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  • The Many Faces of Bahrain's Opposition Movement

    Bahraini pro-reform protesters march during a rally in Maksha village west of the Bahraini capital Manama on December 30, 2011.

    A year after the “Arab Spring” struck Bahrain, the opposition movement has changed significantly from its original supporters. Initiated by a youth movement demanding political reform, the campaign, though still including a young population, has evolved into a mass political movement with a broad array of political backgrounds.

    The following groups maintain a significant influence in the uprising:

    Al-Wifaq: Founded as a political society in 2001, al-Wifaq is Bahrain’s leading opposition group. Its leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, has called for constitutional amendments that would give Bahrain’s elected Council of Representatives authority to form governments. In October, al-Wifaq and accompanying signatories released their demands in the Manama Document.

    Al-Wifaq is bolstered by Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain’s most influential Shia cleric. He claims to be above politics. However, according to the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Qassim “privately supports Wifaq and probably exerts considerable influence over it.” Last month, violence flared following Qassim’s release of a video calling for protestors to “crush police.”

    While al-Wifaq has repeatedly stated its openness toward dialogue, its past suggests otherwise. When Bahrain’s political process doesn’t suit its leadership, al-Wifaq resorts to boycotting it. Since the crisis started, al-Wifaq’s National Council members resigned from office, walked out of the National Dialogue, and refused to participate in the October special election.

    Other political societies opportunistically have allied with al-Wifaq and would otherwise be obsolete:

    Al-Wa’ad: A socialist party formed by returning exiles in 2002, Wa’ad is led by Ebrahim Sharif, known for leading a delegation to Lebanon in 2008, where he met and publicly lauded Hezbollah militant Samir Al Qantar.

    Al Minbar Progressive Democratic Society: With membership including both Shia and Sunni, Al Minbar includes the country’s former communists.

    Islamic Action Society (Al Amal): Amal is known as the successor to the former Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which launched a failed uprising in 1981 inspired by Iran’s Islamic revolution. Its founder, Mohammed Ali Al Mahfouth, spent the 1990s in Damascus calling for the overthrow of the royal family.

    Bahrain’s hard-line groups that publicly advocate the use of violence include:

    Coalition of the Youth of February 14th Revolution: Standing apart from Bahrain’s political societies, the February 14th movement calls on Shia youth to take to the streets and use violence to express their opposition to the government. In commemoration of the uprising’s anniversary, the movement calls for protestors to retake the junction formerly known as Pearl Roundabout, once the staging area for the opposition.

    Al-Haq: Al-Haq was co-founded by Hasan Mushaima, a former al-Wifaq member, and Abduljalil Al Singace, currently serving a life-long prison sentence. While al-Wifaq supports the transformation of government into a constitutional monarchy, al-Haq demands the immediate resignation of the monarchy.

    Independent human rights activists: The title of “human rights activist” is one often used by members of Bahrain’s opposition not directly affiliated with a political society. Such a title carries a vague job description that can often be used to manipulate a political agenda. As they condemn the abuses by the government, these self-appointed human rights activists simultaneously call for political reform and regime change. A more apt title for such individuals is “political activist.” This includes Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Rajab has become a well-known opposition figure, often leading protests, resulting in his well-publicized battle wounds.

    Too often, outside observers who have called Bahrain’s reforms “cosmetic” are too eager to leap to the defense of the opposition without fully considering its many faces. Bahrain’s government is far from perfect, but then again, so is the opposition.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to The Many Faces of Bahrain's Opposition Movement

    1. Guest says:

      FINALLY!! Someone publishing the truth about our so-called peaceful opposition.

      Thank you so much for this article.

      Fingers crossed that a lot of people get to read it and understand what is really going on in this beautiful country… especially the folks at CNN, BBC, etc. and not to mention a certain NY Times reporter…

    2. Rima says:

      Thank you Ms. Roach! You are among the very few who has been able to aptly understand the what the opposition in Bahrain comprises of, and notably someone like Nabeel Rajab who peddles himself as a human rights supporter. It is tragic what is happening in our beloved Bahrain, where peace, stability, harmony and community have been the hallmarks of our daily life for as long I can remember. Lopsided and inaccurate reporting by international media has only made matters worse. There is a huge Iran angle to Bahrain's predicament but sadly nobody wants to report.

      Proud citizen of the Kingdom of Bahrain

    3. Guest CH says:

      It is such a relief to see some sense being said amongst all the dross that has been written and sprouted over the past year.

      Yes there are issues that need sorting out, but has anyone taken a looma t the issues in the Uk and America ( for example) recently?

      As they say, people who live in glass houses shouldn;t throw stones

    4. John says:

      What a bunch of anti-democratis propaganda. If you did the slightest bit of research, you would see that the Feb 14 youth movement is non-violent. You do a great job portraying every single opposition group as a possible 5th column Iranian insurgency in order to scare people away from supporting democracy in Bahrain. The truth is that while there are a lot of opposition groups in Bahrain, the average Bahraini protester may not adhere to all the ideas of any one group, and may just be protesting for what you, Morgan Roach, enjoy every day in your comfy liberal democracy – your basic human rights (as long as you're not Mexican, black, unemployed, in jail or otherwise a drain on US society). So I say to anyone who actually cares about human rights to look behind the smokescreen of political propaganda and see the humanity of a nation of dispossessed people who may have different ideas and values, but are united in trying to attain their basic minimum rights as equals before the law.

    5. Abdulla says:

      Thank you Morgan!

      John clearly doesn't know what he is talking about. I won't bother explaining to such an ignorant person, becuase his opinion doesn't matter anyway…

    6. Thank you Morgan for the time and effort you put to tell the truth as it is.
      Lots of love all the way from Bahrain :))

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