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Bahrain: Al Khalifa Regime Finally Cedes Power – OpEd

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By Dr. Seyyed Reza Mousavinia

I have not selected the title of this note to attract attention. Based on the arguments and evidence which will be presented briefly below, I will show that the Al Khalifa regime of Bahrain has given up power. First, it is necessary to provide a clear definition of the concepts of power, violence, force, and legitimacy.

Many right- and left-wing experts define power as equivalent to violence. Charles Wright Mills regards politics as a fight for power and considers the use of violence as the culmination of power. Max Weber describes power as a capacity in terms of which one can impose will on others in spite of their resistance. Bertrand de Jouvenel says power does not make sense without commanding and obeying. And Marx believes that the state, by monopolizing power at its own hands, forms a suppressive tool at the disposal of the ruling class.

Bahrain
Bahrain

In contrast to these definitions of power, there are other definitions which not only reject power as equivalent to the use of violence, but also view power and violence as contradicting one another.

The German philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is among the thinkers who have such a conception. Contesting those who assume power and violence as equivalents, she argues that “If the essence of power is the effectiveness of command, then there is no greater power than that which grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Arendt believes that a person with a machine gun in his hand can keep a group of people in check, and even with a powerful weapon one can frighten thousands of people, but this does not signify the application of power it simply means the use of violence by a powerful person or group.

Based on this perspective, where there is violence, there is no power, and where there is power, there is no need to use violence.

In this brief analysis drawing on the views of Arendt, I define power as not belonging to one person, but to community. In fact, power has a social character and is at the disposal of a group of men who take a common action using their free will. As long as this group is united, their power is sustained.

When we say that a given person has power, it does not mean he personally enjoys power, but that he has been given responsibility by a group and acts in the name of that group. This is to say that without the support and backing of the group, his power does not make sense. Therefore, power is created when human beings become united and form power among themselves with their free will and mutual trust, and then hand it over to an institution called “state.” And as long as the principal owners of power, namely the people, continue to support the state, the state enjoys power and legitimacy, and when the support of people for the legal institutions of the state is withdrawn, the power and legitimacy of the state is lost.

The concept of violence lies in contradistinction to power. Violence is the weapon of those who lack power or have lost their power. Power depends on the support of the people, but violence acts independent of the people, because it depends on a tool such as a weapon or a stick.

Power is created when united people take a common action in an atmosphere full of peace and trust, but violence manifests itself when there is no trust and the atmosphere of fear, anxiety, and distrust prevails. Violence is placed on the agenda when power is in danger. Violence can never create power; on the contrary, it eats away at the fabric of power like a termite.

At times, people hand over the commodity of power to the state, but after a while the state becomes self-alienated. This self-alienation means the government, which is obliged to act according to the people’s will in domestic and international arenas, strays off its main path and violates its earlier pledge to the people. What makes a government strong is the support of the people, and a self-alienated state has lost this support.

The only way to restore power is by returning it to the people in order to win their trust again. If the government does not do so, in the first step it will use violence for its survival. The second step will be restricting freedom, and the third is the prosecution of dissidents, and social and political activists. In the fourth step, the government will stop the peaceful life of the people, and finally, it will become a reign of terror.

History tells us that violence can replace power, and it can even be successful for a short time, but it will have a heavy cost for both people and the aggressive state.

What we see in Bahrain today is a blatant act of violence with the cooperation of a foreign player named Saudi Arabia. Who can believe that the Bahraini government asked a foreign country to suppress the peaceful demands of its citizens? Can Bahrain be called a “Nation State,” while its rulers lost their limited power, which was due to the people’s support, when they started to use violence?

Killing civilians in front of hundreds of cameras, torturing the elite, abducting political and social activists, intimidating and expelling physicians and scholars, and trying civilians in military courts all indicate that the Al Khalifa regime has given up power and started to use violence. The great peril for the Al Khalifa regime is moving towards spreading terror.

What does it mean, when a hospital in the island city of Sitra refused to admit a critically injured 14-year-old boy which led to his death shortly afterwards? Hospital authorities refused to treat the wounded teenager for fear of being arrested by security forces. Doesn’t that mean that the Bahraini government is spreading terror?

Indubitably, there is not a way back to the power for a state that spreads terror. No one can stand against people with a machine gun without blinking an eye, and immobilize and intimidate them forever. Al Khalifa should know that the only way back to power is by returning to the people and meeting their legitimate demands through basic and democratic reforms.

As Arendt once said, political power is only alive as long as it is derived from the people.

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