Bahrain, a key to unraveling the political and social tensions on the Arab side of the Gulf?

Scholars, journalists and activists gathered on the 14th of June 2018 at the French National Assembly around a central question: «Bahrain, a key to unraveling the political and social tensions on the Arab side of the Gulf?»

Thursday, some members of SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights entered the 5th office of the Palais Bourbon in Paris to meet with a panel of researchers and specialists of the Gulf. Led and organized by Marc Pellas, economist and contributor in Le Monde diplomatique since 1973 regarding security issues in the Gulf, and Bernard Dreano, co-chairman of the international solidarity center of studies and writer of several books concerning the Arab revolutions and the fights for peace in the 21st century. In order to organize this day, they both collaborated with Gwendal Rouillard, who is a French Member of the Parliament and also taking part in the Defense Commission of the political party La République en Marche. The intervention panel was composed of eight prominent specialists of the central issue outlined by the symposium.

The main aim of this day was to shed a light on the current political, social and human rights situation in Bahrain while considering its geopolitical environment to outline ideas on how to resolve the crisis the country is currently struggling with. The focus was also set on the potential contributions the European Union could bring to lessen the internal and international tension surrounding the issue, and also to revive an integrative and respectful political contribution concerning the Human Rights problem.

The four hours that were dedicated to the subject were divided in two. The first sequence focused on the analysis of the political, social and human rights issues in Bahrain and the second sequence underlined the country’s geopolitical situation, under the cyclonic relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights facilitated in the organization of this day. They also provided live coverage of the entire symposium on Twitter and Instagram. They helped to organize an interpretation of the interventions in French for one panel member: Ali Al-Aswad, and then in English when he spoke.

Maytham Al-Salman passed a paper read by Mr. Pellas on the current situation in Bahrain and about his concerns on the actions that were taken regardless of any Human Right policy. He also mentioned Nabeel Rajab who is being held in prison. None of the organization have had contact with him since his incarceration and he voiced his concern.

That concern was also shared by Antoine Madelin, director of the International federation of Human Rights league for International Advocacy (FIDH), who mentioned the fact that Nabeel Rajab was convicted to five years of imprisonment on the grounds of having published and spread “false news under a time of war”, about the fact that he denounced the increasing number of casualties in Yemen. The second charge that is being held against him is for “insult to the national institutions” because he raised his concern about the use of torture in Bahraini prisons. Antoine Madelin did not only spoke about the case of Nabeel Rajab, but also of other detainees who are being held in prison on unclear grounds. He demanded that justice should be done and that the FIDH was concerned about the human rights violations that are now currently happening in Bahrain. He stressed the fact that the FIDH is not the only organization who is supporting the release of political prisoners and that some actions should be taken or at least held into consideration by the international community. SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights covered his speech on Twitter

After Mr. Madelin’s speech, a round table was open for questions regarding human rights. Because Mr. Madelin also spoke about some political activists who were deprived from the Bahraini nationality, Claire Beaugrand, who is a Gulf Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, asked if the nationalities were simply revoked or if there was any kind of trial beforehand. Mr. Madelin said the issue was not very clear yet.

After the round table, Ms. Laurence Louër held a speech about the impact of the social and confessional dynamics in relation to the politics in Bahrain. Her intervention was also covered by SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights:

She spoke about the historical and geopolitical context surrounding the conflict between Shias and Sunnis and about how it affected the political decisions and the near invisibility of the Shia community in the country.

Mr. Ali Al-Aswad, a former Member of the Bahraini Parliament from the Wefaq political party spoke about the systematic repressions used by the national authorities against the people of Bahrain, as if the country was getting further from democracy and closed to a form of dictatorship. He also spoke about the “Manama Document” in which the propositions were moderate and also underlined the opposition parties political and social demands. Nevertheless, the dialogue it was requesting never happened and the king asked for the Saudi troops to come and violently stop the protests at the eve of the negotiations. He also demanded the end of any discrimination the Bahrainis are facing now. Al Wefaq also wrote the “Declaration of the non-violent principle” but none of those attempts was taken into consideration by the ruling king. In 2011, the BICI (Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry) published twenty-seven recommendations to stop the human rights violations they investigated upon during the uprising and the series of clampdowns that followed. However, the number of political prisoners increased drastically, as for Shaikh Ali Salman, who insisted on specific ways to resolve the issue and who is serving a four years sentence that the authorities are looking to increase. Al Wefaq’s quarters were also attacked and the party became forbidden and illegal. All former members of the party are now forbidden to vote.

Ali Al-Aswad asserted that only a clear dialogue between the opposition parties and the authorities would be necessary, and that they want to engage in that dialogue peacefully. He demanded that Shaikh Ali Salman should be physically present for this dialogue. The ruling king should also accept without any reservation the right for the people to protest peacefully. Finally, he asked for the international community to support those actions because Bahrein is spending a tremendous amount of money to hide its crimes and to clear its reputation. Mr. Al-Aswad ended his intervention by mentioning Al-Wefaq newest initiative: “The Declaration of Principles and of Common Interests” that include their perspective on how to end the political crisis in the country. If they are met by the international community, these common interest could help the Bahreini to see a brighter future for the generations to come.

Then, Claire Beaugrand, shared her views on the way the ruling family handled opposition in Bahrain. She also mentioned the political issues surrounding this issue.

The final part of the symposium was shared between four contributors. M. Gilbert Achkar was the first. He is a Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the SOAS in London University. He mostly mentioned his studies about the geopolitical situation in the Gulf. Then, he spoke about the role of Saudi Arabia to control what was happening in the Gulf and to repress any kind of opposition.

Mr. Olivier Da Lage, chief editor at RFI (Radio France International) shed lights on the relation between dictatorship and communication, about the fact that Bahrein was controlled by Saudi Arabia. He said that in 1971, the country was autonomous and for it to exist by itself, it had to give an image of wealth and of social and political opening to the world. During the Manama Spring, it became easier to initiate trades on an international scale while taking some distance from Saudi Arabia who was trading mostly with the US. And while US former president Barack Obama was open for dialogue, it is not the case now with Donald Trump, so the royal family chose to get closer to Saudi Arabia and then got deprived from any international visibility.

Mr. Pierre Conesa, former deputy of the Delegation on strategic affairs of the French Ministry of Defense, and president of HOMID (geopolitical counseling company), enhanced this point by stressing the fact that the international community did not know everything that was happening in Bahrain mostly because they rely on the Saudi international communication who is shutting all ways for anyone to know more. The relation between the US and Saudi Arabia is one of lobbying and the US contribute to giving a new image to Saudi while hiding the problematic situation in Bahrain.

Finally, Alain Grech, former chief editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, and current director of OrientXXI, said that the “war against terrorism” the western world started was only a way to justify any means of repression and war speech. He said the international community has to find a way out of this discourse and that one of the options would be to open a dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Mr. Ali Al-Aswad concluded the symposium by adding information about the fact that Bahrein is now being used for Qatar and that they have a lot to lose. Bahrein is also the poorest country in the Gulf and they receive no help because of their dependence to Saudi Arabia. He also concluded on the uprising in 2011 and how it was suppressed by Saudi Arabia, hence the importance of a dialogue and the help of the international community to resolve those issues.