The Middle East Channel

Bahrain reforms “inadequate” ahead of Grand Prix

Bahrain reforms “inadequate” ahead of Grand Prix

Human rights organization Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday condemning Bahrain’s failure to implement political reforms the country had committed to after its crackdown on last year’s uprisings. The report was issued before Bahrain is scheduled to host the prestigious Formula 1 Grand Prix. According to Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, "With the world’s eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no one should be under any illusions that the country’s human rights crisis is over." Demonstrators have gathered in recent days to protest the holding of the race and call for the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a Shiite activist sentenced to life in prison who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 50 days. Violent clashes have escalated over the past week between security forces and protesters. The February 14 youth activist group has called for "three days of rage" from Friday to Sunday. In November 2011, Bahrain’s King Hamad commissioned the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report noting human rights abuses and torture. A spokesperson from Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority said that, "sweeping and significant reforms have taken place over the past year and are still ongoing." However, Amnesty International stated it continues to receive reports of excessive use of force and torture, claiming reforms have been inadequate and have "only scratched the surface."

Syria

Six United Nations observers have begun a peacekeeping mission in Syria, attempting to enforce a five-day old truce. Twenty-four additional monitors tasked with aiding the implementation of the United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan will join the initial observers. According to Ahmad Fawzi, Annan’s spokesman, the mission "will start with setting up operating headquarters and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces so that both sides fully understand" their roles. Annan is hoping to expand the mission to 200 observers, a number which many still consider insufficient. According to the United States’ envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, multiple reports of violence could jeopardize the mission: "Should the violence persist and the ceasefire, or cessation of violence more aptly, not hold, that…will call into question the wisdom and the viability of sending in the full monitoring presence." The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian forces carried out raids in the Hama province village of Khattab on Monday and clashes broke out in the northwestern Idlib province. According to activists, heavy shelling continued in the opposition held Bayada and Khalidiya districts of Homs. Meanwhile, United Nations human rights investigators said they have received reports of the execution of soldiers captured by opposition forces. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated this week will be critical for evaluating the peace plan, elaborating that the United States is optimistic but is making alternative plans if there is a breakdown in the ceasefire. Annan is headed to Doha on Tuesday to consult with the Arab League on next steps.

Headlines

  • Around 1,200 Palestinian inmates have begun an open-ended hunger strike and 2,300 will refuse food for a day marking Prisoners’ Day, a day of protest against detainment without trail and "humiliating" treatment.
  • Egypt’s election commission is expected to decide on Tuesday which of the appeals will be reviewed from three leading presidential contenders disqualified from running.
  • Iraq’s Chief of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, was arrested on corruption charges throwing into question what were believed to be free and fair elections.

Arguments & Analysis

False Witnesses (The Daily Star)

"With the first of the U.N. observers having arrived to Syria, and regime violence showing no sign of abating, it is becoming apparent that the Security Council mission has little to no purpose. Since the "cease-fire," backed by the United Nations, came into effect Thursday, activists say around 55 people, mostly civilians, have been killed across the country, with Monday bringing news of continued shelling in several cities. It appears that this U.N. mission, sold as an integral part of Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, is more of the same, and perhaps even more dangerous: masking as it does the real extent of the violence and killings, with the observers on a guided tour of the country’s calm spots, having been warned that they bear responsibility for their own safety should they stray from the sightseeing tour."

Paradoxes of "Religious Freedom" in Egypt (Tamir Moustafa and Asifa Quraishi-Landes, Jadaliyya)

"The place of religion in the political order is arguably the most contentious issue in post-Mubarak Egypt. With Islamist-oriented parties controlling over 70 percent of seats in the new People’s Assembly and the constitution-writing process about to begin, liberals and leftists are apprehensive about the implications for Egyptian law and society, including the rights of Egypt’s millions of Coptic Christians. Mindful of these anxieties and pragmatic in its approach, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has backed away from earlier calls for an "Islamic state." Its 2011 election platform opts instead to promote the sharia as a "frame of reference. " Working hard to assuage anxieties both at home and abroad, the Party explicitly calls for a "civil state" and repeatedly stresses the importance of equality of citizenship among Muslims and Christians."

Alert: Bahrain (The International Crisis Group)
"Beneath a façade of normalisation, Bahrain is sliding toward another dangerous eruption of violence. The government acts as if partial implementation of recommendations from the November 2011 Independent Commission of Inquiry (the Bassiouni Report) will suffice to restore tranquillity, but there is every reason to believe it is wrong. Political talks — without which the crisis cannot be resolved — have ground to a halt, and sectarian tensions are mounting. A genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition and a decision to fully carry out the Bassiouni Report — not half-hearted measures and not a policy of denial — are needed to halt this deterioration."

–Mary Casey & Jennifer Parker