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August 13, 2013 No.
1007

Bahrain Prepares For August 14 Anti-Regime Protests Planned By 'Tamarrud Bahrain' Movement

By: Y. Yehoshua and R. Goldberg*

Introduction

On August 14, 2013, protests are planned to take place in Bahrain calling for the ouster of the Bahraini regime and for the establishment of a democratic regime in its place. The protests are part of the Bahraini "Tamarrud" campaign, which was inspired by the eponymous campaign in Egypt. The Tamarrud Bahrain campaign, launched by activists of the February 14 Youth Coalition, is a continuation of the Shi'ite protests against the Sunni Aal Khalifa regime that have been ongoing in the kingdom for the last three years, since February 14, 2011.

The August 14 protests are to commence at 15:00 in a square outside the U.S. embassy in Manama. The objectives behind this choice of location are: to elicit U.S. and Western support for the protest movement in Bahrain, draw international attention to the issue, and deter the regime from using force against the demonstrators.

The regime, for its part, does not regard the protest as a genuine expression of popular will, but rather as terrorism in the service of Iran, which, it says, is bluntly interfering in Bahrain's internal affairs with the aim of toppling the regime and turning the kingdom into an extension of the Islamic Republic. The authorities have taken a series of preventive measures to thwart the protest, such as prohibiting demonstrations and imposing stricter penalties for those who participate in acts of terrorism or incite to terrorism. Concurrently, supporters of the regime have launched several counter-campaigns opposing Tamarrud.

These attempts to renew the mass protests in Bahrain intensify the sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites not only in the kingdom but in the Arab and Muslim world at large, and also deepen the existing conflict between pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian forces in the region, against the backdrop of the instability in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Egypt.

Many Sunni countries, especially in the Gulf, believe that the Bahraini protest is a tool that Iran is using in order to convey a message to its rivals, in particular Saudi Arabia. These countries see the protests as a danger that might spread to their own territory, and have therefore rallied to the support of the Aal Khalifa regime.

This report reviews the Bahraini Tamarrud campaign and its preparations for the August 14 demonstrations, as well as the measures taken against it by the Bahraini regime.

Bahraini Tamarrud Movement Announces Uprising Against Aal Khalifa Regime Starting August 14

The Bahraini Tamarrud movement, inspired by and modeled upon the eponymous Egyptian movement, was formed in early July with the aim of toppling the Aal Khalifa regime and establishing a democratic regime in its place. Like its Egyptian counterpart, the Bahraini movement calls upon the people to take to the streets in protest against the dictatorial regime. It presents itself as a visionary movement of young people and as "a peaceful movement that [can] accommodate all political parties" in Bahrain and aims to attain "a real democracy in Bahrain no less [genuine] than [the democracy] found in Western countries such as the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom."[1]

In a communiqué posted on the day of its founding (July 4) on its Facebook and Twitter pages, the movement announced that the Bahraini Tamarrud campaign would begin on August 14, Bahrain's independence day, and that the people would mark it by taking to the streets and holding nonviolent mass demonstrations in front of the U.S. embassy, in which they would call upon the royal family to leave the country and cede power to the people.[2] The organizers explained that they had chosen to hold the protest on Bahrain's independence day in order "to underscore their aspiration that Bahrain be an independent, Arab and democratic country that respects the will of its citizens."[3]

A communique on the movement's Twitter page said: "We hereby declare August 14 – the day of Bahrain's 1971 announcement of independence – as the start of the 'Tamarrud Bahrain' campaign. This is an uprising against the oppression of the regime, which has usurped the value of citizenship, hijacked the people's [right] to make decisions, their authority and their sovereignty in pursuit of its own interests, usurped the [country's] resources... and passed oppressive laws that usurp the people's rights and limit its action.

"Bahrain is the free and independent homeland of all its citizens, without distinction or discrimination. The people is the sovereign and the source of all powers. It has the right to act by all nonviolent means in order to restore the powers and rights of which it has been deprived." The communique stated further: "The 'Tamarrud Bahrain' campaign is a message to all Bahrainis to unite their ranks, place political, ideological and religious disagreements aside... and defend the right of the united people to freedom, dignity and sovereignty."[4]

"Tamarrud Bahrain" Twitter page

In addition to calling for protests outside the U.S. embassy on August 14, the movement also called for a nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience. In a July 30 communique, it said: "[People] must not open their shops or buy groceries or gas, and must stop all dealings with the authorities and all commercial activity... On August 13 after sundown, at 22:00, they should turn out the lights and cry 'Allah Akbar' from the rooftops..."

The communique added that any nonviolent political action by opposition groups, before, during and after August 14, would be welcome, stressing that every group has the right to participate in the building of a democratic and independent Bahrain.[5]

Tamarrud annoucement calling for civil disobedience

Image on 'Tamarrud Bahrain' Facebook page shows a burning photo of the Bahraini king

The Bahraini Tamarrud Movement – Modeled Upon The Eponymous Egyptian Movement

The Bahraini movement acknowledges that it is "influenced by the revolutionary movement in the Egyptian republic, and especially by the 'Tamarrud Egypt' movement, from which it took its name."[6] The similarity is not limited to the name; the logo used by the Bahraini movement and its followers is very similar to the logo of the Egyptian movement:

 

Logo of Tamarrud Bahrain (left) and Tamarrud Egypt (right)

The Bahraini movement is also similar to its Egyptian counterpart in its modes of operation. Like Tamarrud Egypt, it has not only called for mass protests but has also circulated a petition calling for the ouster of the Aal Khalifa regime, collecting signatures both on the streets and via a website dedicated to this purpose. According to the organizers, the petition is "like a referendum on the Aal Khalifa regime and the people's desire to replace it."[7]

Interestingly, despite these similarities, the Egyptian Tamarrud movement does not support the Bahraini one, because it regards it as a Shi'ite movement serving Iran, and also because the ouster of Egypt's president Mursi was supported by the Gulf regimes, including the Bahraini regime. Egyptian political activists stressed on the Egyptian and Gulf media that the two movements are unconnected, and described Tamarrud Bahrain as a violent movement that promotes Iran's goals.[8] Muhammad Nabawi, a member of Tamarrud Egypt's central committee, told the Bahraini daily Al-Ayyam that his movement had nothing to do with Tamarrud Bahrain and would not allow anyone "to exploit it for their own interests on a sectarian or religious basis. We support only the aspirations of peoples [acting to promote] national interests," he said. He added that all Egyptians know that "what is happening in Bahrain is the result of interference by a certain foreign country [i.e, Iran] that is trying to impose its agenda due to certain disagreements [it has] with the Gulf states."[9]

Tamarrud Bahrain – A Shi'ite Opposition Campaign

Despite the movement's attempt to appeal to all the Bahraini people, Sunnis and Shi'ites alike, it seems that Tamarrud Bahrain is a Shi'ite movement calling to topple the Sunni Aal Khalifa regime and establish a democracy in the majority Shi'ite country.

The Shi'ite affiliation of Tamarrud is clearly evident from its official statements and from the identity of its activitsts. Its leaders are supporters of prominent Shi'ite Bahraini oppositionists such as 'Abd Al-Wahhab Hussein, head of the Al-Wafa movement, Al-Haqq movement head Hassan Mushaima, and oppositionist 'Abd Al-Hadi Al-Khawaja. The three, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting a coup and for having ties with terrorist elements, are considered emblems of the opposition to the Bahraini regime, and their portraits frequently appear on the Tamarrud Facebook page.

Furthermore, in one of its communiques, the movement stated that its spiritual leader is oppositionist 'Abd Al-Hadi Al-Khawaja. The communique read: "We stress to the Bahraini people that we see 'Abd Al-Hadi Al-Khawaja, who was the first to call to topple the Aal Khalifa gang, as the movement's spiritual father..." It stated further: "The movement has refused demands by various elements to change its objective from nonviolently toppling the [Aal Khalifa] regime to demanding the establishment of a constitutional monarchy under the ruling family." It explained that it had rejected this demand outright since meeting it would be "a betrayal of the will of the people and of the prominent figures who have called [to realize it], such as 'Abd Al-Wahhab Hussein and Hassan Mushaima."[10]

Tamarrud Bahrain's "Shi'ite connection" is also seen in the fact that the leader of the Shi'ite Al-Wefaq movement, 'Ali Salman, was the first to congratulate Tamarrud Bahrain on its campaign. In a press conference on July 4, 2013 – the day the campaign was announced – he said: "We know that our struggle is not a short one... The Bahraini people's patience is evident from the fact that a Tamarrud movement is being organized this August, that the rallies continue and the spirit of the revolution remains, and that the sons of the martyrs are leading the rallies." He said further: "We support any nonviolent call at any time. Everyone has a right to protest anywhere."[11] On its website, Al-Wefaq expressed support for Tamarrud's August 14 protest initiative, stating that attending the demonstrations is the citizens' right and exhorting the security apparatuses not to use excessive force against the protestors.[12]

'Abd Al-Wahhab Hussein and the heads of the Shi'ite opposition in Bahrain (image: Tamarrud Facebook page)

Hassan Mushaima in a Tamarrud Bahrain poster (image: Tamarrud Facebook page)

Another oppositionist who voiced support for the movement was Ayatollah 'Issa Qassem, the representative in Bahrain of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iraqi Ayatollah 'Ali Sistani. In a July 5, 2013 Friday sermon at the Imam Sadeq mosque in the city of Diraz, Qassem welcomed the anti-regime protests in Bahrain, saying: "The opposition [movement] has entered its third year. The people are suffering torment and much pain, but the movement will [nevertheless] continue on a nonviolent [path]. The Bahraini regime consistently accuses the [protest] movement of the Bahraini nation of sectarianism and of relying on foreigners [i.e., Iran], but this revolution is too alert to fall into this trap. All the Arab revolutions stem from the same [source]: oppression by the regime."

Qassem noted the hypocrisy of the Aal Khalifa regime, which welcomes the Arab revolutions throughout the region yet suppresses the Bahraini revolution: "All the Arab revolutions were welcomed [by the regime], but now that the time has come for a revolution in Bahrain [itself], the nation is granted no rights, and [opposition] leaders are arrested or compelled to leave the country." He said that one of the lessons to be learned from Mursi's ouster is that "regimes, even if they come to power in the name of Islam, cannot stay in power forever."[13] In another sermon two weeks later, he said: "A nation that remains silent in the face of oppression capitulates to oppression itself, and capitulation in the face of oppression is [an act of] treason."[14]

Thanks to this Shi'ite connection, Tamarrud's activities have been widely reported in media affiliated with the pro-Iranian camp. They have received much attention in Al-Alam, Iran's Arabic-language TV channel, as well as in Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV, Syria's government press and Lebanese papers associated with Hizbullah and the Syrian regime. Moreover, on August 8, Tamarrud spokesman Hussein Yousuf held a press conference in Beirut in which he called for a "general mobilization" against the Bahraini regime, and which was widely covered in the Lebanese press associated with the pro-Iranian resistance camp. The holding of the press conference in Beirut, and the media attention it received in the Lebanese press, evoked anger against Lebanon in Bahrain, and the Salafi Al-Asala bloc even urged the Bahraini foreign ministry to take measures against Lebanon "for its involvement in attempts to harm [Bahrain's] national security and threaten its stability."[15]

Criticism was also voiced by Bahraini columnist Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, who wrote in his column in the government daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej: "[This] Lebanese interference in Bahrain's affairs was not the first [act of its kind]; in fact, [such interference] has gradually become more frequent since Hizbullah's takeover of parts of Lebanon. Imagine some anonymous group holding a press conference in Manama and calling for a rebellion against the Lebanese regime or even [for a rebellion] in the Maldives!... Moreover, Hizbullah's support of the extremist movements in Bahrain, which takes the form of training and logistic assistance, has not stopped for years. All this continues with the acquiescence, if not the blessing, of the Lebanese government. [This] government, which has become [part of] a political program that is hostile to the Arab Gulf states, assists the program of the Rule of the Jurisprudent [in Iran] and supports the extermination of Sunni Muslims in Syria.[16]

Protest Outside U.S. Embassy In An Attempt To Recruit U.S., Western Support

Ahead of the protests, Tamarrud Bahrain is working diligently to recruit U.S. and Western support. In addition to calling for protests outside the U.S. embassy in Manama, it has sent an open letter to the U.S. and Western countries urging them to support its demand for democratic change in the country. As part of these efforts, the movement is also working to get the West in general and the U.S. in particular to apply political pressure to the Bahraini regime so it does not crack down on the protestors.

The movement's Facebook page showing the gathering point for the protest outside the U.S. embassy

In a communique, the movement explained why it chose the U.S. embassy in Manama as the location of its planned protest: "Why should we hold the mass protest in front of the U.S. embassy? Many significant reasons led us to choose the U.S. embassy: First, the constitution of the U.S. clearly addresses support for democracy and freedom all over the world. The U.S. supported many revolutions during its history such as the French revolution, which is considered one of the greatest revolutions in modern history.

"Second, the U.S. embassy square in Manama is an open square that can be easily reached from different access points...

"Third, The mass peaceful gathering in front of the U.S. embassy will encourage the U.S. State Department to deal with the peaceful Bahraini revolution in a more active way and to shoulder the ethical responsibilities, especially [considering] that Bahrain has hosted the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters for more than 50 years without any significant difficulty. The Bahraini nation is a very peaceful nation and always looks forward to keeping and strengthening bilateral relations between Bahrain and the U.S. Also, from a different angle, the mass protest in front of the U.S. embassy will [cause] all international news media to cover this huge event.

"Fourth, all the events in front of the U.S. embassy will be recorded by video and conveyed to the U.S. State Department immediately, which will cause public opinion inside the U.S. to support the Bahraini nation, which will put pressure on the Aal Khalifa ruling family. Unfortunately, the Bahraini army is currently composed of mercenaries that are under the direct control of the Aal Khalifa ruling family and we cannot rely on it to stand beside the Bahraini nation's ambition to democracy... but we rely on international conscience to ethically stand with democracy in Bahrain.

"Fifth, any suppression or crackdown on the mass protest in front of the U.S. embassy will form international public opinion, which will exert pressure on the Aal Khalifa ruling family to transfer power to the Bahraini nation." [17]

The English version of the communiqué on the Tamarrud Facebook page

An open letter in English to the U.S. and the West, posted on the movement's Facebook page, reads: "Modern history will not forget how [the] U.S. supported [the] French revolution, which became one of the noblest and greatest revolutions in history. Also, the U.S. supports democratic changes in many Arab countries such as Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia. [Therefore, the] Bahrain[i] nation hopes that [the] U.S. will support real democratic changes in Bahrain too.

"We are planning to [hold] a rally in front of [the] U.S. embassy in Manama on August 14, 2013, which will put ethical responsibilities on U.S. officials, [the American] nation, and the free world toward peaceful protesters, especially [considering] that [the] Bahrain[i] nation [has hosted] the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters [for] more than 50 years without any significant difficulty. The Bahrain[i] nation is a very peaceful nation and always look[s] forward to keep[ing] and strengthen[ing] bilateral relations between Bahrain and the U.S.

The letter further reads: "We are [very] afraid and scared of the possibility of [a] fatal crackdown by [the] Bahraini regime on peaceful protesters that will gather in front of the U.S. embassy... Kindly, from a humanitarian and ethical approach, we hope that you may convey our deep concern to [the] U.S. State Department and Congress to exert real political pressure on [the] Bahraini regime to avoid any fatal crackdown and bloodshed."[18]

Tamarrud's open letter to the U.S. and the West

Official Bahraini media criticized Tamarrud's attempts to recruit U.S. support and tied Tamarrud Bahrain to the Al-Wefaq opposition movement. Thus, for example, columnist 'Abd Al-Mun'im Ibrahim published an article in Akhbar Al-Khaleej identifying Tamarrud Bahrain with the Al-Wefaq movement and attacking the organizers of the August 14 protest for their decision to hold it outside the U.S. embassy: "Why did Al-Wefaq choose the U.S. embassy in Bahrain as the gathering place for their planned rebellion? Because the movement wants to say: 'We want the U.S. to protect us in the case of violent clashes between the movement and police.' Perhaps the visit by the U.S. deputy ambassador to the Al-Wefaq headquarters is a sign that the embassy welcomes Al-Wefaq's attacks on [the regime]... Al-Wefaq preferred a relationship with the U.S. over reconciling with the majority of the Bahraini people (Sunni and Shi'ite), which opposes the [movement's] disrespectful and provocative discourse and its incitement to violence."[19]

Tamarrud, depicted as a nose ring, being used to drag out the ox of "civil war" (Akhbar Al-Khaleej, Bahrain, August 12, 2013)

Regime Prepares To Prevent Protests And Punish Participants: This Is Organized Terrorism

The Bahraini regime, fearing the August 14 protests, refers to Tamarrud as "organized terrorism," just as it refers to the Shi'ite opposition's activity as "violence and terrorism" in the service of Iran.[20] Moreover, the authorities have taken steps to thwart the planned demonstrations, including by preventing unauthorized gatherings and tightening penalties for "terrorists."

Bahraini Information Minister and Government Spokeswoman Samira Rajab warned that participating in the so-called "anti-kingdom Tamarrud movement" would be punished according to the law and that violence and terrorism were strictly forbidden.[21] She added: "It is time to stand together, firmly and urgently, against terrorism, that malignant sickness which eats away at the body of our peaceful society. The clear and deliberate intention of those who plan [this terrorism], incite to it and carry it out is to drag the country to civil war... We desperately need laws that criminalize incitement to violence and killing in any way – [including] via electronic media and social networks."[22] The Bahraini prime minister said that "the government is not acting today against a group that disagrees with its ideology, but rather against organized terrorism."[23]

The regime took several measures to deter the public from joining the August 14 protest. On July 28, 2013, the National Assembly (comprising Bahrain's upper and lower houses of parliament) published 22 recommendations, including revoking citizenship and imposing long prison sentences on the inciters and perpetrators of violence. In addition, the parliament recommended banning all protests and gatherings in the capital of Manama as a preventative measure ahead of August 14.[24] And indeed, on July 30, 2013, the Bahraini government, in a special session, approved the parliament's recommendations. Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Aal Khalifa said that "the government is determined to fight violence and terrorism... and in light of the national consensus [on this matter], it is continuing to supply security and stability by battling terrorism and sectarianism... [all this within the framework of] the law and its commitment to freedom of expression and human rights."[25]

On August 1, 2013, two days after the Bahraini government approved the parliament's recommendations, the King issued a royal decree setting a penalty of at least 10 years in prison for anyone who planned or carried out a terrorist attack, and a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone perpetrating an attack that results in loss of life.[26] On August 8, 2013, the Bahraini king issued a decree amending the protest law to prohibit any gatherings outside international institutions, public buildings or security facilities without written authorization from the General Security chief or his deputy. The decree stated further that the interior minister would be in charge of determining which locations fall into these categories.[27]

On its part, the Tamarrud movement stressed that it does not call for violence and that it "embraces the nonviolent option as a strategic choice."[28]

Regime Supporters Launch Counter-Campaigns

Supporters of the Bahraini regime, on their part, launched counter-campaigns calling not to participate in the August 14 protests. For instance, a Twitter campaign titled "Tamarrud Against Terror" claimed that the protests would plunge Bahrain into "endless crises" and urged the authorities to take the necessary security measures to apprehend the "terrorists and saboteurs."[29] An organization called Al-Minbar Al-Watani Al-Islami, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, initiated a similar campaign titled "Anti-Tamarrud," which, it said, stressed its opposition to all forms of sectarianism, terror and violence (such as the throwing of Molotov cocktails and setting of fires) that Tamarrud is planning for August 14.[30]

Poster of the counter-campaign

Criticism against the Tamarrud campaign was also expressed in the government press. Columnist Mahmid Al-Mahmid wrote in his column in Akhbar Al-Khaleej: "August 14 will be an ordinary day, which will not bring fear to the loyal [Bahrainis] or intimidate the lovers of the homeland. [Tamarrud's] wayward call will not be heeded, [for our] citizens are patriots. People will go to work, to the markets, to the hospitals and to their [usual] places of gathering. They will stroll through the streets and parks, and spend hours on the beach. The desires and hopes of the terrorists and their supporters will not be realized."[31]

*Y. Yehoshua is Vice President for Research at MEMRI; R. Goldberg is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

Endnotes:

[1] See the movement's Facebook page , July 7, 2013.

[2] See the movement's Facebook page, July 3, 2013.

[3] Almanar.com.lb, July 30, 2013.

[4] See Twitter message, July 4, 2013.

[5] See Twitter message, July 30, 2013.

[6] See the movement's Facebook page, July 3, 2013.

[8] See, for example, shorouknews.com, August 2, 2013; youm7.com, August 4, 2013.

[9] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), July 19, 2013.

[10] See the movement's Facebook page, July 17, 2013.

[11] Alwefaq.net, July 4, 2013.

[12] Alwefaq.net, July 15, 2013.

[13] Rasanews.ir, July 5, 2013.

[14] Al-Alam (Iran), July 19, 2013.

[15] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), August 11, 2013.

[16] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), August 12, 2013.

[17] See the Movement's Facebook page, July 7, 2013.

[18] See the Movement's Facebook page. The original English has been edited for clarity.

[19] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), July 24, 2013.

[20] It should be noted that Bahrain recently placed Iran's ally, the Shi'ite Lebanese organization Hizbullah, on its list of terrorist organizations, and called on the other Gulf states to do the same. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 965, Arab World Precedent: Bahrain Adds Hizbullah To List Of Terrorist Organizations May 7, 2013.

[21] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), July 15, 2013.

[22] Bna.bh, July 28, 2013.

[23] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), August 1, 2013, August 5, 2013.

[24] Al-Raya (Qatar), July 29, 2013; Arab.reuters.com, July 28, 2013.

[25] Al-Bayan (UAE), July 31, 2013.

[26] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), August 1, 2013.

[27] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 7, 2013

[28] Al-Safir (Lebanon), August 8, 2013.

[29] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), August 6, 2013.

[30] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), August 6, 2013. On Al-Minbar Al-Watani Al-Islami, see http://alwaienews.com/0ar51808idcontent.htm.

[31] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), August 12, 2013.