How Bahrain's crackdown is pushing both sides to extremes
By cracking down on dissent and refusing to negotiate with the opposition, Bahrain's ruling monarchy has pushed some protesters into the arms of more hardline groups.
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Hardline members of the royal family, with backing from Saudi Arabia, are seen as having sidelined the crown prince, who still has credibility with the opposition. “Saudi has blocked the way forward,” agrees the Western observer.Skip to next paragraph
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Dialogue from the ruling family?
While there’s been no mention of dialogue from the ruling family since then, in a recent speech the crown prince emphasized reform. But it’s not clear what Bahrain’s rulers could offer that would be of any satisfaction to the opposition. The majority Shiite population in Bahrain has long complained of electoral gerrymandering that puts opposition candidates at a disadvantage, and also discrimination that shuts them out of jobs in the public sector, police, and security forces.
None of those complaints would seem to be negotiable because each has helped the government maintain its power in the current crisis, says Justin Gengler of the University of Michigan. A military and police force mostly devoid of Shiites and largely made up of naturalized foreigners, for example, has less qualms about targeting Shiites for beatings, arrest, and humiliation than one that included Bahraini Shiites would.
And with a partially elected parliament and regular elections, there’s not much room for political reform that wouldn’t erode the ruling family’s power, either. The mainstream opposition’s key demand has been an elected assembly to write a new constitution.
“Bahrain's gone as far as it can go with cosmetic reform,” says Mr. Gengler, whose research has focused on Bahrain. “There's really little else to be done. They're sort of at the edge, where if they do anything else it's going to start looking like real democracy.”
The consequences of crackdown
As the government avoids any hint of compromise and continues its campaign of arrest and intimidation, it may be pushing Bahrainis into the arms of groups like the Haq Movement. Unlike Al Wefaq, Haq explicitly calls for the downfall of Bahrain’s ruling family. Many blame Haq, along with two other groups that formed a coalition calling for a republic in Bahrain, with inviting the crackdown and ruining the chances for a political solution.
It’s nearly impossible to say how big a part of society they represent. But dozens of people affected by the crackdown – youths who were shot by police while protesting, professionals who lost their jobs for participating in protests, and those whose family members disappeared at checkpoints or in midnight raids by security forces on their homes – echo Yousif: The events of the past month have made them give up hope of any solution that doesn’t include the ouster of the ruling family.
If increasing numbers of Bahrainis are turning to groups like Al Haq, it undermines the ability of a coalition led by Al Wefaq to eventually go to the table to negotiate. Mr. Marzouk of Al Wefaq tacitly acknowledges this.
“We are representatives of the people, and we get our credibility from that. If we go alone to the dialogue while the people are suffering, we will no longer have that credibility,” he says. “We have to prepare the ground for it. Stop these atrocities on the ground, pull out the foreign troops.”