By Nicolò Brugnera, Michele Faleschini & Rachele Cecchi
The case of the small emirate, so modern and developed but intolerant at the same time.
Thinking about Bahrain, the first thing that comes up to mind is the Formula 1’s Grand Prix. Someone could remember that in 2011 it was cancelled due to uprisings against the government, which weren’t much considered because of the concomitance with the more media-exposed ones in North Africa, during the Arab Spring.
After five years from those uprisings, therehasn’t been any concrete progress : the main requests of the opposition – obtaining a modern and effective constitution and some economic and social reforms – were only partially satisfied, but mostly ignored.
Bahrain has been governed by the al-Khalifa dynasty since the XVIII century, and in 2002 it adopted a constitution that formally recognizes the passage from emirate to monarchy. Despite that, the bureaucratic and administrative control firmly belongs to the royal family, and the Parliament’s role is compromised by political and constitutional limits – like the veto of the Senate, which is appointed by the king and plays a primary legislative role.
Bahrain is one of the states of the Arabic gulf that are more interested in economic diversification, because it is expected to be one of the first to finish its oil reserves. It is also quite developed on welfare matters: for example it has had a valid school system since 1920s. Despite all these factors, the opposition – the Shiites in particular – has requested the Sunni royal family some kind of modernization for a long time. This factor drove to the uprisings of 2011. Some attempts were made to reach an agreement with the high institutions, but they were accompanied by tortures and intimidations against political opposition, especially parlamentary ones.
Many reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reveal that, in the last four years ,“in Bahrain there are still tortures, arbitrary arrests and violent repressions against the activists and anyone who criticizes the Government”. Just weeks ago the police killed an 18 years old protester during the Formula 1 Grand Prix. For journalists in the small archipelago it is almost impossible to spread news that get in contrast with the official version given by the government and the king, so the international media coverage is inadequate.
Taking a look at Bahrain international relations, the “strong links” with Saudi Arabia are clear. The United States has recently removed an embargo against the country, and has signed a 150 million dollars agreement for a F-16 aircraft supply; their Fifth Fleet is also based in the Bahraini capital city, Manama. Meanwhile the opposition is trying its best to – at least – open dialogue with the government. In the best of cases, they are stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the country. An emblematic case is the one of Jawad Fairooz, former member of Parliament and now human rights activist: after 3 months in jail, where he was tortured, he was bound to leave Bahrain as stateless, without his family, who is still living in the small emirate and closely controlled by the police.
So, the real question now is why there is so small international attention towards this situation. First of all, it may be because of the interests mentioned above that the western states (in particular the US) have there: according to Iyad El-Baghdadi, human rights activist for the Middle East, Bahrain is where western countries first failed to guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This failure, perfectly reflected by the bloody facts of Egypt and Syria, allows the establishment of a form of Saudi hegemony there.
At least, the Bahraini case was taken into consideration by some particular specialized commissions of the United Nations. In fact, during the past months, 37 countries have agreed about the absolute lack of protection of fundamental rights and freedom in this State.
In particular, the European Union seems to have given better perspectives of help. Last February, the European Parliament passed a resolution about all the critical points of the Bahraini matter which, besides condemning tortures against the political dissidents, proposes the creation of a commission to safeguard human rights, thanks to the collaboration between EU member States and Bahrain.
Although king Al-Khalifa should be the first one to make all efforts to change the situation, the international community could do a lot as well.
Special thanks to Jawad Fairooz, Iyad El-Baghdadi and Arianna Scuotto.