Bahraini protesters holding an anti-regime demonstration in the capital Manama (file photo)
While the world stood captivated by US President Barack Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly, the media preoccupied with analyzing every word and syllable the leader of the free world was intent on delivering, opening up to the international community its foreign policy agenda, very few took the time to notice that thousands of miles away the tiny kingdom island of Bahrain had been crying out in agony under the yoke of its autocratic regime.
Despite two years of protests and what can only be called political resistance against oppression, Bahrainis have achieved nothing in terms of reforms. Instead, their democratic ambitions, their desire to build a fairer, more just and equalitarian society has been systematically crushed, trampled over by a regime which sees nothing beyond its own thirst of power, its desire to enslave its own people.
And while Bahrain has witnessed a lot of atrocities since 2011 and the beginning of its revolutionary movement, never before has the regime of al-Khalifa gone to such extremes to silence the political opposition.
If King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa has never shied away from violence, having proved that no act of tyranny could ever stand beyond its reach, his direct move against al-Wefaq - Bahrain’s most prominent and popular party of the opposition - has incensed Bahrainis and political activists to such a degree that political analysts have warned there will be no coming back from such a betrayal.
On September 17th, Khalil al-Marzouq, the assistant secretary general of al-Wefaq, an important and well-respected figure of the Shia community in Bahrain, was taken into custody under allegations of "enticing and advocating terrorism."
According to Public Prosecutor Nayef Yousfi, "following a thorough interrogation", al-Marzouq was “charged under the Law for Protecting the Community from Terrorist Acts, with inciting and advocating terrorism, and using his leadership position in a legally organized political society to incite crimes.”
The Public Prosecutor’s statement accuses al-Marzouq of being “affiliated with a terrorist organization” and contends that he had been “speaking at many forums, inciting and promoting terrorist acts, advocating principles which incite such acts, supporting violence committed by the terrorist coalition, and legally justifying criminal activities.”
It is important to note that while independent protesters have often called for the ouster of the monarchy and the trial of all the regime's men, al-Wefaq as a political organization has never condoned such an agenda and instead has worked toward building bridges and mending ties with the regime.
Inherently devoted to peace and national stability, al-Wefaq seeks to promote democratic changes through the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Its goals have never been to destroy the regime or lay waste Bahrain's monarchist heritage, but rather to modernize the nation as to reflect its people's rightful aspirations as well as promote religious harmony based on principles of tolerance, respect and equality.
Back in February this year, al-Marzouq traveled to Washington where he signaled that al-Wefaq posed no threat to Bahrain’s reactionary monarchy. He went on explaining that his organization had actually banned slogans calling for the overthrow of the regime and the prosecution of the ruling al-Khalifa family from its own demonstrations. "Al-Wefaq seeks to share power with the ruling family in a constitutional monarchy," he told the press.
Yet, al-Wefaq has now become the latest victim of the regime's wrath.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International, commented on al-Marzouq's arrest by saying, "Khalil al-Marzouq is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned only for his vehement criticism of the government. He must be immediately and unconditionally released."
She added, "His arrest is yet another blow to the National Dialogue which the Bahraini authorities have been flaunting as a reason to cancel the visit of the UN expert on torture to the country. However harsh his speech towards the authorities, he should not have been arrested for expressing his views."
One cannot help but draw some comparisons between Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Bahraini regime’s attempt to strike a fateful blow to al-Wefaq by aiming at one of its most senior leaders.
Just as Egypt's military junta tracked down and destroyed the Brotherhood, its direct political enemy, al-Khalifa is intent on dismantling al-Wefaq, Bahrain's opposition colossus.
And if most media have failed to catch up with Bahrain's new trend, not all international bodies have chosen to look the other way. Amnesty International rang the alarm, sternly warning against al-Khalifa’s deliberate attempt to silence all parties of the opposition.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui noted, "Over recent months, the Bahraini government has increased its threats and attacks against political associations which are critical of the government, in particular al-Wefaq. This must stop and Bahrain’s allies can no longer hide behind the National Dialogue to mute their criticisms under the pretext that it could derail the process."
For the sake of political relevance, it is important to note that al-Marzouq was arrested days after a joint statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Bahrain, signed by 47 countries, expressing concerns about the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain.
Determined to assert their political vision, al-Wefaq has now called, in protest, for a gigantic opposition rally this coming Friday - September 27th .
Taher al-Musawi, the Head of Al-Wefaq’s Media Center, told the press earlier this week "the rally will reiterate the calls of the vast majority of the Bahraini people for democratic transition and the construction of a real state that stands on justice and freedom."
Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of al-Wefaq, himself a potential target of the al-Khalifa, has reiterated his dedication to Bahrain's cause. Speaking last Friday to his followers, Salman said unflinchingly, "I have said many many times and I repeat for the hundredth time, we condemn violence from any side and we adhere to the nonviolent method on our path for democratic transition”, Salman said, “You arrested Khalil, Abdul-Wahab Hussain and the other figures, you killed Sheikh Hussain Al-Daihi’s - deputy Secretary General of Al Wefaq - father. I’m telling you now, start with me, arrest me for the rest of my life, arrest my brothers, children and wife, you will not gain legitimacy”.