation; legislative changes to allow parliament to question ministers, including the prime minister; parliamentary approval of the cabinet; improvement in judicial standards and judiciary independence; and security-sector changes, including new codes of conduct for the security forces. In the absence of actual reforms, the crown prince’s efforts to clarify the issues could simply exacerbate the country’s divisions, Henderson suggests:
On September 19, Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the main al-Wefaq opposition faction, told a large group of demonstrators that the proposals did not represent “the will of the people” and the elections would be “illegitimate.” … The opposition is no doubt frustrated at being offered the prospect of political reform but only after elections in which their hope of victory is nil. A large-scale boycott would be embarrassing for the government, yet delaying the vote until reforms are enacted is probably not a realistic option. Under the constitution, polls have to be held before December 15 unless the king extends the terms of current members of parliament by two years. Perhaps the ominous presence of the “Islamic State”/ISIS in Syria and Iraq — which is a danger to Bahrain’s Shiites and ruling family alike — will avert a major crisis at home.
A Bahraini appeals court Sunday confirmed five-year jail terms imposed on nine Shiites, among them a photojournalist and an online activist, for calling for the overthrow of the Sunni monarchy, AFP reports:
Dozens of Bahraini Shiites have been handed lengthy prison terms after being convicted of involvement in protests that have shaken the kingdom since February 2011. The court upheld an April ruling sentencing photographer Hussain Hubail and activist Jassim al-Nuaimi, along with seven other Shiites, to five years in prison, after convicting them of promoting the overthrow of the regime “through illegal means via media and social networks”.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has been informed by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) about the provisional release pending trial of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja (above left),GCHR Co-Director and a member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR):
According to the information received, on September 18, 2014, the public prosecution ordered the release of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja pending her trial on 1 October 2014, for allegedly assaulting a police officer at the airport. A travel ban has been imposed on her and a guarantee of her place of residence was required as a condition of her release. She is due to appear on October 1 2014 before the High Criminal Court. If convicted, she can face up to two years of imprisonment.
Today, the Shia political opposition looks to London and Washington for help, but if there is no effective help, and if they remain effectively disenfranchised, the day will come when some among them begin to look instead to Tehran, warns Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations:
That will be a disaster for Bahrain and for the United States– a kind of “reverse Iraq,” for in Iraq it was the Shia-led government of prime minister Maliki that refused compromise and alienated the Sunni population.
The United States should not today be pressuring the Shia community, led by the al-Wefaq organization, to participate in the elections come what may. The ground rules and the terms of compromise count. Al-Wefaq participated in parliament from 2006 to 2010 under pressure to play the political game, produce change, and reap the benefits. But there were no benefits; the experiment failed. Bahrain is today less free than it was a decade ago.
Instead, the United States should be pressing both sides for a genuine and meaningful compromise, and should be urging the King to act now to save his country from strife that surely lies ahead unless he uses his influence and his power to guide change, argues Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.