The Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei described recent American offers of bilateral talks with Iran as tantamount to the US holding negotiations with a gun to the head.
The same apt metaphor, expressing the futility of conducting political talks under extreme duress, applies equally to the internal politics of Bahrain.
Today sees the beginning of yet another “national dialogue” in which the US-backed Al Khalifa regime has invited political opponents to – ostensibly – negotiate a solution to the country’s long-running crisis. The tiny Persian Gulf kingdom has been racked by daily political turmoil since a popular uprising erupted two years ago – on 14th February 2011.
Presumably, the regime now feels safe in holding discussions with the existing opposition parties – discussions within political parameters that have been bludgeoned by months of withering state terrorism and repression. The main opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, has already signaled that it is prepared to accept a revamped constitutional monarchy as part of a settlement. Notably, Washington and London have both been assiduously courting Wefaq to enter into the latest round of political talks with their surrogate, the Khalifa regime.
Meanwhile, more critical political opponents of the regime – who have wide support among the people – are locked up in prison, some serving life sentences on trumped-up charges of subversion. One of these leaders, Hassan Mushaima, is suffering from long-term illness that goes untreated. Another is Abduljalil Al Singace, who has just begun a hunger-strike along with other inmates. Other staunch political opponents, such as Saeed Shehabi, have been forced to live in exile.
These are the true voices of Bahrain’s political opposition who have called for the corrupt Khalifa regime to be sacked and banished, not entertained in any shape or form, to make way for a truly representative government elected by the people. But such voices will not be heard inside the Khalifa palace during Bahrain’s new round of “national dialogue.”
Predictably, the Western allies of the Bahraini regime, principally Washington and the old colonial ruler, Britain, have enthusiastically endorsed the latest political move. The reasons are self-serving and have nothing to do with finding a genuine democratic solution for the long-suffering people of Bahrain.
Indeed, the political talks are a subterfuge, really aimed at ensuring that democracy is denied. The Western governments – despite all their rhetoric about supporting democracy and human rights in the Middle East and elsewhere – are cynically well aware of the real anti-democratic objective in Bahrain. No doubt, they are the architects behind the sham political maneuver, which seeks to find “political compromise” – that is, “political cover” for continued misrule by Western-serving elites.
The current negotiations appear to be a magnanimous gesture from the Khalifa monarchy, reaching out to “its subject people”. This elite has ruled the oil-rich island as a corrupt family fiefdom ever since Britain granted nominal independence in 1971. The British imposed this dictatorship on the mainly Shia majority of Bahrain, and the Americans later became wedded to it, because the unelected elite – quaintly called a “constitutional monarchy” but in practice an absolute despot – was installed with the express purpose of serving the commercial and geopolitical interests of the Western powers, not the majority of Bahraini people. That imposter role continues very much to this day.
This is the same anti-democratic arrangement that prevails in Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf oil sheikhdoms – all of them the illegitimate offspring of the conniving British Empire. And this is why democracy must not be allowed to succeed in Bahrain. Not now, not ever. The domino effect of democracy supplanting the Western-backed Persian Gulf dictatorships would be a disaster for Washington and London, the lynchpins of the petrodollar capitalist system.
Getting back to the issue of Bahrain’s new “national dialogue” and why it is bound to fail from the point of view of democracy, we can say this with certainty because the political talks are being conducted while the regime holds a gun to the head of the Bahraini people.
In fact, this is not a metaphor. Over the past two years, the Khalifa regime, led by King Hamad, has murdered, maimed and tortured thousands of Bahrainis, who have done nothing more than peacefully protest for the establishment of a democratic government. This regime is not interested in rights or law. How could it be when it has and continues to violate every precept and person it finds a threat to its barbarous rule? This regime is in no way willing to account for its crimes against the people. It has made clear that it has no intention of implementing the reasonable recommendations of the international Bassoon Report issued more than a year ago, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.
The Al Khalifa potentate retains a self-styled royal prerogative to commit crimes on a massive scale with impunity; sending its security forces into Bahraini villages to shoot indiscriminately at peaceful protesters, poison people to death in their homes with chemical gases, and to smash their way into houses to drag away occupants to unknown torture dungeons. Human rights activists and journalists, who bear witness to these violations, are likewise persecuted, gagged, harassed and jailed.
The vicious repression of the Khalifa royal dictatorship continues unabated precisely because Washington and London have turned a blind eye to its crimes. Not just turned a blind eye; the Western governments have actively supported the Khalifa thugs with copious supplies of crowd-control weaponry and affording the crucial cover of ongoing normal diplomatic and commercial relations.
The complete de facto absence of rule of law in Bahrain and the thuggish suzerainty of unelected despots is not some aberration of Western governments. This is how these governments prefer and need political business to be run in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. Fascism is the optimum model of Western capitalism, as practiced in the Persian Gulf (and increasingly practiced in fully fledged form back home in the US and Britain.)
Thus, a democratic resolution to Bahrain’s political crisis will not be achieved by the latest negotiations because the perpetrators of mass murder and injustice remain cozily embedded, by necessity for Western patronage.
In Syria, where regime change is desired for expedient self-serving reasons, the arrogant Western governments, without justification, call for President Assad to stand down. Yet the same stricture is not even mooted by these powers when it comes to the truly despotic Bahraini regime. Why? Because regime change in Bahrain and the Persian Gulf is far from desired; the more despotic the better to uphold Western strategic interests.
The Khalifa dynasty retains all its corrupt dictatorial powers bequeathed by Britain and sustained ever since by Washington. The new “dialogue” is simply a cynical charade to conceal this. The very fact that the rulers – or more accurately their Western masters – called for the negotiations indicates that the process is framed to ensure that the regime will, in effect, stay in power, not to find a genuine democratic settlement.
The status quo may have to undergo a cosmetic revamp, re-branded as a “new constitutional monarchy”, and there may follow formal elections. But such a compromise that allows a despotic regime to persist within the political fabric is not a worthy compromise. It is a squalid cop-out. What really needs to be done is for this regime to be prosecuted for crimes against the people, crimes not just committed over the past two years, but over the past four decades.
This is, of course, why Washington and London are backing the dialogue charade, as they have done with previous regime-led initiatives, because these Western governments know that the purpose of the negotiations is to ensure that their Bahraini tyrant-client will remain safely ensconced in power. The regime provides the US with a base for its Navy Fifth Fleet and is an important staging post for Western militarism across the Middle East, as well as being used as a bulwark against Iran’s influence in the vital oil-producing region.
Perhaps more importantly, the Khalifa regime is a bulwark against democracy and the rule of law becoming established in the Persian Gulf. That would present a mortal threat to the geopolitical interests of Washington and London. For these capitalist powers, democracy is simply anathema. For them, the Persian Gulf must remain, at all costs, a feudal backwater ruled by tyrants and unelected despots, who prop up the destructive petrodollar global system and who buy billions of dollars worth of Western weaponry, all in implacable opposition to the democratic needs of the people. (The Western public also needs to realize – and realize quickly – this ugly nature of their so-called governments. For the same oppressive dictatorial measures for satiating the unelected capitalist elite are being applied increasingly to them as well. )
In a very real way, the gun being held to the head of the Bahraini people is ultimately being held by Washington and London.
Will these nefarious powers succeed in their intimidation against democracy? That will be determined by the mass of Bahraini people who refuse the sham offer of negotiations within the constricting and stifling comforts of the Khalifa palace. Despite the Western-backed state terrorism over the past two years, these noble people know that their right for democratic freedom will eventually be won – the hard way – on the streets by bravely facing down the regime’s police thugs. They have sacrificed and suffered too much already to give up now; and the blood and love of their martyrs will sustain them in the struggle for victory.