Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The Bahrainis all witnessed how he asked the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, one question after another. It was a 10-minute bold but calm interview, which he could have never managed to have with a minor official in his own country.
It's Sayed Ahmad Al-Wadaei. This young man had the potential to hold one of the high-ranking positions in his country. He graduated as an engineer in the United Kingdom and returned to Bahrain hoping to contribute to the national efforts aimed at building his country. Instead of having the opportunity to do so, he was left unemployed and then thrown in jail where he was subject to torture. Thus, he fled the kingdom seeking a safe haven. Earlier this year (2015), he was stripped of his Bahraini citizenship.
Hammond listened to his questions and strong arguments. As he held the recently published Amnesty International report, Al-Wadaei exposed the opportunism of the British government in front of the UK Foreign Secretary. As any diplomat, Hammond began to justify his government's actions towards Bahrain, and as a champion of a cause, Al-Wadaei began to refute every justification Hammond made, one after another. Bahrain Mirror met with Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and interviewed him about the latest results of the UK election, which the Conservative party won again, and Hammond kept his role as foreign secretary. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Bahrain Mirror: You met with UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond before the election. He seemed to be very responsive, what did you think of his comments?
Sayed Ahmad Al-Wadaei: Hammond's attitude was diplomatic and positive. He is a diplomat and holds the role of the foreign secretary, so he should have enough courtesy. Despite all that, he was beating around the bush and didn't make sense in my opinion. The argument he presented was weak and he was focusing on superficial matters without speaking of the real challenges. He failed to refute the evaluation of the human rights groups and the United Nations, which I consider is a fault that can be used against him.
Bahrain Mirror: Why did the Conservative party win? Does the foreign policy of a nominated party affect the voter's choice?
Al-Wadaei: I don't think the British voter cares about foreign policies very much. What the UK is doing in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia greatly concerns the country, but it doesn't concern the voters. What the voters care about is an economically strong government that will lead to economic recovery amid its harsh crisis. The Tories claim that they boosted the British economy and made it one of the most fast-growing economies during the crisis. They took over the government with a nearly exhausted state budget and reduced deficits by almost a half in the past five years. The British citizen is concerned about his own local interest before anything. His personal concerns come first. If he sees that a certain party has made achievements on the level of incomes, he will certainly choose this party.
Bahrain Mirror: What if the Labour Party won the election, would have there been a difference in Britain's foreign policy towards Bahrain and the Gulf?
Al-Wadaei: There would have been a difference if a coalition government was formed; if the Labour Party along with the Scottish National Party, which adopts a very liberal approach, formed a coalition government. If the party managed to have a share in power, it would have been possible to have a change in foreign policy as was the case in Sweden. Liberal governments have an approach that differs from the approach of right wing governments. This; however, is a matter of the past. David Cameron now leads the Conservatives who won the vast majority. This will affect UK's foreign policy towards the Gulf negatively. In the next five years, we will hear more statements saying that Bahrain is "on the right track" and is doing a great job.
Bahrain Mirror: How do you read the Conservatives' foreign policy towards the crises in Bahrain and the Gulf, especially after the return of the military base to the country?
Al-Wadaei: Unfortunately, the Tories, in general, and David Cameron in particular after becoming the Prime Minister focused on one main objective, which is to establish strategic relations with Gulf States, mainly based on arms deals, because the UK was experiencing an economic crisis. Cameron believed that the best way to overcome this economic crisis was to establish a very strong strategic, economic and military alliance with the Gulf States. Also, unfortunately, there are still a number of members of right wing and conservative parties who think that Britain shouldn't have withdrawn from the Gulf, and that the UK is still capable of having control over the Middle East and that Britain should restore its military presence there. Some of them still have this mentality. It is not surprising to see the British hegemony return to the region.
Bahrain Mirror: You have been making attempts these past five years to influence the British stance, have you failed? What is your plan for the next five years?
Al-Wadaei: We are still in the process of drawing a plan in this regards by studying all the variances. We are still studying the situation and will draw our strategy accordingly. I believe that there should be communication with the current government and meetings with the Conservative party, with the urgency of evaluating the British government's performance and highlighting its failures. The other way is to pressure the government through other available means such as the parliament. The UK is a democratic country which has available means of influence, and the most significant of which is the British parliament. Bahrain's voice there is still very strong, either by posing questions or parliamentary petitions presented by some MPs. There is also constant contact with the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs. This is one of the most important committee's that we'll continue to communicate with. Although a Conservative party member was contacting the committee in the past period, its opinion was very clear as it criticized the foreign office's annual report. I absolutely believe that the civil rights groups, human rights organizations, British media, and judiciary in the UK can affect the British government's performance. There is still a big chance to manage to pressure into a change in British foreign policy towards Bahrain.
Bahrain Mirror: Do you have a plan to develop your relationship with the Conservative party or will you keep the same distance?
Al-Wadaei: There is a relationship and it will grow to be stronger than before. There cannot be an influence without having contact with the ruling party. The pressure made by opposition parties is not enough.
Bahrain Mirror: Why is there a difference between Britain's foreign policy towards Bahrain and that of the United States?
Al-Wadaei: Indeed, there is considerable progress and a shift in US foreign policy on Bahrain towards providing more support for democratic governments, whereas Britain's stance is becoming worse, as it is obvious that the UK is blatantly backing dictatorships. For instance, the US State Department annual report exposed Bahrain, stating that the problem in Bahrain is the failure to form a government peacefully. Meanwhile in the same year, Britain spoke of real reforms in the Bahraini judicial system and praised the government for making some nominal reforms. Our problem with Britain is that its interests are blinding it to admitting that there is a real problem in Bahrain. The UK always talks about false reforms, while the US openly called for the release of Nabeel Rajab, which indicates a change in Washington's stance when compared to its stance after Rajab's arrest in 2012, and maybe it will continue to publicly pressure to release other detained activists and political prisoners.
On the contrary, you see that Britain is succeeding in other fields. For instance, the UK backs Bahrain in order to develop its Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission, the Independent Commission of Inquiry and other nominal judicial procedural tools. Britain claims that it is training members of the Bahraini government to succeed in this; however, it is completely benefiting from Bahrain. The UK gets whatever it wants, whether it's a military base or buying weapons for Bahrain or other gulf countries even if they don't need them. In 2014, Saudi Arabia became the world's biggest importer of weapons. This indicates that the governments whose policies are based on selling arms and forming military alliances blatantly support authoritarian regimes. The interests of the UK and the US differ, as Washington has democratic reform on its agenda, while Britain clearly says that is working calmly with the Bahraini regime and making achievements, also that it doesn't need to publicly disagree with Bahrain or openly criticize it and that it will continue to tackle the issue behind closed door as the UK claims.
Bahrain Mirror: What is your message to British PM David Cameron after taking office again?
Al-Wadaei: Seeking temporary interests will not serve Britain on the long term, as the country is heading towards inevitable change. The UK can play a positive role for this change instead of providing absolute support for authoritarian governments.