Militancy in Bahrain Part 3: Eruption – 2011

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On 14 February 2001, over 98 percent of Bahrainis voted in favour of King Hamad’s new constitution, the National Action Charter, which ushered in a new phase of political participation; allowing oppositionists to return from exile, establish political parties and stand for Parliament. This chapter relates what happened exactly a decade later on 14 February 2011 when this consensus collapsed and militants who had spent the past decade trying to destabilize the political scene succeeded in wresting back the agenda. Previous segments of this series can be accessed below:

Part 1: Beginnings of militancy – 1950-1990

Part 2: Evolution of militancy – 1990-2011

Tensions prior to 14 February 2011

The 2011 unrest occurred following a long period of escalating activity by opposition militants. As we saw in the previous section, the establishment of the Haqq movement in 2006 as a splinter group from Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, resulted in a steadily escalating pattern of rioting and violence against the security forces by militants opposed to Bahrain’s parliamentary system. The primary instigators were figures like Hassan al-Mushaima and Abduljalil Singace from Haqq; the Wafa movement led by Abdulwahab Hussein and Abduljalil Miqdad, and the outlawed BCHR led by Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab.

All three movements collaborated closely and engaged in weekly bouts of tyre-burning, rioting and ambushing police as they moved in and sought to restore order and remove roadblocks. Such attacks using Molotov cocktails resulted in numerous police casualties, including the notorious killing of police officer Majid Asghar in Karzakan village on 9 April 2008.

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Militancy in Bahrain Part 2: Evolution - 1990-2011

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"We must use all resources to hold accountable those who place themselves above other ordinary human beings who claim they have divine right to rule. These are people who try to govern us, here on earth, and in the hereafter. We are not only fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats;” HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince

Series introduction

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran radicalized militants in Bahrain and across the Arab world, culminating in a Tehran-sponsored failed coup in Bahrain in 1981.

These developments were discussed in the first part of this series:  Militancy in Bahrain: Beginnings – 1950-1990; which can be found via this link.

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Series introduction

Militant groups first began to emerge in Bahrain around the time of independence in 1971. Many were galvanized by the radicalizing effects of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. This first phase of militancy culminated in a Tehran-sponsored failed coup in Bahrain in 1981, which some observers saw as an attempt to abort the new Gulf Cooperation Council that had only been announced a few months before. 

Militants embarked on a period of unrest during the 1990s which only came to a definitive end with the ascendance to the throne of King Hamad in 1999 and his amnesty for releasing political detainees and allowing exiles to return. King Hamad's new Constitution ushered in a system based on Constitutional Monarchy and parliamentary politics.

Between 2001 and 2006, militants and moderates within the opposition achieved a fragile consensus. However, Al-Wefaq Islamic Society’s participation in the 2006 elections caused its most radical elements to secede and sowed the seeds for renewed militancy which would come to fruition after 2011. Later segments of this publication will also look at Sunni militancy and Islamist tendencies, although these currents have less of a coherent and politically-significant history than Shia militancy in Bahrain.

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Once again Bahrain’s Shura Council has been the starting point for progressive and transformative legislation for the betterment of all Bahrainis. The government has been reviewing a proposal from Shura MPs for a unified Family Law which will ensure that both Shia and Sunni women and families have equal rights before the law. This is part of a pattern of forward-looking initiatives from the Shura Council over recent months, such as the legislation for preventing serving clerics from participation in politics which began as a Shura Council proposal; and proposed amendments to the law for protecting victims of rape.

From time to time the question is raised as to why a small country like Bahrain requires a two-chamber Parliament. Ever since Parliament was established through King Hamad’s 2002 National Action Charter, elements of the opposition sought to abolish the second chamber, based on the argument that legislative power should be solely in the hands of elected MPs in the Council of Representatives. However, there are dozens of recent examples which show why the appointed Shura Council is necessary for protecting and consolidating Bahrain’s reformist and tolerant social model. Here are some of the main reasons:

1 - Appointments sanctioned by the King ensures diversity in the legislative process

Elections depend heavily on the public mood and thus often favour a particular party or agenda. The practice of appointing the members of a second chamber, which occurs in a large number of countries, ensures a representative diversity of deputies from all sects and religions, from all social classes, from a range of professions and backgrounds and from the full spectrum of political affiliations. This also ensures that those who are often disfavoured in elections are represented; women, the disabled, minorities, progressives and civil society activists.

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