Bahraini medical staff put on trial for treating wounded


by Rumbold
14th June, 2011 at 12:35 pm    

Robert Fisk reports from Bahrain, where 48 surgeons, doctors, paramedics and nurses were put on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the monarchy. Their crime was to have treated anti-government protestors. Mr Fisk argues that the trial is going ahead at the behest of Saudi Arabia:

In truth, of course, the Khalifa family is not mad. Nor are the Sunni minority of Bahrain intrinsically bad or sectarian. The reality is clear for anyone to see in Bahrain. The Saudis are now running the country. They never received an invitation to send their own soldiers to support the Bahraini “security forces” from the Bahraini Crown Prince, who is a decent man. They simply invaded and received a post-dated invitation.

The subsequent destruction of ancient Shia mosques in Bahrain was a Saudi project, entirely in line with the kingdom’s Taliban-style hatred of all things Shia. Could the Bahraini prime minister be elected, I asked a member of the royal court last February? “The Saudis would not permit this,” he replied. Of course not. Because they now control Bahrain. Hence the Saudi-style doctors’ trial.

Disgraceful. This show trial should certainly be the last straw in any UK co-operation with the Bahrainis.


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  1. Arif — on 14th June, 2011 at 1:07 pm  

    I don’t think I would let the Bahraini Government off the hook so easily. It is they who decided they would prefer Saudi intervention to any semblance of political equality. The Saudi Government are not an unknown quantity, expecially in the form of religion they promote and the zealotry with which they promote it without respect for minority rights – and in the case of Bahrain, for majority rights.

    The Bahraini Royal Family, if they wish to abdicate responsibility for these actions, may now take the opportunity to come out against this occupation, if that is how they see it. Or if they prefer for the oppression to continue, they can keep quiet about it all.

    Perhaps the Al Khalifa family have some cunning plan to promote human rights which they are pursuing undercover. But it seems unlikely to me. Just as unlikely as any claim to care deeply about human rights from governments that sell arms to Saudi Arabia, for example.

  2. Arif — on 14th June, 2011 at 1:13 pm  

    Rumbold, your last sentence is: “This show trial should certainly be the last straw in any UK co-operation with the Bahrainis.”

    Would you also argue that it would be more relevant, given the story you are basing it on, that this show trial should be the last straw in any UK co-operation with the Saudis?

  3. EJ — on 14th June, 2011 at 1:19 pm  

    Dear PP
    I read your comments on Robert Fisk’s crazed article about Bahrain.
    Bahrain has always been financially dependent on Saudi – it’s nothing new. But our rulers have been able to steer and independent course, ensuring that Bahrain is the most tolerant and socially liberal country in the Gulf. The UK government should do everything in it’s power to support the current regime. The under-reported horror of the unrest in Bahrain is the extent to which the protestors murdered, tortured and threatened poor migrant workers from the Indian Sub-continent. Given that almost half of the population is made up of workers from South East Asia, don’t you think that this is a rather ominous sign of things to come if the ‘Lulu People’ ever succeed in gaining power in Bahrain.

  4. Arif — on 14th June, 2011 at 1:50 pm  

    Dear EJ

    I am more than happy to give the Bahraini government credit for its relative tolerance and social liberalism. I might even believe they have some concern for the welfare of migrant workers.

    None of this justifies severe discrimination against Shia Muslims, the use of torture, and maintaining both institutions through inviting Saudi intervention rather than dismantling them in the face of protests.

  5. Rumbold — on 14th June, 2011 at 2:25 pm  

    Arif:

    I don’t think that the Bahraini royal family sould be let off the hook either. And I think that our co-operation with the Saudis should have ended long ago.

  6. Rumbold — on 14th June, 2011 at 2:26 pm  

    EJ:

    If killing proestors and charging medical staff who tried to help them is an example of a liberal tolereant regime, then that defintion needs revisiting.

  7. EJ — on 14th June, 2011 at 3:11 pm  

    I think you will find that the medical staff are being charged with a variety of offences ranging from taking over the hospital as a centre of protest to possessing firearms. I was not at the hospital and cannot comment on most of the charges. However there is no doubt that during the period that the Lulu roundabout was occupied, the ambulance service was not available to ordinary Bahrainis. And please remember that this was at the only public hospital on the island. I also heard, at one removed, terrible stories of the torture that was inflicted on poor Pakistanis who ended up at the hospital.

    As for discrimination against Shia Muslims, the only overt discrimination is in the Bahraini army and security forces. And the reason for this is fairly obvious. But in good times there is no religious discrimination at all and the many different communities usually manage to co-exist quite peacefully.

  8. Rumbold — on 14th June, 2011 at 3:22 pm  

    EJ:

    Well, they had to charge them with various things to try and make the case look plausible.

    As for discrimination against Shia Muslims, the only overt discrimination is in the Bahraini army and security forces. And the reason for this is fairly obvious. But in good times there is no religious discrimination at all and the many different communities usually manage to co-exist quite peacefully.

    So why have Sunnis long monopolised key positions? Why have Shias long felt persecuted? Why were Shia shrines demolished?

  9. Arif — on 14th June, 2011 at 3:22 pm  

    EJ – thank you for responding. Do you have a view on the fairness in the allocation of housing and employment concerning the Shia?

    Do you also have any view on whether there is sufficient democracy in Bahrain for all citizens?

    How do you think Shias can achieve equality in the areas where you admit they are being discriminated against overtly?

    Do you also have a view on the appropriateness of using torture?

  10. EJ — on 14th June, 2011 at 3:43 pm  

    There is certainly a housing shortage for low income families but this affects all Bahrainis equally. And there is very low unemployment in Bahrain, thanks to the Governments skilful handling of the economy. You will find that there are many wealthy Shia families on the island.

    There is no doubt that the Government is slowly moving towards a more democratic society but this can only be achieved on the basis of mutual trust. Sadly the current unrest has probably set this process back by about 10 years.

    I don’t think torture is ever justified.

  11. Boyo — on 14th June, 2011 at 3:43 pm  

    I blame the British – no, I really do. They should have let the Jordanians have the whole of area instead of their usual divide-and-rule and hiving it off to a bunch of Salafi nutters who seemed harmless enough at the time. Probably the ultimate blowback…

  12. Arif — on 14th June, 2011 at 3:49 pm  

    EJ, thank you again for your answers.

    How do you think the Bahraini government should be held accountable for allegations of torture under their rule?

    Would you like Bahrain to be democratic (majority rule with minority rights) even if that means removing the monarchy?

  13. EJ — on 15th June, 2011 at 12:52 pm  

    Well there were some pretty awful things done by both sides during the unrest. Perhaps things have cooled down a bit there could be a proper investigation into exactly what happened and why – a sort of truth and reconciliation committee. But there is always a danger that this might actually make things worse. Bahrain is such a very small country. We are all personally affected by what happened and is continuing to happen. The best thing would be to come up with a political solution that would keep everyone happy. For a while anyway.

    No. I would not be happy to see the monarchy removed. They are a modernising influence and genuinely protect the rights of the more vulnerable minority communities.

  14. damon — on 15th June, 2011 at 1:20 pm  

    Well there were some pretty awful things done by both sides during the unrest

    Really EJ? What was it that the protesters at Pearl Square did? The guns and knives ”found” in the tents after the army and police rampaged through them have all the authenticity about them that the claims by the Syrian government spokeswoman Reem Haddad have.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/10/syria-refugees-turkey-reem-haddad

  15. Arif — on 15th June, 2011 at 8:30 pm  

    EJ, what would you personally like to be in a political solution for Bahrain – if you imagine you were suddenly empowered as a respected player negotiating with all the other main factions. Where would you position yourself and what would you want to argue others towards as the priorities for Bahrain?

  16. EJ — on 16th June, 2011 at 3:40 pm  

    I think it would take me a few weeks to answer that one.
    Very complex situation.

    But I think in the longer term there has to be more co-operation between the GCC states – they will become increasingly vulnerable as oil becomes a scarce commodity. But I wouldn’t like to see them all swallowed up by Saudi Arabia.

    And really something has to be done to protect the human rights of those poor migrant workers.

  17. Arif — on 16th June, 2011 at 10:19 pm  

    EJ, I didn’t mean to ask you what your solution to the situation would be (as in taking into account current power dynamics and the perspectives of other players) I understand that that would be a massive intellectual challenge!

    I’m just interested in the principles that inform your own perspective, like how/whether you personally would like the policies or personalities in Bahrain’s government, and the de facto or de jure constitution to be changed to suit you. My personal particular interest would be in your take on human rights and social and political equality in Bahrain.

    Even if you feel that Bahrain was going in the right direction and at the right speed and you just want the government to stay in control and pass a particular law on the issue of migrant workers, are you concerned about civil rights for Shia citizens or other social groups, or in terms oversight of the police, human rights, democratisation and changes in economic and foreign policies – you suggested that its relationship with the GCC troubles you a little.

    Do you think any of the protesters appeals are relevant or justified, do you support any of them?

  18. EJ — on 17th June, 2011 at 5:06 pm  

    There are actually 2 distinct Shia communities in Bahrain. By far the largest group are the Baharnas or Shia Arabs – they probably account for over 50% of Bahraini Nationals. They regard themselves, probably correctly, as the original Bahrainis although there are also some very old Sunni Arab communities. There is also a small community of Shia Persians. Many members of this community are wealthy businessmen. The two groups are not necessarily united politically.

    Traditionally the Baharna were farmers, fishermen and pearl divers and they occupy most of the cultivable land to the north of the island – and a lot of the coastal villages. Although, like everyone, they benefited from the years of rapid economic growth prior to the 2008 crash, things like traditional fishing areas were badly affected by land reclamation and urban development. In some cases the villagers more or less lost their coastlines and access to the sea.

    I think we need some kind of committee with strong powers to oversee land management, reclamation etc – to ensure that everyone benefits and that the traditional villages are not adversely affected.

    Corruption is also a problem although it’s not something that is restricted to any one social group. The Crown Prince made enormous progress in eliminating corruption in some sectors. I hope that he will be able to continue his efforts.

    I think we all had enormous sympathy with the protestors at first. However once the level of violence and intimidation increased, most of us who were not taking part in the demonstrations were very relieved that the government acted quickly to bring the crisis to an end.

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