In an important area though, the regime has until actually discriminated against tribals. Until 1996, these were not allocated any ministerial posts. While 'strategic' ministries in the cabinet are reserved for the ruling family itself, the remaining ' service ministries', are divided, generally equally, among Shia and Sunni ministers. Unlike its counterparts in the region, the al-Khalifa has consistently excluded its tribals from taking political posts. Instead, Sunni ministers have always been drawn from the Howala, i.e. descendants of Sunni families inhabiting the Persian side of the Gulf and who migrated to Bahrain during early decades of this century. Only recently, (June 1996) did a non-al-Khalifa tribal person get selected to a cabinet post. [22]

It is not an inherent contradiction between tribalism, in a modernised form, with representative politics, in a diluted form, but its is rather the regime's failure to reconcile segmentation with constitutional rule. There are reasons for this failure.

One its effective instruments in maintaining societal segmentation is the right to grant gratuities, including plots of land, senior employment positions, and citizenship. This right would have been severely curtailed by parliamentary controls. Religionist-leftist members of parliament jointly proposed additional measures in this direction. National characters of contentious politics seriously challenged vertical segmentation of society. Tribal and sectarian instruments of mobilisation were competing with nationalist instruments. From regime perspectives, tribalism and sectarianism are political tools that can only be optimally utilised within conflict situations where an adversary is equally disposed to using them as tools of contention and of mobilisation. Once members of parliament, particularly the religionists, refused to follow tribal or sectarian rules of the game, as stipulated by the ruling core, the game itself has effectively ended.

Constitutional politics, including the system of representation were not, in themselves, threatening regime's tribal character or its stability. It is a matter of discussion whether they would have curtailed its ability to mobilise its internal and external sources of power. It was becoming increasingly clear that constitutional politics was beginning to take forms incompatible with the objectives set for it by the regime. Non-segmentary politics were becoming dangerously unpredictable as they were moved outside the parliamentary chambers. Moreover, co-operation between leftists and religionist blocs threatened to transform the parliament from being a consultative and largely ceremonial body, into a deliberative body that even aspires to shoulder some legislative and policy-making roles. Pressed by their respective constituencies, leftist and religionists as well as some independents, sought to translate their popular backing into a real power. While doing so, they were repeatedly and directly on collision course with the forces of status quo, particularly the ruling core.

Excessively optimist opposition figures actually considered those nascent moves by the parliament as the beginning of a strong national opposition movement. Supporters of regime, on the other hand, continued to call for 'elimination of alien ideologies...lest the seeds of communism ferment'. (al-Adwaa, 20/6/1974)

With the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that both hopes and fears were premature. Joint actions by religionists, leftists and independents during the last six months of the life of the National Assembly remained tactical and at times simply procedural. Parliamentary experience was too short lived to generate sufficiently solid ground for continuing nation-building process in spite of the regime. Probably, more immediately damaging was that leftist-religionist co-operation was too superficial to generate sufficiently viable grounds to encourage participants, as individuals or as political forces, to continue their co-operation outside the Assembly and after its dissolution. In the absence of parliament, some of the requisites for continuing the process of nationification of contentious politics were missing or, to be more precise, not fully developed. There are some additional factors to this.

First, the ruling core continued to exercise full control of all major sources surplus appropriation. This unrestricted control enabled it to continue steer major economic and political actors, play them against each other and affirm their dependence on its goodwill. All other classes and social strata lacked solid economic capabilities outside orbit of the regime. All of them were dependent on regime's economic ventures and political goodwill of its ruling core for their survival and prosperity. To an extent, only workers were capable of independent action. This particular privilege enjoyed by local workers was gradually disappearing as their share in the work force began to dwindle as a result of increased reliance on imported labour force. Second, Bahraini constitution did not provide for mechanism to separate the regime and its ruling core on the one hand, from government, as both an executive and administrative organ from other institutions of rule such as the judiciary, the military and security forces on the other. All organs of state continued to be extensions of formal and informal powers of the ruling core. Third, resources at the disposal of the regime, the docility of its social base, and regional and international support, enabled it to embark on a massive reconstructive operation. These resources enabled regime to totally dismiss calls for return to constitution. Moreover, to the dismay of increasingly demoralised opponents, the regime has actually been able to initiate modernisation process of its institutions, to borrow an expression, with rather than against tribalism and communalism (Bromley, 1993). However, modernisation also meant the creation of departments and apparatus to ensure control and order (Seikaly: 1996).
A major part of the ruling core's success in staging its coup against the constitution in 1975, and in consolidating that coup until now, may be explained by developments that took place after the oil boom-crises of the 1970s. As a boom it enabled the regime to mobilise internal sources of power, while as al crises enabled the regime to mobilise external sources of power. In the following digression, I present a brief explanation.

At first, the boom quadrupled financial resources at the disposal of the ruling core. Consequently, the regime has been able, since 1975, of unleashing its full potential. Additional resources allowed it to launch a social restructuring programme of 'conservative modernisation'. Substantial resources were invested in development projects including infrastructure, health, education and housing. Through these expenditures the ruling core has been able to control, encourage and/or pre-empt, the emergence and growth of various social strata. While it continued its endeavours to strengthen its intermediaries, it was willing to put their loyalty to test.

Seikaly (1996) notes that the 'tremendous growth in oil wealth after 1973, has been successful in building up the infrastructure and other manifestations of the state along modern lines and has provided citizens with a wide range of services such as education, health, social services, even entertainment. These have been central projects by the state, the supreme employer and provider of benefits. Therefore, the ruling institution plays the major role in creating and withholding opportunities whether from women or any other subaltern. It has also rationalised its legitimacy through these achievements and by building a network of alliances based on tribal, sometimes religious and/or economic interests.... Economic favours in the form of money or land donations, or control of power-generating posts are some of the means by which these alliances were and are cemented'. (p.130)

As the supreme patron, the ruling core has shown a remarkable ability to maintain balance among its intermediaries and to prevent uncontrolled growth of any of these intermediaries. Oil boom has provided sufficient resources to continue recruiting additional, potential, intermediaries from nearly every social backgrounds. The entrepreneurial sector, for example, which was a major beneficiary of oil-boom investments, provided the regime with a new, and relatively modern, source of intermediaries. To a large extent, the sector expanded on basis of political loyalty , rather than tribal or sectarian proximity to the regime. Project contracts, big and small, were awarded on grounds of political loyalty. Some entrepreneurs, considered not sufficiently loyal, have lost their already awarded contracts. Being in the good books of the Amir, the Prime Minister or the crown prince adds some considerable push to a business venture. Regular attendance to the weekly majlis, court, of any of these potentates, or preferably all, provides as strong guarantee as any bank credit. Mainly through these princely courts, the ruling core disperses its gratuities.

The regime was able to attract enough of regional petro-dollars to transform Bahrain into a regional banking and financial centre. It also started many development projects, including the construction of several new townships that helped improving living conditions for low and middle-income families and, thus, eliminating one major source for discontent. Expanding economy also reduced rates of unemployment in the country, particularly among university graduates and led to improving levels of wages for local labour force.

The oil crisis provided the regime of an opportunity to mobilise a nest of external resources of power. Most important of these is US military, economic and above all political support. While American military presence on Bahrain goes back to 1949, it gained its geopolitical importance in 1968 following British decision to withdraw from the region. US Navy secured an agreement leasing the former British bases a 'homeport' for U.S. Middle East Task Force (Cordesman 1984:583). The U$ 4 million per year lease agreement was a central point of contention between the regime and its parliamentary opponents. In the heat of October War following a revelation that the US facilities in Bahrain were used as a supply base for Israeli war efforts, the regime issued a public statement promising it will not renew the four years lease agreement signed on 1971. The matter was taken up once more in June 1975 at the National Assembly to confirm its members' opposition to American military presence in Bahrain. The government used its constitutional privilege to postpone voting on the issue. The regime was determined to shield US military facilities from intrusive parliamentary debates.

This, combined with its determination, at whatever cost, to renew the lease agreement with US Navy have, in my view, provided sufficient reasons to dissolve the parliament. Preventing parliamentary intrusion may, so in my view, explain the American wholehearted support to the unconstitutional regime in Bahrain. Within few years and in the absence parliament, the HQs for US 5th fleet were located in Bahrain.

From the regime's perspective, more US military involvement would encourage more American and other foreign investments, and would eventually yield additional sources of income, respectability and protection. Together, these would make up the strategic rents that supplement other sources of rent on which the regime is dependent. These aspects of US military presence gained additional importance following the fall of Shah of Iran, the eruption of Iraq-Iran war and its ramifications, and, more recently, the Gulf War II.

Together, external and internal resources have been enhancing the position of the ruling family as 'an autonomous state elite'. They have also increased the regime's infrastructural and despotic powers particularly its capacity to actually penetrate society and subdue it through fragmentation, co-optation and direct repression without needing to enter into routine, institutionalised negotiation with any societal force, including the regime's own power base.

Additional resources given to various internal security apparatuses helped its expansion to be the largest single employment sector in the country. Within the first decade of the oil boom allocations for security and defence increased from US$22.5 million in 1974 to U$ to 236.4 millions in 1983, or 11% to 20% of total government expenditures for respectively. [23] Empowered with state security law of 1974 and with several amendments to the 1976 Penal Code, security apparatuses grew to become formidable bulwark for the regime. Unrestricted powers of the security forces, particularly the British - led Security and Intelligence Services, SIS, continued to grow as a result of the ruling family's growing insolence and paranoia, as well as the inability of its ruling core to trust any local social force.

Since1975, Bahrain lived under a virtual state of emergency, which has pushed all forms of political opposition underground. Effective harassment and brutal measures undertaken by the SIS include: limiting to one year the validity of passports issued to students; banning students to return to their universities abroad; withholding or withdrawing the mandatory certificate of good behaviour from job seekers; frequent use of preventive detention of 'potential trouble makers; detention without charge or trial for periods that often exceed even the 3-years stipulated by State Security law; extensive use of physical torture. Opposition's worse fears of the unrestricted powers of the security services, particularly the powers of SIS chief, the Scottish General Ian Henderson, were tragically corroborated, in 1976, with the first known case of death of political detainees under torture. The following two decades brought many other similarly tragic justifications of those fears.

Expanding economy, and infrastructural projects, helped the regime, in spite of its excesses, to win many supporters and to loose many opponents. Attrition, co-optation or demoralisation transformed a numerous political activists, including many well-known political figures who spent years as political detainees, into passivity. In time, many of these will be selected to fill senior position in government and public institutions and ill become highly visible and vocal defenders of the status quo.

Building on President Sadat religious mobilisation, and on lessons from its own parliamentary experiment, the regime sought to complement its clerical establishment with younger, more outspoken and modern clerics, graduates of religious seminaries at al-Azhar and al-Najaf and Qum. Contentious politics were brought back from the national and the concrete to the ethnic and the spiritual. Several religious networks, Shia as well as Sunni received official approval as 'charitable associations'. These received regular financial grants from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. While it is likely that some have received gratuities from the ruling core, there are no official records to gauge regime's preferences on this sphere. In similarity with informal networks, these associations were discouraged from co-ordinating their activities.

Partly in response to pressures from local and Saudi clerics and as a contribution to the ongoing moral re-armament the regime disbanded, in 1981, the committee formed by various women associations to co-ordinate their efforts to in defence of women rights. (Fakhro:1986; Seikaly:1997). The move can also be seen as a result of the ruling core's antipathy to any form of co-ordination across vertical segments.

The regime growing self-confidence was confirmed in a number of measures taken to prevent use work places and schools and universities as grounds for training and recruitment of political activists. In 1976 the regime banned the student union, NUBS, and took several measures to discourage students from joining its branches abroad. In spite of remarkable resistance, it was increasing obvious that the dwindling numbers of student opposing the regime were fighting a loosing battle. Within few years, the majority of Bahraini students abroad became members of the regime-sponsored 'clubs'. Similar arrangements were made to reduce labour activism and to present an acceptable and legal alternative to underground trade unions. . In 1981, the ministry of labour and social affairs announced the formation of 'General Workers Committee' that will be elected by workers committees formed in major workplaces in the country. Although these workers committees were not as successful as their counterparts among students, they succeeded in making workplace free from underground political agitation by rectifying many of the strictly workplace-related grievances.

Depending on one's point of view, the regime may be morally condemned for its anti-constitutional coup d'état and its systematic violations of human rights. Yet, it was finding many new supporters in the beneficiaries of gratuities, public expenditures and investments. In other words, in the absence of parliament the regime was actually enhancing its authority and increasing actual and potential internal sources of its power.

Strategy of segmenting society into manageable vertical parallels has once again proven as a potent instrument of rule and control. Expressions of discontent are tolerated and responded through acceptable intermediaries, through direct gratuities, or through the indiscriminate and decisive measures by the security services, particularly the British-led SIS. Combined, these resources have succeeded in maintaining the status quo and preventing the re-emergence of national politics.

Students of the region, of course, are aware that the general tranquillity that prevailed in Bahrain throughout the period, did not mean absence of activities by various underground organisations and groups. Indeed records of regional and international human rights organizations attest to the stubborn determination of the increasingly ineffectual underground to continue their opposition activities. However, these groups during the heydays of the oil boom-crises were bound by historical circumstance to be limited and short-lived actions. None of them posed a serious challenge to the regime and the vertically segmented society that it managed to build. Some of the actions initiated by opposition groups during this period were reaction to economic difficulties resulting from corruption and mismanagement of resources as well as from vagaries of oil market and fluctuations of financial resources available to the regime.

One of few serious attempts by leftist organisations to regain political initiative and to break out of sectarian constraints was probably that of 1986. Known leaders of the move were sentenced to long prison terms. [24] During the same period, several measures were taken against Shia clerics that sought to play more than its assigned role as a village-based sectarian intermediary groups. One of these measures was the closure of the Islamic Enlightenment Society, IES, 'together with two girls schools and one high-studies circle, this bringing to an end 12 years of peaceful and open activities [by the IES]'. (Dabrowska, 1997:101). [25]

While periodic economic difficulties gave rise to an equally periodic unease among Bahraini business community which also reacts against increasing business competition from members of the ruling family. On occasions, this leads to re-emergence of public calls, beyond the limited sphere of the underground, for 'restoration of democratic life'. Occasionally too, depending on gravity of 'economic difficulties', the regime tolerates these calls and ease censorship on these issues. On such times, local press is permitted to printing articles and interviews with former MPs and other notables on the 'blessings of democracy', and on the need to 'share the burden of rule'. The last such an occasion occurred during 1990-91, during preparations for the liberation of Kuwait as a first step towards building of the promised New World Order.

In nearly fifteen years after the dissolution of parliament, the generally peaceful and vertical segmented social order was not seriously challenged. I want to emphasise that political contentions, of course, were taking place, but within the boundaries formulated by the regime and not outside those boundaries or against the political choices of the regime. Residential groups, professional associations and groups; clans and families; social clubs, charitable associations, were competing with each other, sometimes fiercely, partly for their own survival and partly to obtain additional gratuities. Resolutely discouraged from co-ordination their activities, these vertical segments were allowed to be vocally assertive, albeit temporary, representatives of their constituencies. These constituencies cover a broad spectrum, from the definitely traditional to the definitely modern.

While I do not underestimate the gravity of 1980 'attempted' coup d'état by Islamic Liberation Front, ILF, I consider its sectarian strategy as a mirror image of the regime own political choices. As an exclusively Shia organisation, the ILF, with an exclusively Shia agenda, it presented political choices and rhetoric that were mirror images of those of the regime. Unlike its predecessors among non-religionist groups of since 1954, ILF did not seek to challenge sectarian and tribal politics through national mobilisation. Largely, but not solely, because of its openly sectarian character, structure and agenda, ILF was an unlikely candidate to lead opposition activities. Let me briefly illustrate this point.

Inspired by the success of Iranian revolution in 1979, many young Shia militants sought to reproduce it in Bahrain. Young Shia revolutionaries began for the first time to openly call for ending the 'al-Khalifa conquest' and for the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the country. While it may have been a direct challenge to the regime, the call was , and probably more seriously, challenging the conciliatory clerical establishment as well as Shia religionist former parliamentarians. The latter group and their supporters, like their nationalist and leftist counterparts, were tirelessly calling for restoration of constitutional rule. A very sharp line was drawn between reforming the regime and dismantling it. Moreover, definite strategic and ideological lines of demarcation were drawn within the ' Shia community' itself. Some of these separated the mostly urban-based militancy and its mostly village-based counterpart.

The ILF, was the most visible, and seemingly better organised, of the Iranian-style revolutionary groups. Because of its openly sectarian rhetoric, structure, and political agenda, the ILF was able to dominate the sectarian sphere and was able to mobilise a massive support even in rural areas where traditional sectarian groups used to be active. For the same reasons, it was unwilling, nor capable, of seeking co-ordination any other politically active group. For obvious ideological reasons ILF was unwilling to co-ordinate its activities with any of the non-religious organisations. Indeed, it contemptuously rejected several excessively conciliatory overtures by leftists. On the other hand, it managed to alienate other religionists on either side of the confessional divide through its extremely sectarian and uncompromising rhetoric. These included its unrealistic call, in Bahraini context, for the establishment of an Islamic republic. This may be one of several lamentable miscalculations that led the young revolutionaries to believe that sectarian mobilisation will build a sufficiently strong movement to topple the regime. In addition to being openly false, it presented the regime with a confirmation of its own tribal and sectarian policies.

Following the botched attempt to stage an armed uprising in Bahrain, more than 70 ILF members, received long prison terms. Some died under torture, scores have been deported and or forced into self-exile. In spite of its losses and the unprecedented levels of brutal treatment its members and sympathisers received, ILF remained for the rest of 1980s as the most vocal among Shia groups. It remains, to this day, the most radical in its articulation of communal grievances and demands of the Shia community in Bahrain. While faithful to its sectarian roots, its publications include, occasionally, conciliatory notes addressed to other opposition groups. Attempts to bridge the wide gap between its political agenda and that of non-religious opposition have been frequent but seemingly fruitless. ILF remains, to this date, the most radical, and largely alone, in its articulation of Shia grievances, as an '[ab]original people', and in its struggle undo the 1783 conquest by dismantling rule of al-Khalifa.

Through mobilising its external sources of power, mainly from its GCC partners as well as from the USA, the regime was able to absorb the aftershocks felt in Bahrain following the fall of the Shah. Ironically, its sectarian opponents provided 'concrete evidence' of the dangers it faces. Daily radio and television broadcasts from Iran delivered messages that helped the regime mobilise its internal sources of power against the 'impending' threats of an Islamic republic in Bahrain. Moreover, following 1980 'attempted' coup d'état, 'threats' of a fundamentalist regime with a sectarian base, frightened other groups than those traditional supporters of the regime.

Lessons learnt from NUC campaign and from the more recent parliamentary experiment show that only a national movement, that transcends societal segmentation, is capable of seriously challenging the regime and proceed with the unfinished project of state-building. History of contentious politics in Bahrain has repeatedly shown that sectarian-based movements actually suit the regime. From regime's own perspectives, effective mobilisation of sectarianism to defend the status quo, can optimally be reached when adversaries of the regime are equally disposed to using sectarianism as a tool of contention and mobilisation.

Through mobilising its external sources of power, mainly from its GCC partners as well as from the USA, the regime was able to absorb the aftershocks felt in Bahrain following the fall of the Shah and throughout the following decade. Ironically, its sectarian opponents provided the regime with 'concrete evidence' of the dangers it faces and sources of those dangers. Daily radio and television broadcasts from Iran, for most of 1980s, confirmed those fears and helped the regime mobilise its internal sources of power against the impending threats of an Islamic republic in Bahrain. Besides its strategic importance as an instrument of rule, vertical segmentation of society became a strategy for survival for the ruling core. 'The regime', notes Stork (1996) 'took advantage of developments in Iran to advance its own absolutist agenda'. More seriously is the fact that, following 1980 'attempted' coup d'état, 'threats' of a fundamentalist regime with a sectarian base, actually frightened other groups than those considered traditional supporters of the of the status quo.

Following the botched attempt to stage an armed uprising in Bahrain, more than 70 ILF members, were sentenced to long prison terms, some died under torture. Several hundreds bidoons or recently naturalised citizens, were forcibly deported, or compelled into self-exile. The SIS indiscriminate treatment hit particularly hard on families of persons allegedly involved the 'coup attempt'. Several of these families were known to be staunch supporters of the regime even under its worse days during the NUC campaign. Furthermore, recruitment of individuals with Shia backgrounds was stopped at all 'sensitive institutions'. The first of these was the BDF, which also sacked all its Shia personnel, making it the first of several ethnically cleansed workplaces. The spectrum of 'sensitive institutions' as defined by the SIS have gradually been extended to include many government department or offices ranging from Central Office of Statistics and to those in charge of electric and water supplies. The 1980 'attempted coup' has also been the signal for al-Khalifa family to definitely insulate itself from the rest of the population of whatever tribal, sectarian or class backgrounds. West Rifa'a, where the Amir has his diwan and official residence, has been transformed into an exclusively al-Khalifa town. The ruling family's growing insolence and paranoia, as well as the inability of its ruling core to trust any local social force, led to banning all non-al-Khalifa from residing or owning property in West Rifa'a.

An unfinished business (II)

Periodic rise in opposition activities, including an 'attempted coup', and periodic agitation by, particularly business community, have not diminished the regime's uncompromising resistance towards political reforms. Not even in the limited manners drawn by 1973 Constitution, that guarantees its undisputed supremacy. While it has tolerated, and at times even encouraged, the re-emergence of calls on the people to 'share the burden of rule', it never moved beyond rhetoric.

Excesses of the regime, including its record of human rights violations, did not reduce its ability to rely on its external sources of power particularly political and security assistance from the USA and from Britain, particularly throughout the Thatcher era. Indeed, these excesses enhanced the regime position as recipient of political, security and financial aid from Saudi Arabia and other GCC states. One cannot overestimate the significance of these external sources of power particularly during recurring periods of economic difficulties.

Despotic powers of the regime as well as its infrastructural powers have taken their toll from opposition forces. Through co-optation, intimidation or demoralisation the regime has been able to recruit the support of former opponents, or force them into social and political passivity. During the period from 1975 to 1992, opponents of the regime were incapable of mobilising enough national forces to challenge vertical segmented of society and the consequence of that segmentation. Political contentions remained largely within the confines of vertical segmentation. And in spite of repeated attempts, opponents of the regime failed to transcend the wall of mistrust, built over decades, between the religionist and secular forces.

Combined internal and external sources of power emboldened the ruling core and enhanced its self confidence to totally disregard the its subject population. Vertical segmentation of society, together with the SIS undiscriminating iron fist, prevented co-operation across approved demarcation lines. The iron fist, and repeated failures, led political opposition organisation deeper into a quagmire of despair and fragmentation.

From the ruling core's perspectives, the future did not look brighter than it did on the eve of Iraqi invasion Kuwait, and what the followed. Immediately after the invasion, Bahrain was transformed into an advance US military outpost. Preparations for the GWII, including winning the hearts of minds of an increasingly sceptical local population. Those preparations led to a public relations exercise that presented to a democratic interpretation of the proposed New World Order. Bahraini press, otherwise heavily censored, featured daily articles as well as official statements in support of United States' mobilisation to re-establish legitimacy and democratic institutions in Kuwait. Numerous 'western faces' appeared on the government owned television, delivering what have been assumed to be promises of better things to come. The only remaining barrier was the presence of Saddam Hussain's troops in Kuwait.

Following the Desert Storm, some of those unspecified promises were actually delivered. 'In 1991 and early 1992' writes Amnesty International in a report published in 1996, ' the human rights situation in Bahrain improved significantly. A number of political prisoners were released and Amnesty International received few reports of individuals detained on political grounds'.

Encouraged by 'indications of an opening', intellectuals, human rights lawyers, member of the dissolved parliament, and other political activists, were openly discussing ways of moving forward. Articles published abroad, by activists, living in Bahrain or in exile, were circulating in the country. Articles in local press reflected similar sentiments. The movement culminated, in 1992, in what has later been known as elites petition, 'aridhat alnokhba' [26] (for full text, see Appendix A).

Many times in the past, the regime has managed to foil attempts to transform the population from vertically segmented parallels into a nation. Particularly since 1975, it has successfully pre-empted all attempts to set in motion processes of nationationfication. These, to paraphrase Anthony D. Smith, (1996) are processes that will transform the population from their subordinated accommodation and passivity to an active, assertive participants in a politicised community. Signatories of elites petition, in 1992, were once again, trying to push towards recognition of the country as a homeland, and towards a consolidation of the state through elimination of vertical segmentation. In similarity with their NUC predecessors, they were initiating (re-initiating) a movement to transform members of each segment into legal citizens.

Joe Stork (1996) has summed up the immediate backgrounds to the recent crises in Bahrain in the following account: 'In the aftermath of the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and encouraged by electoral and parliamentary developments in Kuwait, Bahraini liberals sensed an opportunity to raise again the issue of elections and their own parliament. Following informal discussions, a group consisting mainly of professionals and businessmen drew up a petition that was then signed by more than 300 prominent individuals . 'We called for elections to a restored parliament, release of political prisoners, and permission for exiles to return', one petition leader told me. It is extremely polite and included our fulsome respect for the Al Khalifa ...We had known of the [Amir's plan for a Shura Council] and were trying to pre-empt it... it could not be a substitute for the elected National Assembly'. The Amir promised to study the petition and reply to its organisers, but never did'.

Instead, the regime announced the formation of a Shura Council in 1992, ' a powerless and non-elected consultative council, which has no constitutional basis' (Wilkinson: 1996). Appointees were equally divided between Shia and Sunni and among relevant segments within each community. Furthermore, and in accordance with similar 'tradition', a Shia minister, after resigning his cabinet post, was appointed as a Speaker. Composition of the Consultative Assembly reflects, in my view, a true picture of currently relevant vertical segments of society in Bahrain.

In addition to the Shura Council, the regime took a number of measures to re-gain the political initiative. These included publicised visits by the members of the ruling core to traditional notables and senior clerics. Promises of additional infrastructural improvements were made, as well as publicly pledging to 'grant' more gratuities including relaxation of the stifling censorship on writers and artists. Gratuities actually offered or simply promised, were part of the usual repertoire of gratuities at the disposal of the ruling core at times of severe crises. The one surprising exception, although it fits the euphoric expectation of the New World Order, was the announcement in 1992, of an Amiri makrama granting amnesty 'to persons living because of their political acts'. This is an euphemism for deportees, self-exiled and forcibly exiled persons. As it happened the offer of 'amnesty' was not taken seriously as it was attached to numerous strings.

While the ruling core dispensing of undeliverable promises of political reforms, employment, economic prosperity, its security organisation, the SIS, was hard at work. Within months after the commencement of NWO, the regime lifted restrains it imposed on the SIS during 1991 and early 1992.

By mid 1992, however 'the situation has steadily deteriorated once more, and by December 1994, there was an alarming, unprecedented increase in human rights violations in Bahrain following widespread 'pro-democracy' demonstrations. For the first time, women and children as young as nine or ten years old were targeted for arrest and many were reportedly ill-treated in custody. For many women, this was the first time they had engaged in an active and vocal participation in public protests, a shift from their traditional role away from the public arena. Groups of women also wrote petitions to the Amir urging the restoration of democracy, and led demonstrations calling for the release of their menfolk and of all political prisoners. Children also joined the protest movement, staging sit-in strikes in schools and participating in street demonstrations that sometimes developed into clashes with security forces. The government dealt with both these groups by arresting them arbitrarily, holding them for extended periods in incommunicado detention and often ill-treating or torturing them during investigation. International standards addressing the particular vulnerabilities of women and children and rules regarding their detention and trial were consistently violated.' (Amnesty International: 1996).

Similar appraisal of the situation was made earlier in a report prepared by the US Department of State in 1993 'There was little change in the human rights situation: civil liberties remained broadly circumscribed. The main abuses included arbitrary and incommunicado detention; involuntary exile; the absence of impartial inspection of detention and prison facilities; some instances of abuse of detainees; restrictions on the right to a fair public trial, especially in the Security Court; and restrictions on freedom of speech and press, freedom of assembly and association, women's rights, and worker rights. As a practical matter, the people do not have the right to change their government'.

In spite of this, there were several indications that the hitherto effective blockade of communication channels among opponents of the regime was gradually crumbling. The ruling core's concern was clearly manifested in the SIS forceful deployment to prevent delivery of a joint sermon by two leading clerics, Sheikh al-Jamri and Dr. al-Mamood.. Sheikh al-Jamri and Dr. al-Mahmood. The two are sponsors of 1992 petition, and represent two extremities with the established vertical segmentation of society in Bahrain. Dr al-Mahmood is an al-Azhar educated cleric, of Howala extraction and from Hidd, until recently a poor fishing village. Shiekh al-Jamri is an al-Najaf educated cleric, with large rural based- Shia following. Their joint sermon would have been a symbolic signal indicating the collapse of four decades of patient construction of walls separating communities in Bahrain. The symbolic value of their joint sermon would have been enhanced by its venue, in the centre of Manama, the Capital.

Frustrations with unreasonably harsh responses of the regime to moderate demands led to literally frantic search for counter moves. Several were under way. In April 1994, four opposition organisations, [27] issued a Joint Communiqué which reiterated the demands of the as elites' petition. The importance of that communiqué is threefold. First it brought to the open the fact that these organisation have long since recognised their past failures including their inability to, separately, confront, the regime. Second, that their co-operation should transcend their ideological incompatibilities. Third, that such a co-operation need not go beyond implementation of the demands, the minimum programme, stated in the elites petition. Considering their own history, and wide gap separating religionists from secularist in the Arab region, the Bahraini underground organisations gamble seemed extraordinary. On balance, the religionists seemed to take greater risks by leaping into an alliance, however tactical, with non-religionist, including communist, groups.

The next step was the 1994 petition, later to be known as the Popular Petition, al-aridha al-sha'abiyya. It was the culmination of several further contacts, negotiations and joint actions during the previous months. (For full text, see Appendix B). A committee, Popular Petition Committee, PPC, was formed to organise collection of signatures on the petition and to liaison with the Amir and others in the ruling core. According to its publicly known plans, the PPC intended to deliver the petition, 'signed by the masses', to the Amir on December 16, the country's National Day. 'Within a short time, according to the opposition, nearly 22,000 signatories were secured despite the fact that it could not be mentioned in the media and could only be circulated by hand' (Stork, 1997).

Most participants went out of their way demonstrate the national foundation of the movement and its non-sectarian character. For these, 'the most relevant political divide remains that between the ruling family and its many allies, on the one hand, and the growing number of Bahrainis calling for restoration of 1973 Constitution and the 'contract' that it represented...'. (Stork:1996). The regime, on the other side, aided by sectarian Shia and Sunni groups, was portraying the emerging movement in different light, but especially as a conflict between Shia and Sunni communities.

To pre-empt the PPC moves, the regime arrested several young Shia clerics and other activists. Their arrest, ten days before the date set for handing the petition to the Amir on his Accession Day (also the National Day) sparked a wave of protests culminating into riots. With a single stroke, the regime succeeded in shaking the fragile grounds on which the PPC was standing. Unable to restrain its supporters, the Committee stood watching street confrontation between the well-prepared and armed security forces on the one hand and unorganised gangs of youth of the other hand. From then on, the regime followed a time-honoured strategy of divide and rule. Violent, and largely uncoordinated, demonstrations erupted in parts of the capital and in most villages demanding the release of detained clerics and their colleagues. Within a fortnight, on December 19, the first fatality was reported.

Among political activists in Bahrain, as in most parts of the Arab region, reliance on violent or non-violent strategic alternatives for mobilisation and for political action was more a matter of faith rather than being calculated political choice. For most of modern history of contentious politics, calls for use of violence remained, largely rhetorical, a statement of faith, or simply a meaningless slogan. Even Bahrainis who echoed 1960s slogans of 'revolutionary armed struggle' have never ventured beyond making themselves mentally ready for such an event. Indeed, for most of the history of modern forms contentious politics in Bahrain have been non-violent in actions and violent in rhetoric. Throughout the past decades, militant actions in Bahrain have mostly been non-violent and confined to demonstrations, labour strikes, students sit-ins, and, since 1974, signing of petitions and forming of delegations to submit petitions to the Emir. Most of these tactics have been noticeable in the phases of the history of opposition in Bahrain, 1953-56, 1965-68, 1972, 1973-75, and in 1992- movement. To this, there have been two serious exceptions: the 1966 attempt by NLF to assassinate the British chief of the local Special Branch, (the security police), and the 1981 botched attempt to stage a military by the ILF. [28]

By provoking those riots, on 5 December, the regime sought to give the conflict a more manageable dimension. It usual repertoire contained more serious counter measures that would significantly diminish threats to the vertical segmentation of society. These include stripping the emergent movement from its national agenda, from its constitutional demands, and from its plural political composition.

As part of its usual repertoire in time of similar crises, the regime sought to mobilise its internal and external nests of sources of power. Official statements that were echoed in local press, and elsewhere, were castigating the movement for being reactionary, fundamentalist and sectarian, as well as being foreign backed. These and other labels were designed to appeal to different sources of power, local, regional and foreign. While maintaining its faith in the power of these labels to convince its allies, various spokespersons for the regime have their own preferences. In a statement written to suit an American audience, Bahrain Ambassador to the USA, states, his belief that 'Bahrain will continue to receive the widespread international support it has been given for its determination to ensure continued peace and security in the country'. The statement also informed readers that

' Bahrain has recently witnessed a campaign of disturbance orchestrated by foreign-backed terrorist groups.... The crimes committed by the terrorists include murder, arson, the planting of bombs, and the destruction and looting public and private property. These terrorist actions are a direct threat to and violation of the basic human rights of the Bahraini people. ..... The groups behind the disturbances seek to undermine and threaten the cohesion of our society by creating divisions among the people of Bahrain. Furthermore, their ideology is one that would try to move Bahrain back many centuries. They would impose archaic rules and regulations that are completely contradictory to the continuing development of modern society and to our relatively open and tolerant culture.' (AbdulGhaffar, 1996)
From regime's perspectives, eruption of violence was a blessing. I have no reason to question official allegations that protesters committed numerous acts of violence including arson with fatal consequences. Eruptions of spasmodic violence by marginal gangs of youth, the perpetually mythical Black Fist, have been a recurring feature of contentious politics in Bahrain for the last five decades. During the current crises, and particularly, while leaders of the PPC were in jail, calls were repeatedly made to abandon commitment to non-violence and to adopt violence ' the only weapon the regime understands'. However, violence can be directly and indirectly provoked.

Lessons learnt from histories of non-violent movements elsewhere in the world, underscore that all ruthless tyrants, in the words of Sharp (1973), shared a common conviction. They all were strongly convinced that their own ruthlessness would be much more easily committed and have greater success if it could be portrayed as a retaliation for the violence of the resistance movement. Simply put, tyrants would do their utmost, according to Sharp (1973) to provoke their opponents to violence. In Bahrain, as in elsewhere with similar political 'traditions', provocation to violence may be attempted in many ways. One, through making repression so severe as to break the opponents' will to pursue non-violence. Second, through effectively blocking channels of communication among opponents of the regime and between leaders and supporters. Besides splitting the opposition, blocking channels of communication have produced fragmented groups of less disciplined individuals. Third, through planting incriminating evidence, such as staged confessions, in order to prove 'violent intentions'. Fourth, through direct actions by the SIS itself or violent actions induced by the SIS through what Nehru called some sixty years ago, 'the tribe of informants and agents provocateurs and the like...' .

Whether committed by well-meaning and undisciplined youth, or by 'tribe of informants and agents provocateurs and the like', violent actions of December 1994 and the following months threatened to further split the movement. Many have already been alienated because of attempts to include other issues of contention than those articulated in the Petition.

Major parts of PPC resources, during the first months of 1995, were consumed by its often unsuccessful attempts to regain the initiative, end violence, and to re-focus attention on its constitutional demands. Several public statements made during December1994 -April 1995, by Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, the generally acknowledged leader of the movement, indicate the level of desperation he and his colleague must have felt.

Another effort in similar vain, has been a petition sponsored by prominent Bahrain women, hence known as the ' Women Petition'. (See full text in Appendix D). Clearly certain of who is committing, or encouraging acts of violence, signatories of the Women Petition told the Amir that while they 'categorically and emphatically reject acts of sabotage, we do not consider them sufficient justification for the use of bullets by the security forces, especially against children and defenceless citizens'. Before presenting their own constitutional demands, the women petitioners appealed for the personal intervention by the Amir

'to break the circle of violence and open the door to dialogue to consider with your established wisdom ways of dealing with the situation which may be achieved through the following means: 1. Ceasing the use of bullets to disperse demonstrators, illegal forced entries and mass arrests; 2. Dealing with detainees according to the rule of law with all that entails of guarantees to the detainees during periods of investigation and trial while expediting the presentation of the defendants to trial, releasing immediately the remaining detainees and repatriating the exiles; 3. Creating employment opportunities for all citizens, securing the minimum requirements for their livelihood and finding an effective solution for the increase in the foreign labour force; 4. Opening the door to a national dialogue with the aim of reaching the appropriate solution; 5. Reactivating the Constitution of the State of Bahrain and calling for elections to the National Assembly and allowing public liberties and freedom of speech; 6. Including Bahraini women in political decision making and utilising their creative energies in all spheres to serve our country Bahrain'.
Another discernible part of the regime's usual repertoire in times of crises is its attempts split the movement through luring leading individuals of the movement and offering concessions to groups either to retain or regain their loyalty and support. Immediate beneficiaries of these concessions have been the 'tribals' and the Shia clerical establishment. The role of 'tribals' within defence and security forces was enhanced. In addition to ministry of education, a 'tribal' BDF officer became rector for University of Bahrain. [29] The clerical establishment gained additional concessions through confirmation of its role in the Shura Council.

Of all concessions offered, or promised, to various individuals and groups, the most serious were those offered to Shia as a 'community'. In an important speech that affirmed sheikh al-Jamri's role as a national leader, and not merely a Shia cleric defending rights of his congregation, he offered his advice to the government for ending the crisis in Bahrain. He said, inter alia, 'Any solution must be comprehensive enough to include all tendencies and sections of he society. Any initiative lacking this factor is a partial and incomplete, and is therefore rejected. We heard that there exist some moves to improve the living conditions of the Shia community. Some [Shia] businessmen are leading such moves. This is a shortsighted initiative because it transforms the demands for political reforms to merely living conditions. Such moves are also bound to create divisions amongst the nation that has been campaigning for unified clear objectives'. This speech if anything brought sheikh al-Jamri the combined wrath of the ruling core and its clerical Shia establishment.

Development of contentious politics in Bahrain since 1992 are, in their own way, a continuation of the socio-political processes that were set in motion at the beginning of this century. It is, a continuation of history of ongoing, yet faltering, processes of de-ethnification and nation- and state building. While protagonists have slightly altered, the its main characteristics of the conflict is essentially the same. It is a conflict between two basis for social and political mobilisation, the ethnic-based versus the national-based.

Individual that met in 1992 to draft the first petition demanding return to constitutional rule are, in every way, different from those who met in 1953 to build what evolved into the NUC. Different also are the regimes they faced. However, the career of both political movements reflect an unresolved conflict between socio-political forces of the status quo (plus minus) and the socio-political forces that seeks to reform it. In 1953, mobilisation for social and political reforms was synonymous to opposing sectarianism, colonialism, and tribalism. Movement for reforms that was started in 1992 had largely similar agenda, although constitutional component of state building has become much more pronounced.

While different in their backgrounds, style and levels of sophistication, leaders of the constitutional movement that started on 1992 seem to have absorbed some of the accumulated lessons from NUC campaign and from the more recent parliamentary experiment. In particular, that only a national-based movement, that transcends societal segmentation enforced by the regime, is capable of seriously challenging the regime and proceed with the unfinished project of state-building.

Regime reaction to the reform movement that started in 1992 has been decisively more ruthless than that of 1953. The harsh treatment leaders of the current movement, particularly Sheikh al-Jamri, imprisoned for the second time since 1995, indicates that the regime, and its ruling core, have not learnt much from Bahrain's own history of contentious politics. Like their predecessors, a generation ago, they nurture sectarian and tribal forces and forcibly pre-empt processes of nation building. Major parts of resources obtained from regional and international benefactors of the regime have inconceivably been wasted on an untenable project.

In the previous pages I sought to illustrate that four decades of determined endeavours to sustain vertical segmentation of society in Bahrain that have not provided the regime with stability or legitimacy. Nor did these endeavours allow the country and its people to evolve into a becoming a state and a nation.

The gap that separates the two contending sides in Bahrain remains alarmingly deep. Two dates in Bahrain calendar, 15 December and 15 August, present graphic illustrations of the gap separating the regime, its ruling core and its supporters on the one hand, and most of its opponents on the other. The official National Day, 16 December, is the day of accession to the throne by the current Amir in 1961. The country's Day of Independence, 15 August, is not considered a day for official celebration.

In 1996, two commemorative events have symptomatically illustrated how far is the distance between the ruling core and its opponents. On 15 August 1996, opposition groups in- and outside Bahrain made elaborate efforts to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Day of Independence. The regime has largely ignored the occasion. Instead, it organised, on 16 December, its own elaborated commemorations of the 35th anniversary of accession to the throne by the current Amir. Needless to add that this was not celebrated by opponents of the regime.



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Abdulhadi Khalaf
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