The British parliamentary foreign affairs committee met with Bahraini activists to discuss the relationship of the two countries. The committee questioned whether Britain has done enough as a friend of Bahrain to help move reform along or not.
Ali Al-Aswad, representing the political society Al Wefaq, said that “the UK’s reputation has been damaged in Bahrain by their response to [the crisis].” Of particular concern is the cold attitude of the British ambassador Iain Lindsay to human rights activists. Maryam Al Khawaja, representative for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, pointed out that “human rights activists have a lot of difficulty meeting the British embassy. I have colleagues who have been told flat out by the ambassador that he will not meet with them.”
And the embassy’s hostility towards human rights activists doesn’t end there. Al Khawaja said told the committee that “When Human Rights Watch put out a report about there being no progress and reform in Bahrain, the ambassador said that they was exaggerating amongst other things. When they responded to that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office here came out in support of the statement by their ambassador, and then afterwards had a different statement. But that is very telling of the situation on the ground when the British ambassador is attacking an international organisation that is documenting violations on the ground.”
Al Aswad and Al Khawaja urged parliament to take a more public approach at criticising Bahrain. Al Aswad said, “If the British regime says that the Bahraini regime is their ally, it’s a greenlight for Bahrain to abuse the people more. What is more effect is the public statements … we need more public statements from Britain.”
The parliamentary committee meeting is available to watch on here. It also heard statements by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and human rights lawyer Nigel Rodley, who participated in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which collected data on human rights abuses in 2011 and put forward recommendations to resolve issues.
He looked very unhappy, and so did Sheikh Khalifa bin Selman: indeed the latter almost manoeuvred me into advising the Bahrainis not to be so rash. But Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarak held the others to their decision; and after more than an hour of repetitious floundering, the Ruler dosed himself heavily with aspirin and gave up. Never has a man approached sovereign independence more miserably.
GG Arthur, diplomatic report on the independence of Bahrain
It had been 3 years since the Arab emirates had first come together to discuss a union of states. In the ’60s, the Labour Government in Britain had set 1971 as their deadline to remove themselves as a colonial entity from the Gulf region. Now it was August 1971, and the question was of dire importance. In Dubai, the rulers and emirs of Bahrain, Qatar and the 7 Trucial States (amongst them Abu Dhabi and Dubai itself) gathered to sign the agreement of the Federation of Arab Emirates: a political body that would represent all 9 states in the post-independence order.
But talks were falling apart. Bahrain, the most distant of the emirates geographically, was simply not coming to agreement with the others. They were wanting for complete independence, but feared reprisal from Saudi Arabia. King Feisal al-Saud was pressuring the states to collude together, and the small Sheikhs of Bahrain were not keen to try their luck and ignore the wishes of their most powerful neighbour. For the Ruler, Sheikh Isa, to declare independence – from both the federation and from Britain – was to play a dangerous game, for how would Saudi Arabia react?
He found it hard enough to face the end of British protection, not to mention the known hostility of King Feisal of Saudi Arabia to a move which would finally kill the idea of a union of all the nine Gulf States
Bringing up all the courage they had, Sheikh Isa and his brother, Sheikh Khalifa decided to act on the 10th of August. It was on that day that they called up Mr Arthur from the British Agency to announce their decision. The move had not been entirely their own. Significant internal pressure in the form of a “combination of Shi’ites and the younger people on the State Council, who had no love for the Saudis and who threatened their timid leaders with an explosion of public opinion” had finally swayed the ruling Sheikhs of Bahrain to break away from the talks of an Arab Federation: better to weather the storm of foreign disapproval than face revolt. Continue reading
The UK Foreign Affairs Committee met today (14 May 2013) with Bahraini activists Maryam Al-Khawaja (Bahrain Centre for Human Rights), Ali Al-Aswad (Al Wefaq representative) and Sir Nigel Rodley (participant lawyer involved in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry). Representatives of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were also present.
The video of the full meeting can be viewed here.
A report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), published April 28, has laid bare the renewed British military interests in the Gulf. It states that the UK intends to build a small but ‘smart’ presence in region with military facilities and defence agreements “for forces that aim to be more adaptable and agile as they face the post-Afghanistan years from 2014”.
Though they do not intend to have an”imperial-style” presence, the scale of this military deployment is reportedly ‘significant’. In particular, Dubai is marked for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a long-term overseas base and the Royal Navy is ‘taking a more active interest’ in Bahrain. Senior army personnel are also keen to build strong links with Oman and Qatar as well.
The article states that “this would greatly enhance our ability to support allies as they contain and deter threats and, with our naval presence in Bahrain, air elements in the UAE and Qatar, and traditional but potentially enhanced roles in Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would make us a regional ally across the spectrum”.
Two years on from the Arab Spring, which did not see the toppling of any Gulf governments as it did in North Africa, this military deployment may be seen by the British government as more tacit support of authoritarian states that have been accused of numerous human rights violations by many non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The report notes that these closer political and military ties between the UK and Arab Gulf states is “without a doubt” controversial. It also acknowledges that the UK government “may prefer not to plunge into a public debate about it.”
The report’s information adds more context to Bahraini King Hamad’s words on Sunday 12th May. Speaking at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, King Hamad recalled his father Emir Isa’s lamentation of the British departure following the island nation’s declaration of independence in 1971: “Why? No one asked you to go!” Further cementing the long relationship the UK and Britain have enjoyed, he stated that he is “seeking to expand the British presence in our country to mutual advantage.”
The report, A Return to East of Suez? UK Military Deployment to the Gulf, can be found online here.
A speech held after horse races in England on Sunday 12 May which King Hamad was present for. It’s an interesting talk harkening back to the long relationship Bahrain and Britain have enjoyed. Propaganda, surely, but an interesting speech. Certainly, there are some interesting points he seems to suggest:
On Britain’s withdrawal from the gulf – a unilateral decision – which my father said: “Why? No one asked you to go!” In fact, for all practical and strategic purposes, the British presence has not changed and it remains such that we believe we shall never be without it.
What exactly is King Hamad saying here? Is he suggesting that Bahrain is still directly under the influence of Britain? Again he mentions:
Especially in the field of Defence, where we are each seeking to expand the British presence in our country to mutual advantage. To that end, we signed a new defence-cooperation accord in October last year.
Then there is:
At the same time there are some 9000 permanent British residents in Bahrain, making a major contribution to the prosperity of the kingdom, as they have always done. Indeed, I am proud to say that by due legal process, we have granted Bahraini nationality to 240 British citizens as they themselves had requested, and whose loyal service had more than justified.
240 British residents have been granted Bahraini nationality. It is a clear sign of the friendly relations between Britain and Bahrain.
Al-Wefaq Participates in London Conference
Note: The conference, held by the Next Century Foundation, was set to include many pro-state and state-official panellists including a few members of the royal family. A campaign against it in the Bahraini paper Al Watan calling the conference a Zionist affair saw almost all pro-state participants pull out of the conference.
UK company’s spyware ‘used against Bahraini activist’, court papers claim.
‘Israel opens diplomatic mission in unnamed Gulf state’
Escape from Bahrain: Ali Abdulemam Is Free
Bahrain Online founder Ali Abdulemam breaks silence after escape to UK
Blogfather Mahmood Al-Yousif wins International Media Award in ‘Outstanding Contribution to New Media’
This blog is a place for my thoughts and a place from which I hope to share Bahrain and the surrounding region with readers. To that end, I’m writing this statement for those curious of what’s to come and for myself, to keep my own objectives fresh in my mind. The site will be updated 3 times a week – Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays:
Monday: Week’s Briefing. An overview of the news of the last week regarding Bahrain especially and the Gulf region generally.
Thursday: From the Archives, political and social history/stories drawn from the British national archives, British library and various other sources.
Sunday: The Review. Each week I’ll review a book regarding the Arab/Islamic world, history and politics.
The first ‘real’ post will be tomorrow with the first of what I hope to be very many weekly briefings. Stay tuned.