Bahraini Shiites’ Anti-Royal Graffiti Speaks of Unhealed Rift With Wahabi Monarchy

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Middle East
Thursday, 18 August 2011


shiite news bahraini shiitesThe defaced walls of the Bahraini village of Burhama reflect the mounting tension between Muslims from the Shiite community and the Nasabi-Wahabi-led royal family.

Every day, the village’s Shiites spray anti-monarchy graffiti on the facades of its buildings. And every day, the offensive language is concealed by police under a strip of white paint, until it reappears atop another white layer the next day.
The graffiti is just one indication that steps taken by the Nasabi-Wahabi-led government have yet to heal rifts stemming from a crackdown this year on mostly Shiite pro-democracy protesters. Shiite villages have held rallies almost every night since the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began Aug. 1, while al-Wefaq, the Shiites’ largest party, has announced it won’t participate in next month’s special elections to fill the parliamentary seats of its members who resigned to protest the crackdown.

“Those in power should be in harmony with the will of the people,” said Hadi al-Mousawi, one of 18 al-Wefaq members who quit the parliament. “But they just turn their backs to what the opposition wants.”

The grievances that sparked the demonstrations in February and March have intensified because the government has ignored core Shiite demands for higher living standards and equal representation, Mousawi said in a telephone interview Aug. 14.

Government measures to try to calm the situation weren’t enough, he said. The steps included releasing political detainees, reinstating many employees suspended from work on suspicion of participation in the protests, and hosting reconciliation talks.

National Dialogue

A so-called national dialogue, called for by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, last month brought together 300 pro-government Bahrainis, activists and representatives of political parties. Its recommendations will be released after they’ve been reviewed by the king.

The situation probably will remain tense in the absence of signs that “the government has the political will to embark on a serious process of political reform at this time,” Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at the Chatham House foreign-policy institute in London, said Aug. 14 and 15 in response to e-mailed questions.

“The limited steps that have been taken to build local and international confidence around the national dialogue have generally involved reversing some steps taken during the crackdown” rather than structural change, she said.

Economic Damage

The unrest has hurt the economy of the country, which has promoted itself as a business center to rival nearby Dubai. The economic cost is $1.5 billion to $2 billion, Esam Fakhro, chairman of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in an interview with the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published Aug. 8. Gross domestic product shrank 1.4 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months. The central bank cut its economic growth forecast this year by two percentage points to 3 percent, Governor Rasheed al-Maraj said in a June 16 interview.

Al-Maraj said Bahrain’s main economic interests, including oil, had seen little impact from the unrest, while service industries such as retail, hotels and restaurants suffered what would only be a “temporary” slowdown and would recover.

“Our major industries remained operational throughout the period,” he said in the interview. “The biggest part of our economy has not really been hurt much.”

The unrest has harmed the image Bahrain has been building for more than 10 years as a liberal hub for business, Kinninmont said.

“It is harder to see multinational companies picking Bahrain as their regional business hub today,” she said.

Bank Relocating

Credit Agricole SA (ACA), France’s second-largest bank by assets, will relocate its regional headquarters out of Bahrain, two bankers familiar with the matter said yesterday. They declined to be identified because the matter is private. A spokeswoman for Credit Agricole in Londondeclined to comment on the plans.

The violence left 35 people dead, according to Cherif Bassiouni, a professor emeritus at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago who now heads an independent commission ordered by the king to look into allegations of human-rights abuses during the crackdown.

Bahrain is expected to “experience persistent political unrest” and “a significant threat” to the ruling family’s authority, the Economist Intelligence Unit said July 18 in a forecast for the country through 2015. The king’s response “will determine Bahrain’s political landscape over the next five years,” it said.

Political Process

Bahraini officials say the only way out of the deadlock sparked by the protests is by maintaining open channels of communication and participation in the political process, including the Sept. 24 special elections.

Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa, the justice minister, said in several statements this week that shunning the elections was a mistake. In a news conference on Aug. 16, he said the government would like to see everyone take part in the polls. “Political life in Bahrain will continue and it won’t wait for anyone to participate or boycott,” said the minister.

Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of Shiite al-Wefaq party, said building a “democratic, civil state is the solution.” He called for a referendum to gauge Bahrainis’ opinions on several issues, such as whether they prefer an elected Cabinet to one that is appointed.

Al-Wefaq “will continue working for a peaceful transformation to democracy,” Salman said at a news conference yesterday.

Accusing Iran

Officials in the country of 1.2 million, which became a monarchy in 2002, have accused Shiite-led Iran of supporting the protesters, an allegation al-Wefaq denies. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom linked to Bahrain by a causeway, is a rival to Iran for influence in the region.

Bahrain’s Shiites represent about 70 percent of the population, according to the U.S. State Department, and have long demanded rights equal to those of Wahabi's, including appointments to senior government and military posts. In the 1990s, Bahrain was shaken by violence stemming from Shiite disaffection.

Those feelings linger. The authorities set up checkpoints on the evening of Aug. 11 within a 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) radius of a traffic circle that was the center of the protests, after messages posted on social media websites urged Shiites to march toward it. The circle, previously known as the Pearl Roundabout, has been destroyed by the government and replaced with an intersection. An army checkpoint 500 meters (1,640 feet) away restricts access to the area to the residents of three nearby high-rise apartment buildings and their visitors.

On the streets of Burhama, cars drive over large signs spelling “Hamad down” in white paint on the asphalt.

Calls for Freedom

On Aug. 15, the walls of houses and buildings carried further demands that appeared a day after previous graffiti was painted over by the police: “We want our freedom.” “People want to overthrow the regime.” “Freedom to our prisoners.”

In the evenings, Shiite youths use horns attached to air canisters to blare tunes that sound like “Hamad down.” Riot police respond by chasing the noise, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, while another group toots a similar tune in another spot, said Mousawi.

“The kids are just taunting them. It’s like a ‘Tom and Jerry’ game,” said Mousawi.

He said such “peaceful” manifestations of anti-government protests escalated during Ramadan and will continue after the holy month ends.

“People have no other choice,” he said.

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The graffiti is just one indication that steps taken by the Nasabi-Wahabi-led government have yet to heal rifts stemming from a crackdown this year on mostly Shiite pro-democracy protesters. Shiite villages have held rallies almost every night since the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began Aug. 1, while al-Wefaq, the Shiites’ largest party, has announced it won’t participate in next month’s special elections to fill the parliamentary seats of its members who resigned to protest the crackdown.

“Those in power should be in harmony with the will of the people,” said Hadi al-Mousawi, one of 18 al-Wefaq members who quit the parliament. “But they just turn their backs to what the opposition wants.”

The grievances that sparked the demonstrations in February and March have intensified because the government has ignored core Shiite demands for higher living standards and equal representation, Mousawi said in a telephone interview Aug. 14.

Government measures to try to calm the situation weren’t enough, he said. The steps included releasing political detainees, reinstating many employees suspended from work on suspicion of participation in the protests, and hosting reconciliation talks.

National Dialogue

A so-called national dialogue, called for by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, last month brought together 300 pro-government Bahrainis, activists and representatives of political parties. Its recommendations will be released after they’ve been reviewed by the king.

The situation probably will remain tense in the absence of signs that “the government has the political will to embark on a serious process of political reform at this time,” Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at the Chatham House foreign-policy institute in London, said Aug. 14 and 15 in response to e-mailed questions.

“The limited steps that have been taken to build local and international confidence around the national dialogue have generally involved reversing some steps taken during the crackdown” rather than structural change, she said.

Economic Damage

The unrest has hurt the economy of the country, which has promoted itself as a business center to rival nearby Dubai. The economic cost is $1.5 billion to $2 billion, Esam Fakhro, chairman of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in an interview with the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published Aug. 8. Gross domestic product shrank 1.4 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months. The central bank cut its economic growth forecast this year by two percentage points to 3 percent, Governor Rasheed al-Maraj said in a June 16 interview.

Al-Maraj said Bahrain’s main economic interests, including oil, had seen little impact from the unrest, while service industries such as retail, hotels and restaurants suffered what would only be a “temporary” slowdown and would recover.

“Our major industries remained operational throughout the period,” he said in the interview. “The biggest part of our economy has not really been hurt much.”

The unrest has harmed the image Bahrain has been building for more than 10 years as a liberal hub for business, Kinninmont said.

“It is harder to see multinational companies picking Bahrain as their regional business hub today,” she said.

Bank Relocating

Credit Agricole SA (ACA), France’s second-largest bank by assets, will relocate its regional headquarters out of Bahrain, two bankers familiar with the matter said yesterday. They declined to be identified because the matter is private. A spokeswoman for Credit Agricole in Londondeclined to comment on the plans.

The violence left 35 people dead, according to Cherif Bassiouni, a professor emeritus at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago who now heads an independent commission ordered by the king to look into allegations of human-rights abuses during the crackdown.

Bahrain is expected to “experience persistent political unrest” and “a significant threat” to the ruling family’s authority, the Economist Intelligence Unit said July 18 in a forecast for the country through 2015. The king’s response “will determine Bahrain’s political landscape over the next five years,” it said.

Political Process

Bahraini officials say the only way out of the deadlock sparked by the protests is by maintaining open channels of communication and participation in the political process, including the Sept. 24 special elections.

Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa, the justice minister, said in several statements this week that shunning the elections was a mistake. In a news conference on Aug. 16, he said the government would like to see everyone take part in the polls. “Political life in Bahrain will continue and it won’t wait for anyone to participate or boycott,” said the minister.

Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of Shiite al-Wefaq party, said building a “democratic, civil state is the solution.” He called for a referendum to gauge Bahrainis’ opinions on several issues, such as whether they prefer an elected Cabinet to one that is appointed.

Al-Wefaq “will continue working for a peaceful transformation to democracy,” Salman said at a news conference yesterday.

Accusing Iran

Officials in the country of 1.2 million, which became a monarchy in 2002, have accused Shiite-led Iran of supporting the protesters, an allegation al-Wefaq denies. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom linked to Bahrain by a causeway, is a rival to Iran for influence in the region.

Bahrain’s Shiites represent about 70 percent of the population, according to the U.S. State Department, and have long demanded rights equal to those of Wahabi's, including appointments to senior government and military posts. In the 1990s, Bahrain was shaken by violence stemming from Shiite disaffection.

Those feelings linger. The authorities set up checkpoints on the evening of Aug. 11 within a 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) radius of a traffic circle that was the center of the protests, after messages posted on social media websites urged Shiites to march toward it. The circle, previously known as the Pearl Roundabout, has been destroyed by the government and replaced with an intersection. An army checkpoint 500 meters (1,640 feet) away restricts access to the area to the residents of three nearby high-rise apartment buildings and their visitors.

On the streets of Burhama, cars drive over large signs spelling “Hamad down” in white paint on the asphalt.

Calls for Freedom

On Aug. 15, the walls of houses and buildings carried further demands that appeared a day after previous graffiti was painted over by the police: “We want our freedom.” “People want to overthrow the regime.” “Freedom to our prisoners.”

In the evenings, Shiite youths use horns attached to air canisters to blare tunes that sound like “Hamad down.” Riot police respond by chasing the noise, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, while another group toots a similar tune in another spot, said Mousawi.

“The kids are just taunting them. It’s like a ‘Tom and Jerry’ game,” said Mousawi.

He said such “peaceful” manifestations of anti-government protests escalated during Ramadan and will continue after the holy month ends.

“People have no other choice,” he said.

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