ISSN 2330-717X

Life Term For Critics And For Bahrain Crisis – OpEd

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By Seyyed Mohiaddin Sajedi

In a preliminary emergency hearing in Bahrain, eight opposition leaders were sentenced to life in prison and 13 others were handed 15-year terms.

However, these people will have the opportunity to appeal the ruling.

There is the possibility that an appeals court could order a lighter punishment, or the king may also use his powers to pardon some of the convicts in a move to alter the atmosphere in the country to his own benefit. But nothing is yet certain due to internal conflicts within the royal family and the government.

Immediately after the court order, people staged protests and thousands made an effort to throng in central Manama and demanded the king’s ouster in their slogans. Bahraini police, backed by Saudi troops, confronted the people and assaulted them.

The court ruling fanned a fire which had never died in the country. The controversial deployment of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the tiny Persian Gulf state, which homes an indigenous population of only half a million, and the declaration of military law and a state of emergency dampened the anti-regime demonstrations. However, as soon as the military law was lifted, people took to the streets to voice their opposition to the king’s policies. Thirty thousand people turned up in the last gathering of the protesters, which is a very stunning figure, considering the country’s small population.

Following US President Barack Obama’s last month speech insisting on talks between the bickering sides, the Bahraini king floated the idea of national dialogue, without setting out a clear timetable or framework for the talks. He only insisted on the condition that the negotiations should not have any pre-conditions and everything must start from scratch.

Alongside the uprisings of Arab nations in the past eight months, Bahrainis have also been calling for reforms and change in their country, and opposition groups have been clearly expressing their demands from the very beginning.

Peoples’ main demands are the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, creation of a parliament through free elections, appointment of prime minister based on a parliamentary majority, confrontation with the ruling family’s financial corruption and an end to offering citizenship to non-Bahrainis, through which the government is trying to change the country’s demographic texture.

Although, there are some less popular groups and parties among the oppositionists, who have proposed the change of the regime into a republic establishment, the policies recently adopted by the Bahraini government in its suppressing of the people and its seeking of assistance from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have radicalized the Bahraini society and caused more people to take sides with such parties.

Bahrain’s parliament consists of two chambers, each with 40 members: The Council of Representatives (the lower house), whose lawmakers are chosen by the people, and the Consultative Council (the upper house), which has all of its members handpicked by the king. Bills must be passed by both houses. The monarch can, hence, allow the ratification of laws he approves of, through the Consultative Council.

The National Safety Court’s issuance of harsh sentences for the opposition leaders discredits the king’s call for national dialogue. The monarch thinks that the sentences provide him with a stronger bargaining power in talks with the opposition or, in other words, enable him to have an easier dialogue with weakened oppositionists.

Bahrain’s moderate Al-Wefaq party, which secured 18 parliamentary seats in last year’s elections, reacted interestingly to the life sentences handed to Bahraini oppositionists, saying the “life terms will also make the political crisis remain for life and will cause the tension to rise in the country.”

However, it is believed that the clandestine power struggle between the king, the crown prince and prime minister has caused the crisis to build up. The sheikdom has had one premier since its 1971 independence. At the time, the power was apportioned in such a way that the father of the current Bahraini King became emir and the monarch’s uncle became prime minister. The father died but his brother Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa has, like [embattled Libyan ruler Muammar] Gaddafi, retained the power for more than four decades.

Some informed sources say that the prime minister abandoned the initiative to hold dialogue with the opposition, which was proposed by his nephew and the crown prince and was implemented at the beginning of the protests, in fear of compromising his powers. His removal from power and the appointment of a prime minister based on a parliamentary majority was one of the main demands of the opposition. The removal of the defense, interior and royal ministers are also among the opposition’s demands.

The crown prince’s recent visit to the United States and his unexpected visit with Obama at the White House have been taken to mean that the US wants the reforms to speed up in Bahrain before the uprising gets out of hand. Since falling behind two great revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the United States has been trying to use the recent developments in the Arab region to safeguard its own interests. Bahrain hosts a US Navy fleet and its proximity to Saudi Arabia and Iran has caused the US not to support the popular struggle there, unlike the other Arab uprisings.

Obama’s last speech addressing the people and governments of the Middle East shows that Washington fears that the current trend in Bahrain will endanger its interest. Thus, Washington demands reforms in Bahrain. The US is trying to show itself on the side of the people of Bahrain.

Nevertheless, the harsh sentences handed to opposition leaders and prosecuting doctors who treated protesters injured by Bahraini security forces show that the power struggle in Bahrain is so deep that the Persian Gulf country will not be able to implement US-proposed reforms.

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Press TV is a 24-hour English language global news network owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Its headquarters are located in Tehran, Iran. Press TV carries news analysis, documentary talk shows and sports news worldwide with special focus on West Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

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