Attack on Sheikh Issa Qassim designed to enflame tensions

The arbitrary decision to today revoke the nationality of Sheikh Issa Qassim, the most respected Shi’ite religious figure in Bahrain, is a purposefully designed tactic to enflame tensions and cause further chaos.

In doing so Bahrain has escalated its recent campaign of heavy and targeted repression to include the highest religious figure in the Shi’ite community. Despite a general will from the authorities to silence Sheikh Issa Qassim, such a move was previously unthinkable. The fact that it has now happened is a highly significant moment and a signal that no one individual is safe from the repressive hand of the state.

He is accused of “using his position to serve foreign interests, promoting sectarianism and violence and encouraging youths to violate the constitution”, despite being the individual most responsible for influencing thousands of youths away from a path of violence. In almost every single religious sermon he has given he has consistently pleaded with protesters to reject violence, unequivocally. In targeting him Bahrain is seriously undermining these efforts and unleashing the potential for chaos across the state.

For years BJDM has argued that the logical progression of Bahrain’s authoritarianism has been leading to this moment. When Khalil Almarzooq was arrested in September 2013, we said that the next step would be Sheikh Ali Salman, followed by outlawing Al Wefaq and then finally targeting Sheikh Issa Qassim. Sadly this process has happened in just a few weeks, with Sheikh Ali Salman sentenced to 9 years, Nabeel Rajab re-arrested, Al Wefaq suspended and now finally Sheikh Issa Qassim has had his nationality revoked.

Nothing could be more at odds with the calls of the international community for dialogue and reconciliation. Nothing could be further away from this than attacking the most revered figure in the Shi’ite community. Instead of moving towards steps to build confidence the authorities are doing everything to destroy trust between individuals, between the community and between the people and the state. This will surely not end well for the prosperity of Bahrain.

Therefore the stakes are higher right now than ever before and those with an interest in Bahrain must accept some responsibility and make serious and lasting efforts to ensure this escalation stops here and these recent disastrous moves are reversed. A failure to do so will see Bahrain move into an era completely beyond any control, of which the consequences are both unknown yet endless.

Bahrain must backtrack on this crazy course before damage is done that will have the potential to lock Bahrain in constant internal strife for years to come. As we have said time and time again, Bahrain simply cannot repress its way out of crisis. As much as the authorities need to understand this, so to must its international allies.

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