February 17, 2013

Money talks, fading historical memories edition

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:42

The British army’s officer training college at Sandhurst (think “West Point” in the American context) has invited a lot of criticism for this decision:

Britain’s top military academy, Sandhurst, has come under fire for renaming a sports hall commemorating a First World War battle after the King of Bahrain.

The Mons Hall — named after the 1914 battle where thousands died — will have its name changed to honour the Bahraini monarch who has given millions in funding to the Army’s officer training college.

The building will now be called King Hamad Hall and will reopen next month after being refurbished thanks to a £3 million donation from the king, who is the patron of the Sandhurst Foundation but is known for brutally repressing demonstrators at home.

Sandhurst has also accepted a £15 million donation from the United Arab Emirates to build a new accommodation block, raising questions about the college’s links with authoritarian Gulf states accused of human rights abuses.

Critics say the Army is betraying the soldiers who gave their lives and that Bahrain and the UAE are trying to avert criticism of their regimes by buying silence with donations.

The 1914 Battle of Mons was the first major battle of the war. Against overwhelming odds, the British Army inflicted 5,000 casualties on the Germans. At least 1,600 British troops were killed.

April 23, 2012

More from the Bahrain protests

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:25

Marc Lynch on what he terms as Bahrain’s “Epic Fail”:

This week’s Formula One-driven media scrutiny has ripped away Bahrain’s carefully constructed external facade. It has exposed the failure of Bahrain’s regime to take advantage of the breathing space it bought through last year’s crackdown or the lifeline thrown to it by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. That failure to engage in serious reform will likely further radicalize its opponents and undermine hopes for its future political stability.

Bahrain’s fierce, stifling repression of a peaceful reform movement in mid-March 2011 represented an important watershed in the regional Arab uprising. Huge numbers of Bahrainis had joined in street protests in the preceding month, defining themselves as part of the broader Arab uprising and demanding constitutional reforms and political freedoms. Bahrain’s protest movement began as a reformist and not revolutionary one, and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found no evidence that the protests were inspired or supported by Iran.

[. . .]

A ferocious battle over how to understand the events in Bahrain has unfolded in the months since the crackdown, as anyone who has attempted to report on or discuss it can attest. Supporters of the regime have argued that they did what they must against a dangerously radical, sectarian Shi’a movement backed by Iran, and fiercely contest reports of regime abuses. The opposition certainly made mistakes of its own, both during the protests leading up to the crackdown and after. But fortunately the facts of Bahrain’s protest movement and the subsequent crackdown have been thoroughly documented by Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry.

The BICI report established authoritatively that the Bahraini regime committed massive violations of human rights during its attempts to crush the protest movement. Hundreds of detainees reported systematic mistreatment and torture, including extremely tight handcuffing, forced standing, severe beatings, electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, beating of the soles of the feet, verbal abuse, sleep deprivation, threats of rape, sexual abuse including the insertion of items into the anus and grabbing of genitals, hanging, exposure to extreme temperatures, forced nudity and humiliation through acts such as being forced to lick boots of guards, abuse with dogs, mock executions, and being forced to eat feces (BICI report, pp.287-89). Detainees were often held for weeks or months without access to the outside world or to lawyers. This, concluded the BICI, represented “a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody” (Para 1238, p.298). And then there was the demolition of Shi’a mosques, widespread dismissals from public and private sector jobs and from universities, sectarian agitation in the media, and so much more. No political mistakes made by the opposition could possibly justify these acts.

April 19, 2012

The Bahrain Formula One: it’s just a car race

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

Tim Black writes about the real reasons for protests against the Formula One race in Bahrain:

The way some politicians and commentators are talking, you would think that the fate of Bahrain hinged on whether or not this weekend’s Formula One (F1) grand prix goes ahead. Cancel it, and Bahrain’s repressive monarchs, the Al Khalifa family, will have to face up to the failings of their autocratic reign. But proceed with it and F1 might as well have crushed the Bahraini people’s democratic aspiration itself.

[. . .]

Ecclestone’s assessment of the state of Bahrain is certainly questionable. While life does go on for the 600,000 people of this tiny gulf state, there is little calm beneath the surface. Instead, the conflict between a politically and economically disenfranchised Shia majority and the ruling Sunni monarchy continues to simmer. Saudi troops may have helped Bahrain’s own security forces to quell the most explosive manifestation of this conflict last spring, but the arrests, torture and sometimes killing has continued. In the past fortnight alone, three teenagers were shot dead.

Yet as Panglossian as Ecclestone’s view of Bahraini society is, his larger point still stands: ‘it is not [F1’s] business running the country.’ And that’s the problem: too many commentators and politicians are so ‘wrapped up in their own bubble’, to quote Webber, that they believe that the question of whether or not a car race is staged in Bahrain is incredibly important; it is their business running the country. The grand prix is no longer just a car race: it has become a vehicle for exhibiting one’s moral credentials.

[. . .]

This seems to be the prevailing rationale behind the calls to cancel the grand prix: it is all about showing disapproval, striking a moral pose. Bahrain, a country increasingly seen, thanks to the press offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as a photo-essay in state brutality, is little more than a convenient background against which to act righteous. Of course, the calls for F1 to boycott the Bahrain grand prix are not recognised for their essential vainglory; they are presented as compassionate. For the advocates of a Bahrain boycott, those willing for the grand prix to go ahead are the callous, self-interested ones. By staging the grand prix, they are tacitly approving of, and legitimating, the rule of the Al Khalifa family.

But who does this disapproval benefit? Who is this display of moral opprobrium for? It’s certainly not those in whose name the grand prix could be cancelled: the disenfranchised majority in Bahrain. After all, if the grand prix does go ahead, it won’t legitimate or validate the regime in their eyes. For those indulging in running-street battles, for those with no political freedom, for those who experience life under the al-Khalifa autocracy on a daily basis, the presence or absence of F1 will make little or no difference. Their lives will still be marked by a ruthlessly enforced unfreedom.

March 20, 2012

Suppressing one shoot of the Arab Spring, with British and American help

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:02

Tim Black talks about the oddly different reaction to the Bahrain “Arab Spring” protests:

For decades, the people of this Middle Eastern state have lived under what is effectively a hereditary dictatorship. In spring last year, however, it looked like things might finally change. A long-repressed people began to feel emboldened. Protests gathered momentum. At last, it seemed, a more democratic, more open future beckoned. And then, the crackdown. The troops moved in, the shooting (and killing) started, and the summary arrest, detention and torture commenced in earnest.

Now, you could be forgiven for guessing Syria. But you’d be wrong. The place I’m describing here is the small Gulf state of Bahrain, just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Still, given the brutal repression, given the popular unrest, you would expect the West to have responded to events in Bahrain much as it responded to events elsewhere in the region. After all, Bahraini troops effectively began firing on their own people; and a disenfranchised majority struggling for some degree of political sovereignty, long withheld by Bahrain’s decidedly unconstitutional monarchy, is still being repressed.

[. . .]

As I have written before, Bahrain is the point at which the hypocrisy of the West’s attitude to the Arab uprisings is writ large. While America, the UK and France were happy to pose, posture and bomb when it came to a pantomime villain like Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, the far more problematic state of Bahrain offers no such easy moral capital.

[. . .]

So what of the situation now? With ‘human rights-trained’ police out on the beat, it must be hunky dory, right? Well, given that around 200,000 people (about a third of Bahrain’s population) gathered to protest in a suburb of Manama a few weeks ago, and given the near nightly explosions of tear-gassed violence in the villages and districts around the capital, it all seems far from hunky dory. As one activist put it last week, ‘This is a war’. And it is a war which officials from Saudi Arabia, America and Britain are fighting in — on the anti-democratic, liberty-crushing side.

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