Al Khalifa Regime Practicing Religious Apartheid in Bahrain: Political Pundit
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A senior political analyst based in New York highlighted the “abysmal” human rights situation in Bahrain, saying the Al Khalifa regime is practicing a kind of religious apartheid in the Persian Gulf country.
“Even outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon protested about the (Bahraini) regime’s behavior towards its own citizens, and that behavior is typified by the withdrawal of citizenship which suggests the regime is practicing a form of religious apartheid,” Ian Williams, an expert at Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.
Ian Williams is a prominent analyst whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world such as the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.
The full text of the interview is as follows:
Tasnim: On December 12, Bahrain’s appeals court upheld a nine-year prison term imposed on Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of main opposition party in the Arab country, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, despite widespread criticism both at home and abroad against his imprisonment. In another attempt to silence the voices of dissent, the Manama regime announced on June 20 that it had revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain's Shiite majority. The regime later said it would put the prominent cleric on trial on trumped-up charges. Sheikh Qassim’s planned trials were adjourned after the prominent cleric did not appear in court. In the meantime, a sit-in that supporters of Sheikh Qassim have staged in front of his house in Diraz to protect him against the regime forces has remained in place for six straight months. It seems that the Manama regime has no intention of adopting a conciliatory approach to the opposition. What is your take on that?
Williams: The Bahraini regime is under the protection of Saudi Arabia, which as we know has other protectors, such as Israel and the US. Even outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon protested about the regime’s behavior towards its own citizens, and that behavior is typified by the withdrawal of citizenship which suggests the regime is practicing a form of religious apartheid. However, this is a human rights issue, not just a Shiite rights issue, and the world needs to be told more about what is going on in Bahrain. It should be become an international human rights issue.
Tasnim: The Arab Kingdom, which is home to the US Navy's massive 5th Fleet, has been witnessing peaceful protests against the ruling Al Khalifa regime on a daily basis since early 2011. This is while, scores of Bahrainis have been killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested in the ongoing crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations. How do you see the human rights situation in the tiny Persian Gulf country?
Williams: The Human Rights situation is abysmal, but possibly the change in the White House might have lessened the leverage in Washington. So long as the regime can hint or pretend that this is a Sunni/Shiite issue and that the latter are surrogates for Iran. It can ward off opposition from Congress. Even so, an international campaign bringing the world, EU and Washington’s, attention to the authoritarian and sectarian nature of a regime that the US is protecting might have some effect in getting the regime to reconsider its positions, which in long term threaten to erode the ruling family’s hegemony, which is all they care about. They could be persuaded that sharing power is more likely to ensure their long term survival.
Tasnim: It has been five years since troops from Saudi Arabia were deployed to Bahrain to assist in the Manama regime’s crackdown on the peaceful protesters. What is the reason behind such assistance? In your opinion, what geopolitical goals is Riyadh pursuing by the military intervention in the tiny Persian Gulf country?
Williams: Riyadh feels insecure and is lashing out, as in Yemen and Bahrain. But its reactions, its de facto alliance with Israel and actual alliance with the US should diminish its political and religious appeal to the Muslim world not to mention the non-Aligned. The exclusive Wahhabi cult which they promulgate worldwide with their money is closely connected with terrorism, providing the social seed bed for it to grow. Its appalling human rights record and its role in fostering terrorism should be highlighted.
Tasnim: The Saudi regime has also interfered in the internal affairs of Yemen. Riyadh and its staunch allies invaded the Arabian Peninsula country in March 2015 with the aim of returning the fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. Since then, the Yemeni people have been under massive attacks and airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition almost on a daily basis. What is your take on the heinous crimes committed by the Al Saud regime? How the international community can stop the atrocities?
Williams: There have been some small successes. Under pressure in parliament in the UK and similarly in Europe, the British government for example was forced to ask Saudi Arabia to stop using cluster bombs, and military aid is increasingly questioned. The situation in Yemen, the various factions, is so complicated that the Saudis find it easier to portray it is a Sunni/Shiite fight and a power struggle with Iran. When Ban Ki-moon and the UN pointed out the results, the Saudis used their financial and political clout to muffle the report. But the facts were there. The Saudis have deep pockets but they are widely distrusted and disliked. A popular, human rights based campaign can produce results. Their superior military technology depends on foreigners to service and use it, so pressure on Western governments could force them to withdraw such support, although, sadly, with Trump in the US not worried about human rights anywhere, and a British government that after Brexit is looking for new markets for the weapons it makes for economic success, it will be a tough struggle.