On his 70th Birthday: King of Bahrain’s Not Fine

2020-02-03 - 8:44 am

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): On the 70th birthday of the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, which falls on January 28, the Bahraini ambassador to the UK Sheikh Fawaz Al Khalifa insisted on congratulating him by captioning a photo of the king on a horse, wearing a military uniform filled with badges, with verses from a poem.

The king actually started his reign with spreading joy by opening the door for political liberties as well as the freedom of the press and association. He also cleared prisons, returned expelled citizens to the country and restored the Parliament. However, two decades later, the number of prisoners doubled compared to the number of people who were behind bars when he first came into power. The number of prisoners of the 1990s uprising ranged between 2,000 and 3,000; however, the number of prisoners since the February 14 uprising ranges between 4,000 and 5,000.

Four out of six opposition societies that negotiated with the monarch to meet their political demands in 2011 were shut down: Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Wa'ad, Islamic Action (Amal) Society and Al-Ekhaa.

Three out of five newspapers established under his reign were closed down. Their presence was a sign of media freedoms: Al-Wasat, Al-Waqt and Al-Mithaq newspapers. Only the government's mouthpieces, which are managed and funded by the king's courts were left: Al-Bilad and Al-Watan newspapers. Even these two are facing difficult financial circumstances, while the authorities continue to gradually dismiss the journalists who write in these papers. Both newspapers are unlikely to exist in the scene in the next five years.

Shiite rights defenders and social activists returned to exile. However, this time they returned in greater numbers compared to how many they were when the king took office, as they amounted to around 500 at that time. Family migrations took place spreading across five continents. Even the Sunni community was affected as many have found in Qatar a place to take refuge and obtain the Qatari citizenship, after Bahrain became an intolerable place for them. These included Sunni officers in the Bahraini military such as Yaser Al-Jalahma, former Bahraini member of parliament such as Hamad Al-Muhannadi, a prosecutor such as Ibrahim Hamad Al-Muhannadi and a member of the municipal council, Ali Al-Muhannadi, in addition to the departure of a number of Al-Kuwari, Al-Jalahma, Al-Suwaidi families among others.

During the year King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa came to power in 1999, the country's public debt was around $370 million. Today, it amounts to about $30 billion, according to the latest data from the Central Bank of Bahrain. Today, much of the country's budget is spent on armament. In February 2019, a study conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Bahrain's military purchases from the United States alone have exceeded $6 billion in the past couple of years.

King Hamad crowned his 20 years in office with deep conflict with the Shiite community and its leaders. Shiite religious leaders, such as Sheikh Hussein Najati, have been deported to Lebanon. The spiritual leader of Bahrain's Shia majority, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, was forced into exile after two years under house arrest. The Islamic Awareness Society (Al-Tawiya), whose relaunch was one of King Hamad's first decisions, was closed down. The Ulama Islamic Council was also shut down and the alms (Khums) religious rite, one of the pillars of the Shiite faith, was criminalized and its funds were confiscated.

The king adopted new authoritarian methods that were unprecedented by putting the country's decision-making in the hands of Saudi Arabia, stripping hundreds of citizens of their nationality and naturalizing thousands of foreigners, as part of a systematic policy aimed at changing the country's demographic makeup.

The estimated number of martyrs of the 1990's uprising reached almost 40, killed by security forces. Under the reign of the current king, there have been over 200 martyrs, more than the total of Bahrainis previously killed by security forces since the Al Khalifa family began its rule in 1783.

Under King Hamad's reign, Bahrainis were no longer a priority with regards to employment. The number of foreigners exceeded that of Bahrainis in the country, with 813,377 foreigners and 689,714 Bahrainis. The demographics were tampered with through political naturalization policies, which added about 120,000, at the very least, to the population.

The security services were given the green light to mess with people's lives, pursue them and count their every breath to the extent that the State Security Act (which was abolished in the beginning of the king's reign) now seemed like a nice joke. At least 5 people have been killed by torture, while only two died under torture during the 1990's uprising. Today, the Anti-Cybercrimes Directorate has absolute authority in controling discussions in the virtual public space. This Directorate, established in 2011 for the purposes of combating cybercrime, now has nothing else to do but pursue opinion-makers and journalists on social media, read their tweets, summon them for interrogation, arrest them, refer them to the Public Prosecution or prosecute them in sham trials.

There's nothing the king can boast about anymore. The country is now living off Gulf (Saudi- Emirati-Kuwaiti) aid. Even the nominal institutions he had established, such as the parliament, municipal councils and audit office, have become a mockery to the people.

The Parliament approved decisions to which the people opposed, such as the value added tax, using the unemployment fund to finance other projects, allowing the practice of citizenship revocation and depriving members of dissolved societies of political participation and voting. 

Municipal councils complain about the lack of powers they have, which other municipal councils such as governorate councils enjoy. Now municipal members of the Capital Governorate are appointed rather than being elected. The National Audit Office has issued 16 reports revealing major corruption cases, yet not a single corrupt person has been tried or referred to prosecution.

Seventy years of the reformist king's life have passed, but the king is no longer a reformer. Happy birthday King.

Arabic Version