Last week the resigned Bahraini MP Ali Alaswad had an article published on the Conservative Middle East Council website. It seems that the post has caused a bit of a stir in the Bahraini Government and very quickly a response was issued by Fahad Al Khalifa, Press and Media Attache at the Embassy of The Kingdom of Bahrain.
Read Ali Alaswad’s original article here and the Government response here. Because of the outrageous claims made by Mr. Fahad Al Khalifa, Ali Alaswad felt a further response was necessary. Due to CMEC rules that no side can publish more than once we have decided to publish this response on our website, below.
Response to Fahad Al Khalifa and the Bahrain PR Machine
Firstly I have to record my gratitude to Mr. Fahad Al-Khalifa for taking the time to engage in the debate and respond to my article. However, I cannot sit idly by and allow such fabrications to go unchallenged in this current political climate.
I have no desire to attack the individual, nor any individuals in Bahrain, but Mr. Fahad’s response can be described at best as ignorant and at worst misleading. It is riddled with inaccuracies, false accusations and the author has an interesting skill for avoiding the real issues, focusing instead on the same old tired rhetoric.
In fact the reply can be summed up quite simply as perfectly exemplifying the arrogance that is on constant display from this Government. In that sense, Mr. Fahad is at least doing a very good job representing the views of the Bahrain Government.
Mr. Fahad’s attack on Al Wefaq would be fine if it was only offensive to those of us inside the party. We are very much used to and sadly expect this sort of slander. But the problem is it is also an attack on the 64% of the population who deem Al Wefaq worthy of their vote.
For this is a Government that is so out of touch with its people it characterizes pro-democracy protestors as terrorists, Iranian Agents and extremists with violent intentions, amongst other ludicrous and fantastical conspiracies. The people want democratic rule. Until the Government accepts this and stops burying their heads in the sand the protests clearly will not stop.
In his reply Mr. Fahad made sure he repeated the term Islamist as many times as possible when characterizing Al Wefaq. Be not fooled, this is a political ploy. The author clearly underestimates the intelligence of the western reader and is trying to use buzzwords that he believes will cause alarm. This is a regular theme across the piece. Words and phrases such as ‘IED’s’, ‘theocracy’, ‘Communist’ and ‘hate campaign’ are all designed to create a specific image that will turn the reader against the opposition.
Mr. Fahad points out that Al Wefaq boycotted the by-election last month. This is indeed true. With great difficulty and very heavy hearts we decided that we could not provide legitimacy to an illegitimate election. Can you imagine how difficult it was for me to resign my post and deny my constituents the opportunity to re-elect me? This was not a decision taken lightly.
But elections in Bahrain are not elections, as they exist in the west. In my previous article I highlighted the ethnic division of voting boundaries to disadvantage opposition areas. This is not just gerrymandering; this is discrimination. It is very telling that Mr. Fahad strangely ignored this point.
Furthermore our Parliament does not even begin to resemble a democratic institution. For 6 months I participated in Parliament and the atmosphere of hate that was directed against the opposition was enough to break even the hardest resolve. But this was not the real problem. Every time we tried to make even the smallest of changes we were rounded upon and attacked. Even if we could achieve something we always knew that The King or the unelected Shura council would dismiss our will.
I could recount tales of inefficiency, corruption and harassment but I truly have no interest in doing so. In the west you understand what democracy is; and no PR backed story is going to hide the fact that Bahrain is not just undemocratic; it is anti-democratic.
I must also make clear that whilst we did not participate in the election, allegations that we stopped people from voting are as ludicrous as they are false. In many statements we said people have the right to decide whether or not to vote and it should be a personal choice.
The truth is that nobody cared about this by-election. In 2010, when we stood, it was the talk of the town. This time around the fact that there was an election barely even registered amongst the general population. This is why just 17% of voters turned out to the polls. What a disgrace! Is that democracy? Over 80% of people rejecting an election is the clearest indication yet of the huge section of the population who favour democracy and change.
Another very worrying and distressing feature of Mr. Fahad’s blog is his attempt to portray Al Wefaq as being against women’s rights. This truly is a dastardly deceit. We have a proven track record of encouraging women to take part in politics but using this issue as an excuse to act undemocratically is not unknown from this Government.
In fact the new MP in my constituency is a woman; Ms. Sawsan Al Taqawi. On her election she was duly congratulated by The King himself and lauded by the local media as a triumph for women’s rights. But what they failed to mention was that this was in fact a sad day for democracy.
For Ms. Al Taqawi was not elected. She received zero votes. On one single day her four opponents all decided to withdraw from the election. I cannot begin to speculate as to why this occurred but with an electorate of zero it is hard to see the triumph.
Real female emancipation will only occur through real democracy. Create a democratic system in which women can be elected with the same opportunity as men and surely there would be no need for candidates to drop out and MP’s to be created with not one single vote.
What’s more it is incredibly hypocritical for this Government to accuse the opposition of being against women’s rights. What about the hounding of female activists? What about the campaign to slander the good name of prominent women like Maryam Al Khawaja, the inspiring human rights activist? What about the detention and torture of Jalila Al Salman, the deputy of the Teacher’s Union?
And we have all seen what has happened to the Doctors and nurses who are facing up to fifteen years in jail, for simply treating injured protestors. I have read the full testimony of one anonymous female doctor who was told she would be raped once for every demonstration she has attended. Women’s rights? Certainly not.
Another claim from Mr. Fahad was that Al Wefaq refused to engage in dialogue. He seems to ignore the constant calls we have made over the past 9 months for this very thing. The dialogue he refers to took place in July. It featured 300 members with just 45 coming from the opposition. Al Wefaq were allowed 5 members, with only one having speaking rights.
The discussions were false, the opposition did not accept the conclusions and quite simply it was nothing more than another PR stunt. We are not interested in PR for Bahrain. We are interested in freedom.
We are not interested in PR for Bahrain. We are interested in freedom.
I must also address Mr. Fahad’s claims that we have dismissed, undermined and attacked the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. We are patiently awaiting its results and from the start to finish have worked tirelessly to convince people to testify and cooperate.
I am in constant contact with the BICI as are our representatives in Bahrain. The Chair of the Commission Mr. Cherif Bassiouni even mentioned Al Wefaq in a recent interview and thanked us for our cooperation. I feel that no further dismissal of Mr. Fahad’s claims on this subject are necessary given the words of Mr. Bassiouni.
Finally I come to the most perplexing section of Mr. Fahad’s article. He has tried to say that Bahrain is religiously tolerant. Such a lie is offensive. Why have hundreds of Shi’ites been sacked from their jobs? Why are there hundreds of Shi’ites as political prisoners? Why is Bahrain state TV full of TV shows, news reports, comedies, soaps and other items that constantly attack Shi’ite beliefs and Shi’ite people? This is not the action of a country that believes in religious tolerance.
If Bahrain were the country that Mr. Fahad describes, why would thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent months to demand change? There are 2 Bahrain’s at the moment. The reality and the myth. Until the Government opens it’s eyes and wakes up to what is really happening we will not have order and life cannot return to normal.
41 people have died at the hands of this Government since February, including a 14-year-old boy who was shot at with a tear gas canister. All the repression in the world and all the expensive PR cannot and will not hide the true nature of Bahrain.
This is not just a response to Mr. Fahad, this is also an appeal to the world to take note of Bahrain and do everything you can to help us. We need justice and we need democracy. Every day Mothers fear that their children will not return home. They fear for the present and they fear for the future.
I love my country and nothing would please me more than to see Bahrain return to normality.
But this must be a peaceful normality not the normality that I have always known and that my children have only ever seen. We demand an end to discrimination, an end to repression but also a beginning of democracy, peace and justice.
Ali Al Aswad.