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memri
August 3, 2016 No.
6554

Bahraini Media: The U.S. Is Working With Iran To Bring Down Bahrain, Other Countries

In recent months, U.S.-Bahrain relations have been increasingly strained over the issue of the ongoing conflict between the Bahraini regime and the Shi'ite opposition in the country, which is led by the Al-Wefaq Society, the largest Shi'ite opposition body. Bahrain accuses the U.S. of supporting the opposition in both statements and actions and thereby interfering in Bahrain's domestic affairs and working to destabilize its regime.

Bahrain's Sunni regime describes the Shi'ite opposition activists as terrorists and traitors who are loyal to Iran and who are undermining the Bahraini monarchy with the aim of turning the country into an Iranian proxy. Tensions between the regime and opposition have been high especially since the 2011 wave of protests demanding the ouster of the regime and the implementation of political reforms in the country.[1] Tensions escalated even further in the recent months following a series of measures taken by the regime against the opposition and its leaders: on May 30, the sentence imposed on Al-Wefaq leader 'Ali Salman was extended from four years in prison to nine years;[2] on June 14 a court ordered to suspend Al-Wefaq's activity, shut down its offices and freeze its assets,[3] and on July 17, the court convicted Al-Wefaq of harming Bahrain's national security and instigating the 2011 riots and ordered to dissolve the society and liquidated its assets.[4] Earlier, two other opposition associations, Al-Risalah and Al-Taw'iya, were also dissolved.[5] On June 20 the government stripped Shi'ite cleric 'Isa Ahmed Qassim of his Bahraini citizenship on the grounds that he served as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's man in Bahrain and is the spiritual leader of the outlawed Al-Wefaq.[6]       

These measures against the opposition, in particular the revoking of Qassim's citizenship, sparked criticism from the U.S., which condemned what it characterized as the suppression of nonviolent opposition and called on the Bahraini regime to dialogue with the opposition instead.[7] In addition to criticizing the Bahraini regime's steps against the opposition, U.S. officials recently met with representatives of the Shi'ite opposition in Bahrain. For example, on April 7, 2016, U.S. State Secretary John Kerry met with an opposition delegation during his visit to Bahrain, and implicitly criticized the regime by saying that "respect for human rights and an inclusive political system are essential" in Bahrain.[8] The U.S. ambassador in Bahrain also met with opposition elements, including Al-Wefaq officials, even after the suspension of this society's activity.[9]

The U.S. criticism of Bahrain's steps against the opposition, and the meetings of U.S. officials with opposition elements, evoked furious responses from the Bahraini regime.[10] Rage was also expressed by the Bahraini press, which published dozens of articles slamming the U.S. and its officials, accusing them of dishonesty and hypocrisy, of betraying Bahrain and supporting terrorism, of collaborating with Iran against Bahrain and other Arab countries, and even of complicity in the terror attacks perpetrated by Shi'ites in Bahrain.

The following are excerpts from these articles in the Bahraini press.   

 

 
U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain meets with Shi'ite opposition elements (Image: Bahrainalyoum.com, June 30, 2016)

While Outwardly Friendly To Bahrain, The U.S. Is Secretly Supporting Its Enemies

On April 9, 2016, after the U.S. State Department announced that during his Bahrain visit, Secretary of State Kerry had met, on April 7, with a Bahraini opposition delegation, and after Kerry called on the Bahraini regime to respect human rights and to incorporate all elements in the governing of the country, columnist Faisal Al-Sheikh wrote in the Bahraini daily Al-Watan that the U.S. is supporting terrorist elements inside and outside Bahrain: "For many decades, Bahrain has acted in good faith and complete transparency vis-a-vis the American side, and the minimum it expects in return is for its 'friends' to reciprocate - instead of one day discovering in WikiLeaks documents that the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain is in contact with oppositionists who have revolutionary records and blatant loyalty to foreign elements, with the aim of weakening Bahrain's legitimate regime...

"John Kerry made unambiguous statements about Bahrain's elections, and placed on the revolutionary associations... the blame for the increasing sectarian tension in Bahrain because of their position regarding the elections.[11] This is true, but Kerry should have clarified his statements more, and proved to us his credibility even more clearly. This is because the events that took place in Bahrain five years ago - that is, the slogans [calling] to violate the law, the spread of an atmosphere of chaos and terrorism, and the clear Iranian [pro-opposition] mobilization that came with them - were not hidden from the U.S. and its intelligence apparatuses. As a result, Mr. Kerry, Bahrain suffered from systematic terrorism, and some of the leaders, and backers, of this terrorism and the instigators of this failed coup [were given] American aid...

"Therefore, the time has come to reexamine this American policy that operates by outwardly growing close to countries in the name of friendship while secretly working to support entities and groups with agendas that harm those same countries. History tells us about several of these groups, relating that Al-Qaeda emerged after Osama bin Laden achieved success because he received various types of aid from the U.S. to fight the Soviets. [History proves] that even ISIS was a U.S. creation.

"Oh, Mr. Kerry, in order to fight and stop terrorism, the U.S. should first and foremost stop supporting it and those who champion terrorist and extremist religious ideology in their countries. Perhaps you now have a chance, starting with Bahrain, to stop [your] aid to those... who harmed the symbols of the state and to all those who cheered [the slogan] 'Down with Bahrain' - which, Allah willing, will never fall."[12]

The U.S. Is The Greatest Violator Of Human Rights - It Should Not Be Lecturing Others

On June 5, 2016, following U.S. criticism of the heavier sentence handed down by the appellate court to Bahraini Shi'ite opposition leader 'Ali Salman, columnist Ibrahim Al-Sheikh wrote in the official daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej: "The world's modern history has never seen a country that harms human rights and kills millions like America. Despite this, we see that it is interfering in every aspect of our [Arab] countries, sparking internal strife within them. [America] pretends innocence, and calls for human rights when it itself is far removed from such things. U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby's statement regarding the verdict against 'Ali Salman...[13] is provocative and harms a sovereign nation with an independent judiciary [by] ordering it to release one of its prisoners. [Such a statement constitutes] a self-righteous lecture to [this sovereign nation] on who it should and should not imprison, and on what the rules for participating in peaceful protests should be. Yes, this is the same America whose security forces two years ago arrested over 500 protestors who opposed the war in Iraq.

"And while we are on the subject of Iraq, then America should be ashamed of itself, since it dons a priest's robes before the world while in reality it acts like the leader of a criminal, murderous gang that destroyed and plundered Iraq, harmed the honor of its dignified women, and committed every shameful act [imaginable]... and then lectured us on morality."[14]

U.S. Should Worry About Human Rights Violations At Home Instead Of In Bahrain

On June 20, 2016, following State Department spokesman Kirby's expression of concern regarding Bahrain's decision to suspend the activity of the Al-Wefaq Society,[15] Akhbar Al-Khaleej editor-in-chief Anwar 'Abd Al-Rahman wrote in an open letter to Kirby and the U.S. government: "Dear Mr. Kirby, it would be better if, instead of criticizing the Bahraini government like this, you were 'extremely concerned' about what is happening in your own country. The reality there, which you never speak of in your statements, is absolutely horrifying. For example, in 2015 alone, police in your country killed 965 American citizens, yet the police received no punishment befitting their crime. Or, for instance... the horrific crime and shocking violation of human rights - I am referring to the fact that women prisoners in American prisons were forced to have sexual relations with guards in return for improved conditions, and that in the past decade 57 women were murdered in the prisons...

"The grim picture in your country does not end there. There are additional terrible facts: Over 88% of black Americans are exposed every day to discrimination and humiliation by white police officers; 68% of black Americans experience negative racist and cruel treatment in courts...

"Oh, Mr. Kirby, Bahrain is afflicted by none of the social maladies of the U.S. In Bahrain we are all equal, and there are no differences among the citizens. The situation in our country is several times better than that in yours, where all the nation's wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1% of its tycoons.

"You said that you were concerned about the suspension of the activity of a political society [in Bahrain], so I ask you: Would you in the U.S. allow the activity of a political society that incites violence, hatred, and terrorism? Would you allow the activity of a society whose supporters are mostly children and teen boys who are encouraged to throw firebombs at police, terrorize society, and undermine its security and stability?... Why aren't you issuing a statement expressing concern over the long list of human rights violations in your own country? Or do you want us to see that you consider the U.S. a model of perfection and the embodiment of Plato's ideal republic? When we compare our situation with yours in the U.S.... then we have the right, Mr. Kirby, to ask: 'Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?'

"In conclusion: Mr. Kirby, you must know that our country of Bahrain is a good and kind land, far from the cruelty and barbarism you know in your own nation. Despite this, it is the duty of the Bahraini government to protect its citizens and residents from the dangers of the Al-Wefaq [Society] and the perils of the forces of evil and crime in Iraq, who fund and support Al-Wefaq and who do not hesitate for an instant to spark murderous chaos in our country."[16]

The U.S.'s Values Of Liberalism Need To Be Questioned

The Bahraini press also featured a series of articles harshly critical of the U.S., following the State Department's censuring of Bahrain for revoking the citizenship of Shi'ite sheikh 'Isa Qassim. Journalist 'Abd Al-Mun'im Ibrahim wrote: "The country is doing its duty for the security of the citizens who are the ones harmed by the violence and fire [of the Shi'ite opposition]. Therefore, there is no way out of taking substantial measures, rather than superficial ones - not merely bandaging the wound but eliminating the cause of the crime - the knife - which over the past 15 years has been destroying the homeland and killing its citizens. I am referring to the Al-Wefaq Society and its spiritual leader 'Isa Qassim.

"If some of the superpowers, particularly America, believe that the legal measures taken by the Bahraini government - that is, closing Al-Wefaq's headquarters, confiscating its assets, and revoking 'Isa Qassim's Bahraini citizenship - are improper and ask [Bahrain] to reverse them, then their faith in values of liberalism should be questioned... The Al-Wefaq Society and 'Isa Qassim do not believe in the values of liberalism, but rather in Iranian [Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's] Rule of the Jurisprudent and the clerics' autocracy... If America or any other European nation relinquishes its liberal values and supports theocratic societies, treating them as democratic, then this means that all their political slogans and the humanitarian principles that they talk about of are nothing but false cover for how they treat others!

"The Bahraini government does its duty to protect the security of its citizens from terrorism and from those who incite violence - while America and the West need to clarify their stance vis-à-vis theocracy, that is, the regime of the clerics and the Iranian Rule of the Jurisprudent."[17]

U.S., Iran Work Together To Spread Terror In Arab Countries To Bring Them Down

Bahraini journalist Al-Sayyed Zahra also addressed the U.S.'s criticism of Bahrain's revocation of 'Isa Qassim's citizenship. Accusing the U.S. of collaborating with Iran to incite and spread terrorism in Bahrain in order to cause its collapse, he wrote: "A while ago I warned in several analysis articles that a new American-Iranian alliance is forming in the region, whose main and tangible driving factor is a convergence of the Iranian and American plans for the Arab region. Both of these plans converge in their opting to destroy and divide Arab countries and spark internal sectarian strife and chaos [in them]. More accurately, this new alliance is one of [spreading] terrorism in Arab countries, mainly by encouraging sectarian and terrorist forces and organizations [there]...

"Bahrain too was used as an arena for the convergence of the American and Iranian positions on the developments in the country... Even prior to the attempted sectarian coup in Bahrain in 2011, there was a confluence of American and Iranian voices supporting the revolutionary sectarian elements, expressing the same opinions that could undermine Bahrain's security and stability.

"Let us take a good look at the positions declared by American and Iranian officials regarding recent events in Bahrain, and analyze their precise meaning. As we know, there have recently been reports on verdicts [handed down] by the Bahraini legal system and on state decisions, both of which aim to ensure the country's security and stability and block sectarian forces tied to foreign [elements] in order to prevent them from implementing known terrorist agendas.

"It is neither strange nor surprising to discover that only two countries in the entire world - Iran and the U.S. - were the first to immediately declare nearly identical hostile positions regarding these developments. Regarding the verdict handed down to 'Ali Salman, the suspension of the activity of the Al-Wefaq Society, and the decision to revoke the citizenship of 'Isa Qassim - regarding all these affairs, officials in Iran and the U.S. had the same position, as expressed in their official communiqués and statements...

"Therefore, it would not be excessive to say that these positions by Iran and the U.S. embody the new terrorist alliance between the [two countries]... [But] we must not forget that Bahrain already managed to thwart the grand coup plot that Iran and the U.S. tried their best to support, and proved that it was stronger than any pact or plot and can crush any conspiracy to death and bury it."[18]

U.S. Ambassador's Meeting With Bahraini Shi'ite Clerics Related To Terrorist Attacks In The Country

On July 1, 2016, a roadside bomb killed a woman in the village of Al-Ekar near the Bahraini capital of Manama. Several days prior, the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain met in Manama with representatives from the Shi'ite opposition, some of them members of the Al-Wefaq Society.[19] A July 3, 2016 article in Akhbar Al-Khaleej by writer 'Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Ziyani, written in the wake of these two events, stated: "We can by no means separate the meetings that were held and are [still] being held by the American ambassador to Bahrain with Shi'ite clerics from the terrorist attacks that kill passersby in the streets. Any lay citizen who sees these meetings, and who sees and hears about the attacks that came in their wake, makes the connection between the two. Otherwise, why would the American ambassador hold meetings with clerics at this precise timing, just as happened during the 2011 events?[20]

"It is improper for a country to remain silent over the interference of the American ambassador in its domestic affairs. It is not his business, and this behavior is improper and is not in line with international agreements and treaties that outline the role and duties of ambassadors. This situation repeats itself, yet the country does not take a decisive and aggressive stand on this matter, which troubles Bahrainis. It is clear that this [recent] meeting [between the ambassador and Shi'ite oppositionists] was made in coordination with the Al-Wefaq Society, which has been outlawed... The involvement of any ambassador from any country [in Bahrain's affairs] should stop. This is unacceptable and [the importance of] matters concerning Bahrain's sovereignty must not be downplayed..."[21]

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] On the 2011 unrest in Bahrain and the media war between Iran and the Gulf states at the time, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 678,

The Bahrain Situation: Media Clashes Between the Iranian-Shi'ite Camp and the Saudi-Sunni Camp, March 17, 2011; on protests by the Shi'ite opposition in 2013, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1007, "Bahrain Prepares For August 14 Anti-Regime Protests Planned By 'Tamarrud Bahrain' Movement," August 13, 2013.

[2] Salman was arrested in December 2014 on charges of agitating for the overthrow of the regime and inciting sectarianism and non-compliance with the law (Al-Wasat, Bahrain, May 30, 2016).

[3] Al-Wasat (Bahrain), June 14, 2016.

[4] Al-Wasat (Bahrain), July 17, 2016.

[5] Al-Wasat (Bahrain), June 15, 2016.

[6] Qassim was accused of establishing organizations subordinate to an external religious and political authority (i.e., Iran) while taking advantage of his religious status; harming coexistence in Bahrain; encouraging extremism and sectarianism; calling for a theocracy, and raising funds by illegal means (Al-Wasat, Bahrain, June 20, 2016). It should be mentioned that the measure of revoking citizenship was also used against other Shi'ite oppositionists in the country, both before and after Sheikh Qassim. For example, on June 19 Bahrain imposed this penalty on 11 Shi'ites convicted of forming a terror cell (alarabiya.net, June 23, 2016) and on June 27, on a group of five other individuals for forming ties with terrorist elements (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, June 27, 2016).

[7] On May 31, 2016, following the extension of Salman's sentence, U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said: "The United States is deeply concerned by the sentencing of the secretary general of Al-Wefaq society, Sheikh 'Ali Salman, to nine years in prison on charges of public incitement and hatred. We believe that no one should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly... We strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to abide by its international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression, to reject these charges against Sheikh 'Ali Salman, and to release him..." (state.gov, May 31, 2016). On June 14, after Bahrain suspended Al-Wefaq's activity, Kirby said, in a similar vein: "We are deeply troubled by today's alarming move by the Government of Bahrain to dissolve the opposition political society Al-Wefaq... and we urge Bahraini officials to reconsider this decision... Peaceful criticism of the government plays a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic societies (state.gov, June 14, 2016). On July 17, following Bahrain's dissolving of Al-Wefaq, U.S. State Secretary John Kerry said that the United States was deeply concerned by this decision and by other "steps to suppress nonviolent opposition," which, he said, would only "undermine Bahrain's cohesion and security, as well as the region's stability," and called on Bahrain to reverse this measure (state.gov, July 17, 2016). The U.S. State Department also strongly condemned  "the Government of Bahrain's decision to revoke the citizenship of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim," adding, "We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain's practice of withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily [and by] the overall precedent that this case could establish... We worry that this case, as well as other recent actions by the Government, will further divert Bahrainis from the path of reform and reconciliation" (state.gov, June 20, 2016).   

[8] Uk.reuters.com, April 7, 2016.

[9] Bahrainalyoum.com, June 30, 2016.

[10] Responding to Kerry's statements condemning the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, the Bahraini foreign ministry said that it constituted this unacceptable intervention in Bahrain's affairs and in the decisions of its judiciary, and an unjustified display of bias in favor of "those who pursue extremism and terror" (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, July 19, 2016).

[11] In a press conference with his Bahraini counterpart on April 7, Kerry said that the opposition erred when it decided to boycott the 2014 parliamentary elections, and that the regime expressed willingness to hold free elections in 2018 that would include all elements without violence or threats. Mirror.no-ip.org, April 7, 2016.

[12] Al-Watan (Bahrain), April 9, 2016.

[13] The State Department asked Bahraini authorities to dismiss Salman's charges and release him. State.gov, May 31, 2016.

[14] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), June 5, 2016.

[15] On June 14, Kirby said that the U.S. was extremely concerned by Bahrain's decision to dismantle the Al-Wefaq Society opposition body, urged it to reconsider the move, and stated that any nonviolent criticism of the government plays a vital role in constructing inclusive and pluralist societies. State.gov, June 14, 2016.

[16] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), June 20, 2016.

[17] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), June 23, 2016.

[18] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), June 23, 2016.

[19] Bahrainalyoum.com, June 30, 2016.

[20] The writer is referring to accusations that the U.S. embassy in Bahrain held ties with the Al-Wefaq Society prior to the Shi'ite uprising in the country in February 2011, based on documents published by WikiLeaks.

[21] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), July 3, 2016.