Emile Nakhleh: Misconceptions about Bahrain

emile nekhleh
emile nekhleh

2013-09-17 - 7:56 م

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Does the Bahraini solution now depend on settling the unsolved regional files? This is one of the raised questions, as a conclusion, since the Saudi interfered to suppress a central sit-in in the capital Al-Manama in 2011 and as a prediction to the Syrian crisis consequences that bring the possibility of re-structuring balances in the region between Saudi .Arabia and Iran

But Emile Nakhleh the professor in “New Mexico” university and a former CIA intelligence officer who had already penned a book about the political development in Bahrain offered a totally different approach. He said “the files are totally separated” and he says in a meeting with “Bahrain Mirror” that “Al- Khalifa regime hopes to convince the Bahraini and others in the region through his claims that he cannot resolve the Bahraini file unless the Syrian file is addressed.” But, according to him, this is not right. How does that come?

.Following are excerpts from a dialogue with him to shed the light on this point of view

Bahrain Mirror: Does the continuation of  Syrian crisis or resolving it, even by military strike, affect the potential settlement in Bahrain؟

Emile Nakhleh:The Syrian crisis and its resolution, whether or not as a result of a military strike, should not directly affect the possibility of a settlement of the on-going crisis in Bahrain.  The essence of the situation in Bahrain boils down to the refusal of the Sunni minority Al Khalifa regime to respond to the popular demands for political reform, for participation in decision-making, and for an end to the economic and political discrimination against the Shia majority. Demands for social justice in Bahrain, which go back at least five decades, have never been about Shia-Sunni sectarianism.  In fact, Sunni pro-reform activists played a central role in the early 1970s calling on the government of Sheikh Isa and his brother, Prime Minister Khalifa, to open up the system, to improve labor conditions and support unionization, and to make the ruling family's economic policy, especially the budget, more transparent.  Prominent Bahraini businessmen, most of whom were Sunnis, were critical of the Prime Minister's insistence on getting the lion's share of huge contracts, whether in dealerships or construction.  These issues have been part of Bahrain's history since independence and are not in any way related to the current crisis in Syria. It would be disingenuous, and even dishonest, on the part of the regime to link their continued harsh crackdown on the opposition to the Syrian crisis. Even implying that nothing could be done until the dust settles in Syria is a cruel rouse to buy them time and to turn the world's attention away from their on-going .serious violations of their people's human rights 

Bahrain Mirror: Some think that the settlement in Bahrain, and what  the Suadi  intervention added became subjected to comprehensive settlement in the region and on the top “ the Syrian file”. To what extent do you agree with that؟

Nakhleh:  It is incorrect to tie a prospective settlement in Bahrain, which has been complicated by the Saudi intervention, to the wider region. The fall of the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni, and Libyan dictators two and a half years ago occurred because their peoples demanded it and was not tied to regional issues.  Settling the Syrian conflict or restructuring the regional balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example, have nothing to do with the Bahraini people's demands for reform and social justice. The regime's economic and political power grab and the systematic exclusion of a majority of the population from access to high-level jobs, including in the military, security services, and institutions of higher learning should be addressed within Bahrain regardless of what is going on in the wider region.  Saudi Arabia, as the main patron of the minority Sunni regime in Bahrain, should realize that continued instability in Bahrain in the long-term does not serve Saudi interests and its regional relations, including with Iran.  The Saudi leadership, especially the Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayef, should impress on Al Khalifa the urgency to reach a reasonable settlement with the opposition.  Re-establishing stability in Bahrain based on a partnership between the Bahrain people and Al Khalifa should help Saudi Arabia in its regional diplomacy and in its grand design to break up the Iran-Syria-Hizballah axis, which has been the Saudi nemesis for over three decades.

Bahrain Mirror: Bahrain and Syria became two centers of the  Sunni-Shiite conflict. The division of  regional axis in the region; the force that support the change in syria is the same that supports the Bahraini regime and vice versa. How would this affect the future of Bahraini settlement؟ 

Nakhleh: In recent years, two ideological/sectarian arcs have emerged in the Middle East:  A Sunni arc led by a coalition of Sunni autocrats including Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries, especially Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates; and a Shia crescent led by Iran, Iraq, and Hizballah.  Syria's strategy in joining the decades-old tripartite axis of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah was not about the Sunni-Shia divide in the region.  It was always about Syria's perception of its long-term strategic interests as a self-declared key player in the region.  When Syria sided with Iran in its war with Iraq over 30 years ago even though the rest of the Arab world supported Iraq, it did not do so for religious or sectarian reasons. Syria had its own ideological, political, and geographic disputes with Iraq.  Equally, the Assad regime's current violent response to the Syrian opposition and the killing of thousands of Syrians is not driven by religion but by the regime's ridiculous claim that demands for freedom and democracy in Syria are driven and controlled by "foreign armed terrorists."  It's time Al Khalifa and their supporters stop playing the sectarian card as an excuse to maintain their repressive regime.

BahrainMirror: You nearly deny the possibility of any overlaping between the Syrian and the Bahraini cases. It rather seems unlike the approach adopted by the Bahraini regime, and felt clearly by the opposition parties. Despite the information lately widespread regarding the Swiss efforts to invite the different parties of the Bahraini crisis to secretly negotiate in Geneva, is it possible to have a senario for Bahrain that is similar to the prospective “Geneva 2” for the conflict in Syria؟

Nakhleh: What the above answers affirm is that there is no connection between the Syrian crisis and the Bahraini regime’s continued violations of human rights and bloody crackdown on Bahraini pro-reform peaceful protesters. Some pro-human rights European governments and groups, including the Swiss, have made valiant and commendable efforts to start a process of genuine dialogue between the Bahraini regime and the opposition, including al-Wifaq.  Some meetings have been held away from the limelight, according to media reports.  These efforts, however, have not necessarily been tied to the crisis in Syria.  It’s cruel for Al Khalifa to claim a linkage between the so-called Syrian file and the Bahraini file.  In making such a claim, Al Khalifa regime hopes to convince some Bahrainis and others in the region that you can’t address the “Bahraini file” until the “Syrian file” is taken care of. Why not?  Bahraini popular demands for human rights predated the Syrian conflict and would continue beyond it, if no actionwere taken.  European states, including Switzerland, have privately and for quite sometime condemned Bahraini government autocratic and violent policies against the Bahraini majority.  The recent human rights declaration signed by 47 states is a continuation of this effort. The two “files” are totally separate, and the Bahraini regimecannot continue to flaunt the international community on this issue with impunity.


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