Archive for the ‘Bahrain’ tag
Barcelona- I have a new article out today in the July issue of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point’s Sentinel publication. I am honored to have been awarded the cover story for the second time this year. The story is based on the two weeks I spent in Mali in May and June and a couple of months of armchair research here in Barcelona and New York. As last year when I was avidly and concomitantly following Libya and Bahrain in particular, this year my attention has largely turned to Syria and Mali.
The conflict in Mali is, yes, a result of the NATO-GCC backed war in Libya in part but Libya’s troubles are not the cause of Mali’s current crisis. The causes of Mali’s 2012 rebellion of messy irredentism and radical Islamism are rooted in local economic, ethnic, and ecological disparities. There are long-held grievances among several of northern Mali’s communities that have sat unresolved for many decades. These issues of emphasized racial and ethnic difference are discussed fairly in depth in Bruce S. Hall’s A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960.
Global warming (now marketed as climate change) is a causal factor. Coupled with climate issues are then food security and the survival of livestock-key for both the sedentary agriculturalist and semi-nomadic pastoralist populations competing for land and scare resources in the wider Sahel. In this light neighboring Niger is especially vulnerable with many of the same environmental and ethnic issues at stake.
So is the legacy of French divide et impera (divide and rule) during the colonial period. Up until Mali’s independence in 1960, French administrators favored certain groups over others in order to maintain their grip on power. The Salafi agenda of AQIM (and now MUJAO) has certainly exacerbated and accelerated things. The kidnapping for Westerners, most notably the brazen hostage taking in Timbuktu’s Centre Ville in late November 2011 in which a German national was shot dead when he tried to resist being hauled off into the unknowns of the Sahara, has utterly destroyed Mali’s relatively lucrative and quite vital (yet fragile) tourism industry.
On top of all this I am still trying to keep up with events in Syria. It appears from the outside looking in that the war has to have been amplified by the audacious assassinations of National Security Chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Assef Shawkat and former Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani. This has brought a sea change in the level of political violence across the country not most notably in the formerly quiet Aleppo Governorate. It seems that the al-Jaish as-Suri al-Hurra (the endonym of the Free Syrian Army) has certainly achieved increased momentum in recent days in what has been essentially an unabated war of attrition.
Before the year is out I may return to one or both of these troubled nation-states. Hard to fathom what the fall of Damascus will mean, particularly for Syria’s Alawite community as well as its numerous Christians. Add to that Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. I remember in Baghdad and environs in the spring of 2003 when there was an immediate backlash against Palestinians hosted by the Hussein regime who were resented at best and deemed collaborators at worst by furious Iraqis.
Damascus will be a tremendous tinderbox once the tipping point against Assad is finally reached. It won’t likely happen overnight (unless there were to be a spectacular and ingeniously successful assassination plot) but history is definitely against such a calcified, minoritarian regime in the Middle East today.
Another issue which managed to grab my attention today is the violence erupting in Khorog, the regional capital of Tajikistan’s difficult to access Kohistan Badakhshan (a.k.a. Gorno-Badakhshan in Russian). At least 42 people have been reported killed so far in clashes after the local intelligence chief was savagely beaten (some reports say stabbed) to death by assailants linked to a local warlord hailing from the 1992-1997 civil war.
This means something to me because I have a friend from Khorog and I’d imagined visiting the place one day. We chatted on skype today and she is terribly fretful because all phone service has been cut to the city and she cannot reach family members still residing there (she lives outside Tajikistan). The needless mayhem may have been the result of the hard sought after cigarette smuggling trade along the Afghan border. Though the region is infamous for its Russia-bound heroin trade, like all borders in the global Balkans, it’s a hub for Marlboros as well. Hopefully more information will come to light soon. Tajikistan is an incredibly brittle place that has never properly reconciled the wounds from its horrific post-Soviet civil war.
New York-Busy working on some last minute touches for an article coming out tomorrow but wanted to repost an email I received today from the beleaguered Bahrain Center for Human Rights. I get emails from the heavily suppressed Bahraini revolution from time to time but this weekend’s seemed especially poignant in light of the human rights disaster known as the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. The most deplorable thing I read was some clueless quote from the German winner of the debacle:
“Some teams have expressed frustration at the attention on politics. Sebastian Vettel said shortly after arrival on Thursday that he thought much of what was being reported was hype. He [Vettel] looked forward to getting in the car and dealing with the ‘stuff that really matters – tire temperatures, cars.’”
What a freaking idiot. Vettel’s main sponsor is the godawful RedBull energy drinks company. Perhaps people should let Austrian tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz (his Thai business partner died last month) know that a European Union-based company shouldn’t exploit a human rights crisis to promote a frivolous product.
Bahrain’s crisis goes on unabated because its citizens are trapped in the anti-egalitarian nightmare known as the Gulf Cooperation Council where it’s perfectly fine to talk about democracy in Syria but deadly to dare try and implement it in these stultified monarchies passing themselves off as modern with shiny architecture built on the backs of South Asian slave labor.
Here is the text from BCHR:
“The Bahraini regime has continued its escalation and crackdown on peaceful protesters. A number of activists, journalists and peaceful protesters were arrested today. Many more were beaten, tortured and shot at with tear gas, shotguns and stun grenades. Another death was reported of inhalation of tear gas.
Death of a resident
The excessive use of teargas as a means for collective punishment against villages has caused another yet death. An Indian man, known as Sabeer (25 years old), was found dead in his room in Sanad village. Reports say that he died of suffocation of tear gas which makes him death number 79th person to die according to BCHR records since the start of the revolution. The authorities continue to delay releasing the body of Salah Abbas, a protester who was found dead yesterday after getting arrested and beaten up.
Today, at least 8 Bahraini women went to the site of Formula 1 grand prix to protest against the unjust detention of activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja who has been on hunger strike for more than 70 days, which puts his life at great risk. The women were unarmed and peacefully protesting when they were arrested. Witnesses say that they were beaten up as well. The women’s names are as follows:
1- Ramleh Mula Abbas from Nabih Saleh
2- Zainab Laith from Dar Kulaib (a poet and an activists who was listed to go to Gaza on “Mariam Ship” in 2010)
3- Zainab Almuglak from Sihla
4- Eman Alhabishi from A’Ali
5- Masoma Alsayed from Bilad Alqadeem (was arrested before several times for protesting )
6- Mona Ali from Sitra
7- Zahra Abdulanabi from Sitra
8- Sara Hasan from Sitra
Journalist Nazeeha Saeed, torture victim, stated in her twitter account that “torturer office Sara Al Moosa is on duty in BIC protecting the race”. Concerns raised over the wellbeing of the arrested women who were taken to the same police station where Naziha and several other detainees have previously reported being tortured, Riffa police station . When the families tried to see their daughters they were pushed out of the police station.
Heavy security measures including security checkpoints, armored vehicles were deployed at areas surrounding the Pearl Square as calls for a march back towards the square emerged early today. There were many protests heading to the former pearl roundabout (AKA Lulu), which has become a symbol of freedom and democracy to Bahrainis. All the protests were all violently attacked with teargas, shotgun and stun grenade.
Activists and blogger Zainab Al Khawaja, (@angryarabiya) was arrested again on night of 21 April 2012 after she staged a single woman protest by sitting peacefully in the middle of the road protesting against the continued detention of her father who is possibly on his death bed, after being on hunger strike for over 70 days with no compassionate reaction from the authorities in Bahrain. Zainab refused to go to the public prosecution today and she is currently being held in jail. Her sister Maryam Al Khawaja, head of foreign affairs in BCHR, said “I can guess it’s because nobody really believes in the legal system. Zainab’s mentality is you can only bring about the fall of the regime when you stop treating it as a government.”
BCHR reported yesterday the details of the arrest of blogger & youth activist Mohammed Hasan, who was released last night after being beaten. Today, Mohammed was rearrested in a checkpoint in Sanabis with journalist Colin Freeman from The Sunday Telegraph. Colin is an accredited journalist allowed to work in Bahrain. They were taken to the Exhibition center police station. Mohammed was interrogated about his connection to the journalist and later released without any charges.
Activists Dr. Alaa Shehabi and Ali Al Aali were with a group of journalists from Channel 4 News on Budaiya road near Naqsh coffee shop in their car. They were chased by 11 riot police vehicles until forced to stop and were arrested. Ali said on his twitter account “we are being insulted/ humiliated”. Dr. Alaa is an economist, lecturer, writer, activist, head of researches of BRAVO human rights organization and a co-founder of Bahrain Watch. She has been very vocal about her political views in interviews with different TV channels and newspapers. Dr. Alaa was on the same panel with Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, in a press conference about detained and tortured Athletes in Bahrain just a couple of days ago. She has also written articles against the Bahraini regime in numerous foreign newspapers. Dr. Alaa and her husband, a former political detainee, met Bernie Ecclestone in their visit to London where he told them that the people of Bahrain can hold protests in the circuit and that he “want(s) the opposition to have a press conference in which opposition can get their message across and for open dialogue”. Not only was there no press conference but freedom of expression was targeted in every possible manner due of F1.
A statement by the Channel 4 news confirmed that “A Channel 4 News team, with Jonathan Miller, has been arrested in Bahrain. We have been in contact with them and are very concerned for the welfare of their driver who was arrested and assaulted in front of the team, and then separated from them. When last seen he appeared to be bleeding from slashes to his arms.” Miller managed to record an audio report while in the police car of what happened: channel4.com
Like many other news agencies, Channel 4 News was denied journalist visas and has been working without accreditation during the Grand Prix. Yesterday, another reporter, Rasmus Tantholdt from Danish TV2 channel was denied entry to Bahrain at the airport for the second time in 24hrs. He was in Bahrain 2 weeks ago and did some coverage for the channel on the protest for the hunger strike human rights defender Abdulhadi AlKhawaja.
Also, two Japanese journalists working for Asahi Newspaper were arrested in Sanabis village and taken to Exhibition police station, where they they are still detained.
Mazen Mahdi, a photojournalist with German news agency EPA , was stopped today by riot police while covering protests in Belad Al Qadeem village. He was then threatened by police that they would break his camera. He said: “Threat made by what appears to be an officer masking his face and rank!”.
As the Formula1 race is over, it seems that the Bahraini authorities are again trying to enforce a media blackout in place by targeting journalists and those who facilitate their work in Bahrain. The most peaceful assemblies continue to be targeted. Bahrain center for human rights strongly condemn the government’s fierce crackdown on whoever exercises freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and the attack on journalists and activists for exposing the crimes committed in Bahrain by the authorities. We immediately demand the release of all detained activists, protesters and journalists, putting an end for the use of violence against peaceful protesters and allowing Bahrainis their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
New York- On April 2-3, 2011, I traveled to Manama, Bahrain for a fleeting 24 hours to get a glimpse into the island kingdom’s crushed revolution. I was only allowed out of the airport after a friend who works as a junior diplomat at the American embassy there came to my rescue. The Pearl Roundabout, whose eponymous sculpture had been torn down on March 18, was forbidden to both visit and photograph by the time I arrived. The area, in the heart of the island’s steaming hot capital, had become a closed militarized zone upon my visit. My ruse to visit the area was to take a taxi to the adjacent fish souq manned by South Indians and Bangladeshis. The authorities quickly caught on however and the jig was up. In a taxi on the way to the souq, the driver had mentioned off handedly that a local coin had been taken out of circulation because it simply depicted the vanished Pearl sculpture. I went to a number of businesses in Manama trying desperately to get my hands on one of the verboten coins thinking surely it would still exist as change in someone’s cash register. I asked at the coffee shop that I darted into while trying to evade the Bahraini police. Nope. Then the Carrefour, then the Virgin store and so forth. All of the salespeople told me they had been instructed to rubbish the Pearl coins when they received them as payment. I quickly realized I would only be able to score one once outside the country.
My way of exacting revenge was via Ebay. As soon as I reached New York at the end of that trip, my first order to business was to track down the banned 500 fils coin depicting the Pearl Monument. The coin took quite some time to arrive but I finally got my hands on the prize (from every conflict I collect recently or soon-to-be defunct currencies like the Taliban afghani, the Saddam dinar etc).
The Bahraini uprising began sadly a year ago today. The grievances have been stifled by the ham-fisted policies of the government there and its big brother in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The United States has not only callously failed to act there, wary of losing its military lookout facing Iran (ie the 5th fleet) but has also been debating buttressing the regime was a massive weapons deal disproportionate to the kingdom’s tiny size and populace. While the infamous $53 million arms deal sits in limbo, a smaller $1 million arrangement has been allowed to go forward according to Human Rights Watch. Bahrain is a travesty in part because it is simply allowed to go on. The monarchy continues to suppress calls for both moderate reform and those more radical for its overthrow and the conversion of Bahrain into a representative democracy. Joshua Landis, the author of Syria Comment, referred to the regime of Bashar al-Assad as “the last minoritarian regime in the Levant” who is “destined to fall in this age of popular revolt”.
In the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf however, sits yet another minoritarian regime, that of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Hamad government has been described as destined to fall by no one unless there is a statement by Hassan Nasrallah or some ayatollah in Qom I’m unaware of. America’s clumsy, lopsided policy when it comes to Bahrain is then easily exploited by those who did not want to see Qaddafi fall and seek to uphold Assad at least rhetorically because of their deeply ingrained anti-American worldview. Amidst all of this nonsense, in the towns and villages outside the once glitzy capital of Bahrain, it is the Shia civilians there that continue to suffer.
New York- I picked up the American printing of James Brabazon’s My Friend the Mercenary which details his adventures in the early to mid-aughts in West Africa and his Afrikaner mercenary pal who wound up on the wrong side of the failed Wonga coup in Obiang’s Equatorial Guinea in 2004. I read nearly a third of this book as soon as I got it. Fun stuff. I was a bit on the fence about picking it up because the photos are by the late Tim Hetherington and I thought that might be a bit sad (I saw his book, Infidel, while I was rooting around the same Barnes & Noble) but this book is kind of uplifting in an odd sort of way. Perhaps the fact that I can identify with the central character, Brabazon himself, having endured my fair share of sketch in the global Balkans during those heady days of the Bush years (Pankisi Gorge comes to mind-thanks Colin Powell).
I have an article out in this week’s edition of Terrorism Monitor pictured et linked here. I was noting with a friend last week just how much Bahrain has fallen off the front page–a combination of that government’s efforts to keep people like myself out and the sheer volume of globe rocking events occurring–a no sooner than I put something out that it pops back on CNN International, PBS Newshour, and Al Jazeera English. Strange how the world seems to work that way some times.
Libya continues to burn and Syria is showing no signs of letting up. The Times of London’s Martin Fletcher managed, I think somewhat foolishly, to get into Syria on a tourist visa. That was a serious risk considering what had happened to an Al Jazeera reporter there. Now Pakistan is back in vogue as some interest in the Arab Spring begins to recede. And then of course there is the never-ending story of poor Afghanistan. The is more going on these days than even I can keep up with as a serious news junkie. Time to baton down the hatches.
Addis Ababa- Crashed the African Union HQ here in Addis yesterday to do research on my next Jamestown article. Absolutely fascinating, rather quiet place. I just showed up at the front gate, which took me a bit to locate, handed them my California driver’s license which got me a visitor badge, and walked in and wandered around. I was looking for information on a certain volatile political situation in the region and stumbled into the AU’s Situation Room, a fascinating office with a large flatscreen monitor with live news feeds from all over the continent (and these days that’s a lot of information). But what was most notable was the glittering, massive new AU complex being constructed by the Chinese government in the neighboring lot. It was as if the Jamestown Foundation’s China in Africa conference had suddenly sprung to life.
After working on my story at the AU-and an AU representative telling me the Chinese were unrelenting in their pursuit of primacy in not only Ethiopia but in all of Africa-it became blatantly obvious that anywhere where the political space allowed them, the Chinese were ready to move in overnight. I snooped around a sprawling construction site that cast wide shadows over corrugated aluminum shanties. It felt like I was breathing in some globalization cliché but it was all too visceral. It looked to be a hideously cheap structure that was being built at a breakneck pace. Progress at any cost looks to be the Chinese model here in the Horn of Africa. Click here for a bit of Chinese propaganda on the whole operation.
In other TWD news, my last three destinations have not cooled off in the slightest. The Bahraini government grabbed another human rights activist in a night raid. Back in Cairo, the Egyptian army showed it is not as benevolent as many had thought as they raged during renewed protests calling for Mubarak and family to be tried. And in Libya, a group of journos, including a gal from Harvard I had socialized with on a few occasions, were captured by Qaddafist forces outside of Brega. Hope to god they are ok. Damn dangerous there. The fuse continues to burn. I’m off to Lalibela to explore the 12th century rock churches and expect to hassled by an army of touts. Should be fun. Been wanting to go there for about a decade.
Addis Ababa- I’ve got a new article out on ATol today about political and sectarian repression in little Bahrain. Going to try and do a major road trip here to look into a Horn of Africa trans-border story and I have no clue whether it’ll even work but going to go for it anyway. According to the wikitravel entry for Addis, Ethiopia supposedly has the 4th worst internet connectivity in the world. Glad I read that AFTER arriving here! Loving this city though. Vive Jeune Afrique! Oh, and the coin that my editor Tony used in the graphic to the left, I am bidding on on Ebay! Funny…
New York- The sustained uprising in the tiny Gulf Sheikhdom of Bahrain this week is very interesting to me for two reasons: the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and the unrest unfolding in Yemen have been against stale autocracies, not monarchies (an uprising against the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan is untenable for demographic reasons I won’t get into here) and the troubles in Bahrain are the first of which to affect one of the Arab states that rely almost entirely imported South Asian laborers who cannot protest. Since every revolution in the last decade must be given a title, I’m taking the liberty to call the drama in Manama “the Pearl Revolution” because, well, it’s taking place in a part of Manama called the Pearl Roundabout and the main industry before the advent of the oil industry in that region was the pearl trade which hardly exists there today.
I went to Bahrain several years ago en route to Ireland from Pakistan and thought it would make an interesting stop over, or at least I could say I’d been to one more country. Bahrain is connected to mainland Saudi Arabia by a long causeway and acts as a testosterone release valve for Saudi and Kuwaiti men who travel there on the weekends to drink booze, watch Philippine women sing cabaret tunes, carouse with hookers from Africa and Asia, and be extremely rude to Indian hotel workers without fear of consequences. Bahrain is often cited as one of the world’s rare Shia majority nation-states who like Hussein-ruled Iraq, are oppressed by a Sunni leader, king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The White House will be watching Bahrain very carefully, much more so than say Tunisia, because Bahrain acts as a giant American aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and I have no doubt the monarchy there is telling their American allies that any kind of opening in the political system there will lead the expansion of Iranian influence in the Gulf. For many Sunni Arab regimes (and Salafi militants) Shia always = Iranian.