Bahrain, a fragile target for ISIS

A recent picture of Bahrainis holding prayer in one of 38 mosques demolished by the regime in 2011
A recent picture of Bahrainis holding prayer in one of 38 mosques demolished by the regime in 2011

2015-07-13 - 10:01 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): As the ISIS attacks expand to the Gulf countries, hitting Kuwait most recently, the Bahraini government seems nervous in dealing with its Shiite majority citizens, who may most probably be the target of the terror group.

Observing announcements made by Bahrain's interior ministry and the Shiite responses made at the receiving end, one can easily notice the confidence-crisis bubbling to the fore.

When an ISIS attack took the lives of the young men guarding a mosque in Dammam, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Bahraini youths put their lives under risk by volunteering to guard mosques as central prayers took place inside. Bizarrely, Bahrain's Ministry of Interior identified and summoned those youths for taking security measures and inspecting the worshippers. The Ministry then declared that individuals taking the role of the police will be questioned.

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These tweets were posted two weeks after the ISIS suicide attack on the Shiite mosque in Dammam

Here, the Bahraini ministry of interior says "the criminal procedures law defines the measures and gives authorization to those carrying out the measures". It adds "it is the duty of the police to protect public facilities and the safety of citizens and residents anywhere and under any circumstance".

But then came a very prompt and firm response from the spiritual leaders of the Shiite sect in the country. Five prominent scholars issued a joint-statement voicing that "Such a hazardous and abrupt risk cannot wait for help and rescue appeals to those who stand on the hill," adding "people are in a serious risk of losing their lives in their mosques, and they are facing threats of broad and ugly assassinations". Addressing the state's fears driven out of lack of confidence in its own people, the scholars said "It is of awful and obscene exaggeration to say that these good doers represent a threat to the state", describing the unarmed volunteers as scapegoats.

The state saw itself vis-à-vis to a deafening escalation as the most prominent and influential Shiite clerics said in light of the state's prevention of voluntary security measures, the government would be responsible, should a dreadful attack on a mosque take place, adding, "Apology would be unheard".

This statement brought the interior ministry to change its position and ask governors to nominate volunteers who should be registered with security directorates to help safeguard places of worship since they would know the residents of their areas, as the interior ministry put it.

But in a country where the Shiite community complains of systematic suppression and sectarian discrimination and, where the government demolished 38 Shiite mosques within its brutal clamp down on the nationwide pro-democracy uprising in 2011, the state needs to do much more to gain the confidence of its citizens.

When a religious anniversary approached on the 19th night of Ramadan, the Jaffariat Directorate, a governmental body, laid conditions related to the timing and places of the religious ceremonies. Netizens quickly responded under an Arabic hashtag on Twitter which said "you dream of stopping our processions", citing the state's long attempts to tighten on religious rituals in the country. Majeed Milad, member of Secretariat in the Wefaq opposition party, tweeted on the hashtag criticizing the Jaffriat Directorate's measures in light of the ISIS threats to target Bahrain. In one tweet he said, "If we come to see what the Directorate has done to face the ISIS threats on mosques, we will see nothing except a statement to fix surveillance cameras with a doubtful intention". Milad was outlining fears that the state intends to make the most out of these threats to pursue protesters and tighten it's strangle on the majority of Bahrainis demanding political reform. Not only will the CCTV cameras violate individuals' privacy in the neighborhoods around the mosques, but they will be monitored by the interior ministry, which is responsible for killings and atrocious human rights abuses against protesters in the very same neighborhoods its cameras will be fixed.

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He also highlighted that the new measures could be a beginning to restrictions on religious rituals.

"Tomorrow, we'll hear Friday and community prayers are suspended in precaution and the cord is on the run", he tweeted. Milad was summoned and arrested in less than 24 hours after he posted this tweet. He is now on trial.

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If the authority in Bahrain is serious about preventing the country from slipping into an Iraqi-like swamp, it would have seen that it has no other choice but to free the jailed opposition leaders and launch an inclusive political reconciliation before it is too late. Instead, the Bahraini authority went on locking up opposition leaders one after the other: Sheikh Ali Salman, Jameel Kadhim, Majeed Milad and now Ibrahim Shareef, again. The regime in Bahrain has not even made efforts to halt sectarian speech in its official and quasi-official media, nor punished Bahraini extremists who support ISIS and call openly for sectarian assassinations and terrorism and regularly insult the Shiite belief. In fact, Jassim Alsaeedi, a Sunni extremist and former member of parliament, resumed sermons just two weeks after he was suspended, by order of the Prime Minister.

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 Booklets published by the Bahrain Defence Force accusing Shiites of heresy and polytheism

If there were real and wise intentions to contain ISIS, which is waving its black flags to Bahrain, then opposition figures would be outside prison. And there would have been an official apology for demolishing the Shiite mosques and responsible officials would be held accountable. Instead, those officials remain in their posts and have received higher political issues, one of whom is the Justice Minister, Khalid bin Ali Alkhalifa. If the regime had the intention to prevent ISIS from doing what it has done to its Shiite citizens, it would have ended the torture and killings and held those involved to account. Furthermore, the minister of interior would have been sacked and the security apparatuses reconstructed as per the recommendations issued by the Independent Commission of Inquiry.

But that is not to happen if the United States will criticize Bahrain's human rights record on one hand and resume military aids and praise whitewashing measures on the other hand. Perhaps the United States, which holds its fifth fleet in Bahrain, needs to realize that the internal front here has become too fragile and risky to stand in the face of an ISIS attack.

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