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​The criminalization of democracy in a Saudi vassal state

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam
is the Yemen Unit Director for the Next Century Foundation (London). Formerly a consultant on Yemen for the UNSC, her writings and commentaries have appeared in major outlets, including RT, Al Jazeera, CGTN, Elaph and the BBC.
is the Yemen Unit Director for the Next Century Foundation (London). Formerly a consultant on Yemen for the UNSC, her writings and commentaries have appeared in major outlets, including RT, Al Jazeera, CGTN, Elaph and the BBC.
​The criminalization of democracy in a Saudi vassal state
On June 16, Sheikh Ali Salman, a leading opposition figure in the Saudi-dominated monarchy of Bahrain, was condemned to four years in prison. His sentence threatens to turn Bahrain’s “quiet” revolution into a torrential wave, reshaping the region forever.

Fidel Castro once said, "A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past." These words could not ring truer in Bahrain, where since 2011 an entire people has struggled against the two century-old rule of the Al Khalifa monarchy, determined to reclaim what it perceives as its most basic, inalienable and inherent rights - political self-determination.

Put on the media back-burner by western powers for the sake of political correctness and geopolitical interests, events in Bahrain have seldom made the mainstream media headlines. This allowed the regime to crackdown on the opposition however it saw fit. It held firm to the belief that its actions, however reprehensible and illegal, would remain cloaked, its system protected and its legacy preserved.

READ MORE: Key Bahraini opposition figure handed 4yr jail term

And while it appeared, for a time at least, that the "little guy" proved no match before the might of the powers that be, the arrest and subsequent condemnation of one man, Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, could soon prove one offense too many.

An outspoken critic of Bahrain's monarchy, Salman has come to represent more than just Bahrainis' democratic ambitions; this charismatic and determined cleric and political figure has come to embody the very spirit of the revolution.

If Bahrainis ever needed a catalyst to carry them across that last fear barrier and fuse together all segments of the population – beyond class, religious affiliations and political affinities – in one giant revolutionary wave, the condemnation of Salman to four years in jail for his campaigning against the regime could just be it.

As often under tyrannical rule, despots are too blinded by their own rapacious ambitions and paranoia to realize that it is their own violence that is feeding the flame of dissent and will ultimately bring about their undoing. For every empire and every broken ruling system there will always be that tipping point where the "future" will come to annihilate the "past" and see manifest popular will over that of the elite. For Bahrain, the hour has already rung.

Within hours of Salman's sentencing, Al Wefaq as well as prominent rights organizations were up in arms in condemnation, decrying Bahrain's decision as a miscarriage of justice.

ALL #Sheikh_Ali_Salman did was promote Justice-Equality yearn Democracy-in return #Bahrain handed him 4YEAR SENTENCE pic.twitter.com/zMH702B587

— #HumanRights4ALL (@OneLadyLibra) June 16, 2015

In a statement published on its website, it wrote, “Al Wefaq National Islamic Society considers the verdict against Sheikh Ali Salman of is void and lacks legal and judicial bases as defined by Salman’s defense panel which is made up of a group of well-known lawyers.”

Amnesty International labeled Al Khalifa's move as "shocking."

"Sheikh Salman’s detention and prosecution violate Bahrain’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party," the rights group wrote.

Interestingly, Salman, who has sat in jail since his arrest last December, was acquitted of the charges he was arrested on: incitement against the ruling system. In a clear attempt to cover their legal bases and perpetuate the illusion of a fair and unbiased system, Bahrain judicial authorities chose instead to swap their grievances against Salman to "collusion with foreign governments and instigating unrest."

Maryam Moosa Ali, a Manama-based rights activist, warned that the imprisonment of Salman will only drive revolutionary tendencies further and harden the youth's resolve to take down the monarchy. "While we remain committed to our principles of non-violence, the regime's ruling against our main revolutionary figure has sealed the monarchy's fate. There is no more room for debate. If Bahrainis were willing to negotiate and compromise before, it is no longer the case," she said.

READ MORE: Strike of Defiance: Tear gas floods Bahrain as protests mark 2011 uprising (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

With anger running high in the island kingdom, mass demonstrations are already getting organized.

"Bahrainis will not tolerate further encroachment on their freedom of expression and human rights," said Maryam Ali.

But beyond the anger of a people against its despot, lies another dimension to this revolution: Bahrainis are not just calling for democratic change, they want to lay waste to the state-run religious apartheid. Bahrain's struggle is not purely political.

While Bahrain' Sunni governing elite went to great length to deny any "sectarian" wrongdoing, arguing that all Bahraini nationals, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, stood equal before the throne, reality has begged to differ.

For the past 200 years, safe from a few years respite in the 1990s under late Emir Hamad Al Khalifa, discriminatory policies against Bahrain’s Shia population have largely been the hallmarks of the monarchy.

Under the guise of restoring order, King Hamad has authorized and directed the destruction and raid of Shia mosques, Shia schools, Shia residences and Shia businesses. Since it wasn't enough to curb revolutionaries' resolve, the authorities then resorted to dilute the Shia population by both "importing" Sunni foreign nationals into Bahrain and stripping Shia Bahrainis of their nationality.

In September 2014, Maryam Al Khawaja, a prominent rights defender and Shia Bahraini, was told on her arrival at Manama airport that her nationality had been revoked by the king. While her case made the headlines, countless others were not as lucky.

On eve of jailing Sheikh Ali Salman to 4 yrs, US moves to lift arms embargo on regime accused by its own BICI of systematic torture #Bahrain

— Saeed Shehabi (@SaeedShehabi) June 16, 2015

While of course such practices are profoundly unlawful and morally perverse they serve as a mirror to the true nature of Al Khalifa's ire against its own people.

A vassal of rich Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's monarchy is but an extension of Al Saud's will in the Arabian Peninsula, and as such its anti-Shia, anti-democracy campaign has been but an expression of Riyadh's Wahhabi legacy.

But while the Bahraini monarchy continues to tighten the lid on its people, it would do well to understand one simple rule of physics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.