The Al Khalifa Plunder Continues


Today the Financial Times ran a (paywall) front page story on how the King of Bahrain has amassed a lucrative investment portfolio through a company called Premier. The FT found ‘that subsidiaries of Premier Group have shares in projects that have an investment value of at least $22bn at home and an extensive luxury property portfolio in Britain’. While I doubt anyone is surprised at this barefaced profiteering, the sheers numbers are staggering. What is more, this revelations marks the inevitable shift of the Al Khalifa family as a kleptocratic regime who made much of their wealth to from oil rents, to a cartel that are now diversifying into property development. Much of this ability derives from the Ruling Family’s tendency to view Bahrain and its resources as loot to be plundered, as opposed to a society that contains people with ideas, aspirations, and dreams.

As the FT reports, ‘the king issued a law [in 2002] giving himself the sole authority to grant state land rights. In several cases, he used that power to transfer plots to companies linked to Premier Group, according to land deeds seen by the FT’. While many Bahrainis are irked by land reclamation, which they see as the ‘expropriation of public assets’ by a Ruling cartel, the phenomenon is not new. Even in the 1920s, when the British attempted to temper Al Khalifa excesses, the issue of land was a controversial one. Prior to regulating land ownership, one British official writes. (part 2)

A great deal of the land held by the Al Khalifa family and well-to-do Sunnis has undoubtedly been filched (stolen) from the original Bahraini holders. It will not be possible however to rectify the oppression of years, and I would suggest that when a landowner can furnish proof of a definite period, say ten years, his right to the land should be considered valid.

And so it was the the Al Khalifa came to ‘own’ much of a land that they had previously stolen from an indigenous population. This theft has now been formalised and institutionalised in the law of 2002, with King Hamad the main beneficiary of what the British once described as ‘filching’. As a British passport holder, I cannot help but feel shame that our government can continue to support such a kleptocracy. The recent announcement of a $15 million dollar permanent British base in Bahrain is simply the latest insult to a population that have struggled for decades against a voracious and insular tribal government focused on their own enrichment. And if this all was not enough, read about how the Al Khalifas also took a quarter of Bahrain’s GDP between 1925 and 1970 – the sense of injustice is staggering.


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Britain stays quiet on “Butcher of Bahrain”

For those of you have been following the case, I recently asked the Information Commission to review the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) decision to withhold a conversation that took place in between Ian Henderson and David Tatham, an employee of the FCO. Disappointingly, the Commissioner has decided that the information is exempt from disclosure based on the fact the balance of ‘public interest’ lies in maintaining the exemption. Given that the late Ian Henderson (sometimes called the Butcher of Bahrain) has been accused of torture, and was involved in the suppression of the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya, it is very disappointing that the Commissioner has made this decision. However, recent evidence has tended to point that Ian Henderson might have tried to temper the excesses of the Al Khalifa regime, a particularly interesting insight given today’s announcement that the King’s Son, Prince Nasser, could be prosecuted for torture if he comes to Britain.

Interestingly, “The FCO argued that disclosing the redacted information would (rather than simply being likely to) damage its relations with Bahrain.” In summary, the FCO uses Bahrain’s announced reform plan (which has been critiqued for its complete lack of substance) as an excuse for not harming Britain’s relationship with Bahrain. Essentially, both government are avoiding embarrassment by using potential human rights developments in the country as an incentive. The review makes it sound like Bahraini citizens will be punished if the FCO decide to embarrass themselves and the Bahraini government. Britain are also concerned that such a disclosure might harm Britain’s defense interests in Bahrain.

Although the IC imply that the withheld documents would not address the concerns I had about Henderson, I am curious as to why such information ‘would’ (and not ‘could’) damage Britain’s relationship with Bahrain. To read the full exchange with the FCO, go here. To read the full response by the Information Commission, go here> FS50538474 (1).

Either way, the next stop forward is to try and take this to the First-Tier Tribunal. As with all litigious repression, this would almost certainly involve a cost. Stay tuned for updates.



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Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior get it Wrong, again…

The chances of a Bahrain policeman being held accountable are about as remote as England’s chances of winning the world cup. So the other day, no one really took the Ministry of the Interior seriously when they said they were  investigating a case of a policeman throwing a Molotov cocktail at someone’s house. The MOI’s tweet came after a video circulated showing a policeman throwing two firebombs at a house in ‘one of the areas of Bahrain’.

Ministry of Interior  moi_bahrain  on Twitter

The video, which began circulating on 7th June, is actually from at least 2012. The original apparently occured on 27th January 2012 in Salmabad. The MOI tweet simply refers to a fire bomb attack in ‘one of the areas of Bahrain’. Although the MOI does not provide a link to the video (why would it?), there appear to be no other recent video posted of a policeman throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house.

The MOI’s 2 year delay in investigating this case, as well as its subsequent failure to acknowledge that the video is actually 2 years old, is alarming. It highlights the fact that they are either wholly ignorant, or willfully blind to what’s going on in Bahrain. Of course I am betting it’s the latter. I have raised this point before though; given the volume of evidence showing police violence in Bahrain, why do they not have someone appointed to screen social media for such abuses? Clearly the MOI are aware of the problem yet choose to ignore it to protect their reputation. The bizarre alternative is that they are aware of all the cases but only tweet about a few – weird given their new commitment to transparency. Anyway, if the MOI are reading this, I compiled a blog a long time ago showing policemen throwing Molotov cocktails. As far as I am aware, they only launched an investigation into one of these cases.


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Not Happy in Bahrain

For the unfamiliar, the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams has gone viral, spawning many memes and derivatives on YouTube. People from Nablus to Japan have made their own versions. It is not surprising then, that Bahrain saw its own version of the Meme. Directed by JEO Productions, the clip shows many Bahraini residents looking happy and dancing to Williams’s song. It’s a fun, upbeat video, yet it tends to paint Bahrain in rather a rosy, and not entirely accurate light. In order that the video not be used to gloss over, or indeed whitewash ongoing state violence in Bahrain, I created the ‘Not Happy in Bahrain’ video. Take a look for yourself.



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Jihadi who fought in Syria admits to receiving funding from four Bahraini MPs

This video was brought to my attention by @almakna. (The veracity of the contents have not been confirmed, but if true, it contains a lot of interesting insights). It is an interview  from the Tunisian TV show ‘La Baas’  featuring someone who claims to have been a Jihadi fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army against Assad. It is interesting in itself, but most notably because the interviewee, who sounds Tunisian, claims that the Free Syrian Army recieved money from four Bahraini MPs who are members of Bahrain’s Salafist political society – Al Asalah. He proceeds to name two of them. One is Shaykh Adil al-Ma’wda, the former head of Al Asalah. He also mentions Shaykh Abdulmajid al-Murad, though perhaps he means Sheikh Abdul Haleem al-Murad, an MP also from Al Asalah. Remember that photos emerged in 2012 of Abdul Haleem al-Murad (@Murad_bh), Adil al-Ma’wda and Hammad al-Muhannadi  (another member of Al Asalah) dining with Syrian rebels in Syria. Gulf News also reported that former MP Faisal Al Ghareer attended. Abdul Haleem al-Murad also tweeted in 2012 that the trip was in support of ‘Suqoor al-Sham’ (falcons of the Sham – an Islamist group based in Jabal al-Zaway according to Time). For more details on this story, read Justin Gengler’s blogpost on the topic.  

At the time, the Bahrain authorities response was weak. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed they had no knowledge of the MPs trip to Syria, and urged citizens not to travel to conflict zones. However, given the MPs’ frequent denunciation of foreign interference in Bahrain, the irony of their actions is obviously acute. Interestingly, the Bahrain government have announced tough new laws on those helping foreign terrorist groups. The Gulf Daily News reports:

In an effort to prevent such acts, Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa ordered security authorities to intensify searches and investigations to arrest those who have travelled to fight either by incitement, agreement or assistance. A travel ban will be imposed and the suspects will be referred to Public Prosecution.

The GDN implies by this that those who have already committed such acts will be arrested. I do wonder then what the statute of limitations is? Will any charges be leveled at the MPs, or will the Bahraini government just claim that the rebels in Syria do not constitute a terrorist group as determined by the Bahraini government? Maybe the only real terrorist groups are  Hezbollah, Youth Movement of February 14th Coalition, the Resistance Brigade, and the Al Ashtar Brigade – i.e. those groups that can be linked to Shia movements in the region. Or maybe Bahrain will follow Saudi, and provide rather luxurious Jihadi rehabilitation centres for those fighting against Assad, but continue to put in prison though ‘terrorists’ whose jihad is politically less acceptable to the Bahrain authorities. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how/if the Bahraini authorities respond to this latest video, and whether Al Asalah will stick by the story they gave in 2012:

 “What happened is that some members of our society, driven by the urgent calls of religion and pan-Arabism, gave donations to the Syrian people. The donations were in the name of the Bahraini people, and not Al Asala,” the society said.

In addition to this information, the interviewee also provides some other interesting claims;

- that MPs met with a man called Abu Isa, the head of Suqoor al-Sham

-the MPs promised to give Abu Isa’s fighters 1000 dollars a month in addition to weapons

-The interviewee also states that former Kuwaiti MP Waleed al-Tabtabai has sent weapons on money to rebels. He does this through  an Islamic charity set up in Kuwait for this purpose


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Bahrain on the Brink

Yesterday (03/03/2014), the Bahrain Ministry of the Interior reported that three bombs  had been detonated in the village of Daih. One explosion killed three policemen, including an Emirate officer. The Ministry of the Interior announced today that 25 people had been arrested in connection with the attack. Naturally, the MoI will make quick arrests, whether the accused are guilty or not. To fail to do so would look weak, and potentially inflame tensions between those who wish to enact their own style of vigilante retribution. Human Rights groups reported house raids and collective punishment in Daih following the attack, and this video shows a policeman kicking a detainee a few times as he (the detainee) lay on the ground.

Although there were four bombs, it is unclear exactly who is responsible for what.  At least two groups have claimed responsibility via social media for the attacks in Daih – the Al Ashtar Brigades and the Popular Resistance Movements. The former group’s confession can be read here, while the latter’s can be read here. Although it is possible that the two groups planted separate bombs, or co-ordinated attacks, they do not mention this. The Popular Resistance Brigade state they conducted an attack near the Al Hashmi centre in Daih. The Al Hashmi centre is the location outside which most of yesterday’s grisly pictures of wounded/dead officers emerged. (see here then here to view the Al Hashmi centre(jump to 0.28). Similarly, the Al Ashtar brigade took responsibility for the attack that resulted in the death of three policemen – presumably at the Al Hashmi centre too. So far, different media outlets have attributed the attacks to different parties. Khaleej Times, for example, have attributed it to the Popular Resistance Brigade, while the AFP, Financial Times and Gulf News attributed it to the Al Ashtar Brigade.

Regardless of who did it it, it is interesting that this is not the first time they appear to have claimed responsibility for the same attack. In May, both groups seemed to take credit for the same attack against policemen in the village of Karanah(See here and here). Whether or not it was the same attack cannot be certain, yet they both happened in the same place at around the same time. It is also interesting to note that a Twitter account for the Popular Resistance Brigade was linked to the Bahrain government (however, there is no evidence to suggest Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked). Ultimately, it is not clear who runs these accounts. They could be government sponsored accounts, they could be real militant groups, or they could be some keyboard activists with a knack for religiously infused Arabic rhetoric.

As for the Bahraini government, they have not made an official announcement yet as to who was responsible, but the names of both groups have featured frequently in the local newspapers following other bomb explosions. Recently, a policeman claimed that during his investigations he found that Al Ashtar brigades were linked to the Coalition of February 14th. Furthermore, the government seem to be taking the threat seriously, as they recently put Al-Ashtar Brigade, the Popular Resistance Brigade, and the Coalition of February 14th on the terrorist blacklist. Interestingly, as Dr.Abdulhadi Khalaf points out, the Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Police Leiutenant General Dahi Khalfan seems to have single handedly discovered that the person who killed one of the Emirate policeman (specifically?) was trained by Hezbollah and used to visit Lebanon a lot. Step aside Benedict Cumberbatch.

Rising Violence

Having said this, these brigades need not be the only ones responsible for violence. The use of explosives, especially Molotov cocktails, is not new. In Bahrain’s latest uprising (the one that began in 2011), Molotov cocktails became frequently more common towards the end of 2011. There have also been numerous reports of improvised explosive devices being used. February 14 Youth Coalition have defended the use of violence in the name of self defence (and not against civilians) for some time now. In addition to this, video evidence suggests a more brazen attitude among some groups towards violence. A video depicting the making of a relatively sophisticated, remote detonated IED surfaced before February 14th 2014. The video appeared to be endorsed by Bahrain’s unlicensed opposition, who have co-operated a lot recently with the February 14th Youth Coalition, especially on the anniversary of the uprising in February 14th where they appeared to snub the civil disobedience agenda propagated by the country’s licensed opposition. Whether ًُ or not the inclusion of the unlicensed opposition’s logos on the video meant they support violence is still unclear.

However, unlike the licensed opposition, who have unequivocally condemned yesterday’s attacks against policemen, the unlicensed opposition have remained silent. That does not mean they condone it, but rather they are unwilling to commit to condemning violence as it implies that they are succumbing to government pressure to police their own constituency. Also, condemning violence is problematic, as it seems to tie into the government’s narrative that positions activist violence as an unwarranted and unprovoked attack on a benevolent and reformist state. In fact, the government have continued to repress dissent while not opening up sufficient political breathing room in which to craft a non-violent solution. In short, the safety valve of participatory politics has been denied activists, while continued state violence is creating an untenable situation in which violence is seen by many as a justifiable means of retaliation. Of course, such a statement is not one that celebrates killing, (and some people have sought to celebrate it – as this video from the village of Nuwaidrat shows), but one that acknowledges that killing is reprehensible, no matter who carries it out. However, the justificatory framework for killing in the name of fighting systematic oppression is  much greater than killing on behalf a state in order to perpetuate a system of exploitative inequality.

Despite this, the statement of the licensed opposition, and the desire of some people to see what happened yesterday as a government fabrication/plot demonstrate the fact that violence is still frowned upon by many people, activists and non-activists alike. However, nuance is often a luxury in a climate of sectarianism and political strife, and there are a number of people who still wish to perceive any act of violence as being the responsibility of the opposition in its entirety. Manama Press, for example, already blamed yesterday’s attack on Al Wefaq. This man in Muharraq stated that this was not a ‘peaceful’ revolution (the implication being that one act of violence taints those  others who advocate peaceful method – a logical fallacy, but not an uncommon argument in Bahrain). The government also have invoked Iran as a potential agitator in the recent affair, further contributing towards tropes that positions the government as a bulwark against sectarianism radicalism. There is also the theory that the government staged the bomb.

Intra-societal tensions

There is also a growing concern that vigilante groups may become increasingly involved in policing Bahrain’s internal politics. While the use of ‘thugs’ has always long been a problem, elements of Salafi conservatism may be creeping in more than before. Al Asala Islamic Society, have threatened to confront anti-government protesters if the government does not introduce tougher sanctions. Similarly, the National Unity Assembly, a loyalist opposition coalition have also pulled out of the upcoming dialogue until the government deal with the ‘terrorists’ with an ‘iron fist’. The NUA’s secretary-general, Abdulla Al Howaihi, also claimed that the legal opposition were essentially endorsing terrorism.

“What is the point of sitting on the dialogue table with participants who directly or indirectly use their political umbrella to support terrorists?”

Meanwhile, secular opposition party Wa’ad, whose own secretary general Ibrahim Sharif has been in prison on trumped up charges, demanded police protection after their headquarters were threatened . The threat came after attacks on the headquarters of opposition society Al Wefaq following the bombing on Monday.  In addition to this,  Adel Flaifel, an accused torturer-turned-Salafi-preacher, has been inciting sectarianism, and stating how Shia elements and the US were working together to attack Sunnis (In Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf).  Whether this kind of bilge has any traction in Bahrain remains to be seen, yet the government are playing a dangerous game, provoking sectarian tensions and invoking a climate of fear amongst some of the country’s Sunni population.  Incidentally, I imagine neither Flaifel nor the hundreds who gathered in Muharraq to protest against the police deaths will be held to account for breaking the law (Inciting sectarianism and illegal gatherings are against the law in Bahrain- though anti-Shia insults and ‘pro-government gatherings’ seem to be tolerated).

Furthermore, while transnational politics have always been important in Bahrain, the fact that one of the officers was from the UAE has potentially exacerbated regional tension by turning the Bahrain conflict into an emotive issue for residents of the UAE. The Dubai chief of police has already suggested sending 1000 Emirate policemen to Bahrain in order to show the ‘enemies of the Arabian Gulf that the security of Bahrain is all of our security’. If this were to happen, it would simply be highlighting the not-so-secret, and increasingly pervasive policy of unelected GCC leaders policing the politics and people of Bahrain. Such a move would hardly go down with Bahrain’s opposition, many of whom still refer to the presence of the GCC Peninsula Shield in Bahrain as a foreign occupation. The presence of UAE troops in policing Bahrain’s internal situation also poses further questions about Bahrain’s sovereignty (as addressed here by Ala’a Shehabi). Currently, the country is policed by a force of mercenaries drawn from many other countries, both inside and out the Arab World. The most recent revelation is that a new force of policemen drawn from GCC countries under the title ‘Amwaj Al Khaleeh’ is now active in Bahrain (The UAE officer who was killed, Tariq al-Shahi, was part of this force). Indeed, a government so dependent on foreign forces to protect a ruling elite can hardly be called sovereign, let alone legitimate.*

The presence of more foreign troops in Bahrain to combat so called ‘foreign-inspired’ terrorism already points to Bahrain being a battle ground between nervous Gulf monarchs and their own insecurity of Shia expansionism or democratisation and/or power sharing. This is particular true of Saudi, who have always been nervous of oppositional elements in Bahrain, whether they be Shia, communist or nationalist.

While the US has recently reported that Iran is supplying ‘arms and other aid’ to Shia militants in Bahrain, it does not provide much more detail or evidence. True or not, the supplying of arms to groups willing to use them is largely irrelevant, as it is no basis to discredit or punish an entire movement who are willing to protest without recourse to violence. Sadly, the Bahrain authorities have led a punitivie campaign against Bahrain’s opposition, whether legal or illegal. At the moment, it is unclear how they will further increase the costs of engaging in dissent. So far they appear to have been tackling unrest in a typically authoritarian fashion, provoking the situation and then appeasing angry loyalists by taking a hardline against anti-government protesters. Naturally this process has resulted in increased resentment, and explains the recent increase in violence. (Let us not forget that the bombing in Daih came after people were protesting the death of another young activist in police custody). Whatever happens, the next few days will offer a telling insight into Bahrain’s future.

*Interestingly, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE closed ranks again today against Qatar in the name of the security. They appear to be irritated by Qatar’s unwillingness to step in line with regards to adopting a singular GCC security police. UAE have also banned members of Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition society. (update: this story was reportedly fabricated)


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Debunking frustrating protest banners

Yesterday, 3000 people gathered near the town of Riffa in Bahrain to express their support for Bahrain’s security forces. Their demands ranged from wanting higher punishment for those accused of killing policemen, to a general need to give policemen more arms. The whole event followed the tragic death of a policeman, who was killed by protesters on 14th February 2014. (six suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing). Anyway, I decided to give a brief diatribe against why each of the placards in the above photo is enormously frustrating. Please forgive my irascibility today.

1) ‘We refuse foreign interference in Bahrain internal issues’.

Sure, unless it’s Saudi troops coming in to guard important facilities to free up the police and the Bahrain Defence Force so they can continue with their repression. Or what about foreign arms that the regime use to repress dissent? American and French teargas, Cypriot birdshot? What about all those tourists who come to the F1, and the importance of foreign direct investment to Bahrain? Is this also foreign interference? Or is foreign interference merely any foreign interference designed to prevent the government from being held accountable for violations against human rights? Please, define what is meant by ‘foreign interference’.

2) ‘Application of the law is the solution. Apply the law to all the terrorists’. Hmm, given that Bahrain’s own Prime Minister has demonstrated his own disdain for the law, maybe we can see that part of the problem is that the PM disagrees with the rule of law. For those who can’t remember, here he is, telling a suspected torturer that laws don’t apply to him. Also, which laws are we talking about, the ones that have generally been decreed by an unelected government/the king, or the laws designed to limit freedom of expression, such as banning protests in Manama, imprisonment for insulting the King, and the banning of V for Vendetta masks? Oh those laws! I see two main issues; that laws are generally made for the benefit of the hegemonic elite (in this case Al Khalifa regime), and that laws designed to protect the rights of the citizens are ignored or usurped when the regime is threatened.

3) ‘It’s a crime to have our security forces unprotected against terrorists’. What in the… The body armour, jeeps, batons, shotguns, teargas, pistols, helmets, shields, pepper spray, boots are not enough? When will you be satisfied, when the riot police are rocket propelled grenades and heavy artillery?

Meanwhile, while the Daily Tribune pointed out that the march supporting the country’s security forces had a protest permit (what a shocker!), they did not mention the fact that some protesters were holding banners that could contravene Bahraini law. An example being this group of mostly unmasked men (what have they got to fear right?) holding a banner showing the heads of important religious and political figures superimposed on the bodies of dogs.* Presumably that is meant to be insulting. If so, it probably contradicts the Bahraini penal code articles on libel and the insulting of religious figures. I mean, remember those two boys who were given six months in jail for mocking Sunni clerics? The last person I remember  insulting a Shia figure was that girl who filmed herself confronting masked youth in the road. She also yelled ‘down with Isa Qassim’. Judging by her Twitter feed and bio, I doubt she has been to, or will be going to jail anytime soon (though maybe shouting ‘down with Isa Qassim’ does not qualify as an insult. If that’s the case, I imagine shouting ‘down with Hamad’ is not either. Awkward). Maybe nothing happened because not enough police were in attendance. No wait, Khalifa bin Ahmed, a former police Colonel was there pressing the flesh**

While I’m not advocating stricter libel laws (I am all for criticising public figures). I’d rather the government be consistent in its application of the law, and stop allowing supporters of the regime and its legal control agents to evade the system. Furthermore, these rallies that give a facade of popular support to the government’s draconian security policies also have serious political implications. Not only do they attempt to validate repression by having ordinary citizens come out in support of the police, but they also make incredibly sweeping statements about the nature of violence in Bahrain. Instead of just being about supporting the police, these rallies contain people waving banners conflating terrorism with Al Wefaq, insulting opposition religious and political figures, and promoting vague notions of xenophobia. The march was as much a denunciation of all things opposition as it was support for the police. Furthermore, it is not condoning violence against the police. Of course not. I do, however, object to selective empathy with a force of people who engage in acts of violence with impunity.

*Thanks @iA7med80 and @SE25a for this

**.(Incidentally, when was Colonel Khalifa bin Ahmed reinstated into the police? According to this report by the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights he was dismissed back in September 2011 Now he appears to have been promoted to a Brigadier).


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