Don't Forget Bahrain

IN THE same month members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) gathered at their Spring Conference to discuss how to stop the bloodshed in Syria, a former opposition Bahraini MP has urged the politicians and the Scottish public not to forget the violence in his homeland.

Ali Al Aswad, was invited to Glasgow University by the Middle East and North Africa Forum (MNAF) and stated the world had forgotten the “atrocities and killings” in the small Gulf state. He also hit out at the lack of media coverage.

He said: “We are lucky if we get 45 seconds from Al Jazeera. Compare the coverage they or other networks have given to Bahrain in relation to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.” Al Jazeera would refute such accusations and point out to its award winning Shouting in the Dark documentary that highlighted uprisings in the country.

Protests against the ruling royal family began last year with the focal point being Pearl Square in the capital city of Manama. The Government concerned at the growing dissent called in soldiers from Saudi Arabia to quell demonstrations.

According to Human Rights Watch soldiers alongside local security forces have committed abuses against civilians, medical staff and members of the media.

Al Aswad was further critical of the stance taken by leading Western nations. He asked: “Why were France, the UK and USA wanting to arm the Syrian Free Army or the National Transitional Council in Libya but are silent when it comes to protecting the rights of the people in Bahrain? The Arab League is very quiet. In Bahrain there was no armed uprising or militia. I am asking the people of Scotland and the UK to contact their MSPs and MPs in order to stop the British Government from selling arms to Bahrain or Saudi Arabia as they are being used to attack, torture and kill innocent people.”

According to some Middle Eastern analysts Saudi Arabia is particularly apprehensive as the toppling of the Al Khalifa family could inspire Shia’s in the Kingdom to organise similar uprisings, therefore eroding Sunni domination in the region.

Many Bahrainis also point out to the brutality shown by security forces, many of who are recruited from Sunni countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Jordan. One man in the audience told me: “Imagine being treated like a second class citizen in your country and for wanting change you are tortured by a foreigner. You can understand the frustration.”

Despite making up 70% of the population the Shia are ruled by a Sunni minority and have long complained of discrimination. Currently exiled in London Al Aswad was keen to downplay the issue of sectarianism. He continued: “Sunni leaders have also been imprisoned and tortured. All Bahrainis want democracy whether you are Sunni or Shia. The rulers though are more concerned about whether the Formula One race goes ahead than the rights of the local population.”

Although John Yates, the former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, who is overseeing police reform in Bahrain, has stated that he feels more comfortable in Bahrain than in London. He has also been quoted as saying that false and inaccurate information was being distributed on the Internet regarding the current situation in the country.

Former Labour MSP Pauline McNeill is the chair of MNAF. She had recently attended the International Conference on Jerusalem but believed it was vital human rights abuses in Bahrain were not forgotten.

Also speaking was Mick Napier from the Scottish Palestinian Society. He said the fight for freedom for Bahrain “is as legitimate as the Palestinian cause”. Meanwhile a representative of the Stop the War told the audience the role of the UK, USA and Saudi Arabia in Bahrain should be of concern and not that of Iran.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on force used by security services as “excessive” but has been criticised for not taking a stronger line with the Bahraini monarchy.