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).