The crisis in Bahrain continues to boil along, despite the harsh crackdown of the Sunni monarchy on the protest movement (made up largely of the Shiite majority, but also supported by some Sunni parties). The crackdown has left about 83 dead in the past year, and hundreds have been imprisoned. Abd al-Hadi al-Khwajah, a protester and hunger striker that the Bahrain authorities have sentenced to life imprisonment, is in very bad health. Aljazeera English reports:
Al-Khwajah’s plight and that of the other political prisoners are raising questions about the holding of the Grand Prix Formula One race in Bahrain this year (it was cancelled last year). Aljazeera English reports:
The USG Open Source Center translates these two reports from Bahrain opposition web sites. (Al-Wifaq is the major political party of the Shiite majority. It demands a constitutional monarchy and revisions to the constitution. Shiites in Bahrain feel that they are discriminated against in employment, education and basic rights by the Sunni monarchy. Al-Wifaq is led by cleric Ali Salman, a moderate.)
Al-Wifaq.net in Arabic [website of Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition group] … is observed to carry the “text” of the Friday sermon delivered by Shiite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qasim. In his sermon, Qasim says that “Abd-al-Hadi al-Khawajah was unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment” and according to the reports of Human Rights organizations, “his health condition has become too frail and his life is at risk.” Qasim adds: “This portends a very grave national and human rights crisis the negative results of which are certain.” He explains his opinion by saying: “If Al-Khawajah dies, it would be one of the ‘unforgivable’ crimes of the regime and this would lead to a serious deterioration of the security situation in the country.” The report cites Qasim as saying: “We do not call for any armed intervention by any party, but we need more serious pressure to be put on the Bahraini regime by its ‘strategic allies,’ instead of their supportive words and stances that encourage the regime to commit more acts of violence.”…
“[The] Bahrain Mirror in Arabic [Pro-opposition website] says that the Al-Wifaq National Islamic Society has urgently summoned its cadres to set up an around-the-clock operations room to follow up on the developments in the issue of Abd-al-Hadi al-Khawajah who has reportedly reached a critical stage due to the 56-day hunger strike. The report adds that Al-Wifaq’s Secretary General Ali Salman has changed his tone on this issue by saying that “the regime will be held responsible for the consequences of whatever harm is done to Abd-al-Hadi al-Khawajah.”
The United States has widely been accused of hypocrisy in declining to criticize or sanction the Bahrain authorities for their intolerance of dissent, while jumping up and down about dictatorship in countries the US government dislikes, such as Syria.
Friday is a traditional day of protest in the Arab world, and yesterday did not disappoint. In addition, there were some important developments in the two post-revolutionary societies of Egypt and Tunisia.
2. Thousands of Yemenis protested Friday against the continued influence of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh is said to work through his party’s cabinet ministers. He also continues to have support in the officer corps, where one of the generals is his son. Saleh had been president for life before last year. In February, his vice president ran unopposed and was elected president. But Saleh can’t let go, provoking Friday’s big demonstrations.
4. NYT says that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose Justice and Development Party dominates the new parliament, is intent on lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip. The article alleges that the Brotherhood is trying to broker a national unity government between fundamentalist Hamas and the secular Palestine Liberation Organization, in the belief that only a united front can bring about a meaningful two-state solution.
5. Tunisia’s large number of small secular and leftist parties are forming a big coalition to contest the next parliamentary elections. The Nahda or Renaissance Party, Tunisia’s fundamentalist movement, captured 42% of the seats in parliament last October and so elected the current prime minister. One problem the small leftist parties faced was that they had been allowed to function, if under severe restrictions, during the reign of dictator Zain al-Din Ben Ali. All the parties that did well in the elections had been in exile. The fractured character of the left allowed them to lose the elections decisively, even though they have a great deal of support among unions, students and urban populations.
There have been serious human rights abuses, but on a small scale compared to those of Qaddafi, and most of the population feels liberated. This is not to minimize them; the human rights situation needs to improve if the revolution is to be honored. Attempts are being made to rebuild a national army, but it will take time; in the meantime, its social peace will be a bit fragile– but that is to be expected after a revolution. Libya is nowhere near the mess that France was after its revolution in 1789, and there is nothing like a Vendee or a Terror. There hasn’t been a civil war, though there are still a few pockets of insecurity. Those hoping for bad news really haven’t had all that much considering that the country had been left with no functioning institutions after decades of personalistic Qaddafi totalitarianism.
As for those who blame the recent military coup in Mali on the civil unrest in the north of that country caused by returning Tuareg mercenaries from Libya, surely the blame should be put on Muammar Qaddafi for forming a corps of lawless Tuareg mercenaries in the first place. Qaddafi promoted militias and mercenaries and civil strife all over Africa, and it is not unexpected that some of his minions will go on being troublesome after his death. It isn’t Free Libya’s fault except if you think 6.5 million Libyans should have preferred to live under brutal tyranny in order to keep foreign Tuareg mercenaries employed and happy. Moreover, there were other ways for Mali’s officer corps to deal with the Tuareg unrest than to make a coup; the military is taking advantage of the turmoil to take power, which is also not Libya’s fault. And, it is not as if the Libyan Revolution invented a Tuareg problem for Mali. There have been two major Tuareg rebellions before.
Some people can’t forgive Libya for revolting against Qaddafi, or for taking outside help to do so, and seem to seek some Schadenfreude in Libya’s post-revolution problems. But that isn’t social or political analysis, it is just point scoring and a sort of moralistic story-telling. People who are interested in the welfare of Libyans are pulling for them.
Bahrain may have been two-thirds Shiite a few decades ago, but the Sunni monarchy has given thousands of Sunnis from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan citizenship. Nowadays, surveys show that about 58% of the population is Shiite. But this group feels that it is actively discriminated against in employment and other spheres. This majority also minds being politically marginalized, and wants changes in the constitution to reduce the perquisites of the king and to move the country toward popular sovereignty. Last year, the regime cracked down hard on protesters. But apparently they are still organized and have demands that cannot be forestalled by elite fiat.
The US has been timid about speaking out concerning human rights abuses in Bahrain because the monarchy leases to the US a naval base at Manama, which serves at the HQ of the Fifth Fleet. This fleet provides security to petroleum exports from the Gulf, which come to some 20% of the world total. Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy is also often seen in Washington and Riyadh as a bulwark against Iranian hegemony in the Gulf.
Bahrain has about 550,000 citizens and a similar number of guest workers. It is a minor petroleum exporter ( 150,000 barrels a day in 2011?), but is important mainly for strategic reasons and because of its vital finance sector.
The Sadrists are demanding that the king of Bahrain be excluded from the Arab League summit to be held shortly in Baghdad. The Iraqi government of PM Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to reassure Manama that the Sadrists do not speak for the whole of Iraq. Al-Maliki, though more diplomatic than Sadr, is nevertheless also upset about the crackdown on Bahrain’s Shiite majority and the sending of Saudi troops into Bahrain.
Still, the Arab League summit in Baghdad is a coup for al-Maliki, and King Hamad Al Khalifah of Bahrain agrees that it is a signal opportunity to underscore Iraq’s return to the center of Arab affairs. Despite his disappointment in Bahrain policy toward its Shiites, al-Maliki is eager for regional recognition and acceptances, and unlikely to meet the Sadrists’ demand. He heads his own Shiite party, the Islamic Mission Party (al-Da’wa al-Islamiya), which is more lay and middle class than the Sadrists, who are disproportionately poor and more radical.
What are the big stories in the Arab world today? A newly elected parliament is being seated, and a deposed president is leaving the country. But beyond that, the remarkable thing is that there are any political stories at all. There weren’t, a year and a half ago. The political stories of today are not about the advent of paradise, but about the politics of transitions.
It was never acceptable to assert glibly in an op-ed that things have happened “Because Arabs are… ” such and such. It has the form of a racist argument. Arabs are only united, if at all, by a common language (and even it is diverse). Things happen because “Arabs do…”, because of actions they take for reasons of their social interests, not because of what they supposedly “are.”
The new Arab world created by the people power movements of 2012 is not suddenly Sweden. No one should have expected it to be. The Arab world had been stuck in a stagnating rut, of dictatorship, family cartels, embezzlement, corruption, and stagnation. Where economic growth of 5% a year began being reported, as in Tunisia or Egypt, it was either a lie or was mostly captured by a small economic elite, the Arab 1%.
What began in some of these countries in 2011 was a transition, a transition that activists hoped would be toward regular, free and fair parliamentary elections and ways for students, workers, office workers, women, religious activists, and religious minorities to have an impact on policy. None of these things would have been possible in the least under the old regimes. There was no hope. Now there is hope but no certitude.
In Tunisia and Egypt, that transition has begun. In Yemen, less stark change is afoot, but some sort of transition seems at least to be beginning. In Libya, the dictator was overthrown but elections are still some six months off. In Syria, a popular movement is still attempting to kick off the transition. In Bahrain, the movement was crushed, but village demonstrations bravely continue.
In Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan, there have been at least some reforms to forestall the outbreak of a more vigorous movement. In the oil rich states of the Gulf, the monarchs and emirs have attempted to bribe their publics into quiescence.
The transitions may fail. They involve politics, the working of social conflict among large social groups into political speeches, elections and policies. Sometimes a democratic transition begins and stalls out. Sometimes it is incomplete (one thinks of Russia). Sometimes it remains incomplete for a long time. Sometimes dictatorship returns (Ukraine?). Sometimes longstanding democracies themselves deteriorate politically (think of Italy under Silvio Berlusconi with high levels of corruption and a form of press censorship).
The success or failure of transitions depends on many things. It helps to have a wealthy country, but perhaps only Tunisia fits the bill even a little bit in the Arab region. It helps not to have strong ethnic divisions and grievances. It helps to have a strong middle class and institutions such as labor unions and chambers of commerce. Religion is probably irrelevant as an explanatory consideration.
Those who throw up their hands over the rise of Muslim religious parties in Egypt or the continued instability in Libya are not looking at what has happened as a set of processes. If anything good came out of the uprisings of 2011 it is precisely this flux, this opening toward possibilities, this politics. Because in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt or Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya there was no politics of an ordinary sort, only secret police and massive embezzlement and arbitrary arrest and torture.
If some of the transitions don’t get off the ground or if they fail, there are concrete economic and political reasons for it. Those need to be investigated and understood. The day when bigots could say that Arabs or Muslims are incapable of a certain kind of politics has passed. But the day when we can understand in detail why their politics evolves as it does is still not here.
So here are the stories of the transitions today, the stories of politics in a region formerly beset by censorship, secret police, domestic spying, and deadening silences.
1. On Monday, the newly elected lower house of parliament met. The last elected parliament, of fall, 2010, had been almost completely dominated by members of the corrupt National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak, and clearly all challengers to his regime had been excluded from winning seats by the police who counted the ballots. Public rage at a clearly phony electoral outcome fed into the uprising of Jan. 25-Feb. 11. The new parliament is dominated by Muslim religious parties, with the Muslim Brotherhood, at 47% of seats, the largest. It met with three other parties to choose the new speaker of the house, Mohammed al-Katatny, who is resigning from his position in the Muslim Brotherhood to take this post. That is, al-Katatny’s appointment was passed by the Wafd Party, which has a lot of Coptic Christians and secular Muslims in it, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, as well as the Salafi Nur Party (the second-biggest). Nur and the Wafd will supply the two deputy speakers.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been attempting to become a central actor in Egyptian society and politics for many decades, so its dominance of this parliament is historic. As AP points out, they are avoiding triumphalism or extreme policies because they don’t want to provoke the kind of social conflict that occurred in Algeria in the 1990s after a Muslim religious party came to power at the polls there but was deposed by military intervention. Some 150,000 persons are said to have died in that fighting.
2. Thousands of political prisoners have been released in Tunisia, a year after dictator Zine El Abidin Ben Ali was overthrown. In addition, 122 prisoners on death row had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment by President Moncef al-Marzouqi, a human rights activist who had been exiled to France by his predecessor. He has pledged to work to abolish capital punishment.
3. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left Yemen for Oman on his way to the United States for medical treatment. (He had been wounded in a bombing in summer, 2011). Before he departed, he gave a speech asking the people to pardon him for any mistakes committed during his three decades of rule. Saleh’s opponents have opposed the immunity from prosecution granted him by the plan of the Gulf Cooperation Council. He had said that he turned power over to his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who, however, complained that Saleh continued to interfere in the political process. On Sunday, Saleh is said to have finally relinquished all prerogatives to Hadi. Saleh says that he will return in February, as head of the General People’s Congress Party, which will contest the presidential election scheduled for that month. Hadi will be the standard bearer for the ruling party.
The Arabic press reports that on Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators came out at Change Square in Sanaa to demand that Saleh be tried for crimes he committed in the course of trying to put down the rallies of winter-spring, 2011.
4. Libya’s Transitional National Council is facing protests from activists in the country’s second largest city, Benghazi. That city was crucial to the movement that overthrew Qaddafi, but its residents say that they are the victims of neglect by the transitional government, which has a lot of former regime officials in it. In both Tunisia and Egypt, transitional prime ministers had to resign under pressure from democratic activists not satisfied with how much continuity there was from the old regime.
5. On Sunday, the Arab League called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and to allow a government of national unity to guide the country to a new system. This plan sounds very much like the one adopted (or partially adopted) in Yemen. Al-Assad angrily rejected the suggestion as undue interference in Syria’s internal affairs.
It isn’t surprising that the Baath government castigated the Arab League for interfering. What is amazing is that the Arab League is attempting to suggest a way forward for Syria, out of its crises and gridlock. For decades the Arab League was a cypher. But under Secretary-General Nabil Alaraby, it has become an international organization of some importance. It called for the intervention against Qaddafi in Libya. Al-Assad has blown it off, treating it as if it was still divided and toothless, as in the past. He may be making a mistake. His strong alliance with Iran and the unsavory sight of all those sniping attacks on his own civilians has turned a lot of the Arab League against him.
Among the flashpoints in the area has been the confrontation between Iran and the United States at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran conducted a 10-day military exercise there, warning of its ability to close off the waterway to world trade, thus depriving it of one-sixth of petroleum supplies.
But an unstated element in this Iran-US confrontation is the US backing for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both Sunni powers, against Iran. Bahrain’s citizen population is 58% Shiite, after tens of thousands of Saudis, Pakistanis and other Sunnis were granted citizenship by the Sunni monarch of the islands. The Bahrain monarchy has cracked down hard on the protest movement seeking a constitutional monarchy. Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 troops to help the Bahrain king, Sheikh Hamad b. Isa Al Khalifah. The United States has a naval base in Manama that serves as the HQ of the Fifth Fleet, which is charged with keeping the oil flowing from the Persian Gulf.
Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu got where he is by advocating a policy in Turkey of “good relations with neighbors.” It was this policy that doubled Turkish trade with the Middle East after 2002, and which led to the reemergence of Turkey as an influential country in the region, after long decades in which it had turned almost exclusively toward Europe.
Turkey is a Sunni-majority country and the current Justice and Development Party government has strong Sunni Muslim constituencies, including the Naqshbandi Sufi order, which is important in Iraq and Syria. But the government has striven, despite significant tensions, for correct relations with Iran. Turkey imports natural gas from Iran and the two countries did more than $15 billion in trade with one another in 2011, up 55% over the previous year. Turkey, like South Korea, is seeking an exemption from upcoming US sanctions on sales of petroleum and gas via Iran’s central bank. Its Halkbank handles India’s purchase of Iranian petroleum.
Sunni-Shiite tensions have flared in Iraq. On Wednesday, a series of bombs went off in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, killing 23 persons; the bombers clearly want to reignite Iraq’s sectarian civil war. At the same time, a political crisis continues to unfold. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashimi of involvement in terrorist attacks, one of them aiming to assassinate al-Maliki itself. Al-Hashimi fled to Kurdistan and sought to have any legal proceedings against him take place there. An Iraqi court has instead ordered him to Baghdad. He is likely to flee the country rather than face al-Maliki- appointed judges. Al-Maliki’s charges against Hashimi have caused the largely Sunni Iraqiya Party to suspend its participation in his government of national unity. Al-Maliki blames Saudi influence for Sunni Arab violence against Shiites in Iraq.
There is also a latent Sunni-Shiite dimension to the ongoing crisis in Syria. On Wednesday, some 26 persons died across the country as security forces continued to snipe at demonstrators. Some 19 of those deaths occurred in Homs, where there were big anti-government rallies. The ruling Baath Party is dominated at its upper echelons by members of the heterodox Shiite sect of the Allawites, whereas most of the urban centers that have come out against the regime are Sunni in character, and the Muslim Brotherhood plays a significant role in organizing them.
Turkey has taken a strong stand against government repression of the demonstrators, and has come out strongly against the Allawite president Bashar al-Asad. The Justice and Development Party’s Sunni constituencies in Anatolia may be among the drivers of this stance in favor of the Syrian National Council. It represents and about-face; the party came to power in 2002 determined to repair relations with Damascus, in which objective it largely had succeeded before last spring’s uprising. Turkey had done some $2 bn. a year in trade with Syria and was working on a free trade zone with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Davutoglu is likely attempting to mediate between the US and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other. Unlike the former, Turkey is not spoiling for a fight. Davutoglu’s brilliant strategy of expanding trade with the Middle East has been deeply inconvenienced by the troubles in Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s truck trade with the Arab world went through Syria. Al-Arabiya reports in Arabic that Turkey is planning to ship the trucks to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, from which they can take their goods anywhere in the Arab world. But the shipping costs will obviously reduce profits.
Turkish trade policy, which depends on harmonious relations among neighbors, impels it to attempt to tamp down sectarian conflict. Iran and Saudi Arabia, as oil states, do not absolutely require regional trade for their prosperity, and so they have the independence to conduct a struggle with one another if they (unwisely) so choose.
Whatever Davutoglu’s specific mission, which has not been revealed, his general emphasis on tamping down tensions couldn’t be more essential.
The Project on Middle Esst Democracy has written a letter to Secretary of State Clinton on the Bahrain crisis, which I co-signed. It asks the US take seriously the findings of severe human rights violations on the part of the regime, and to pressure it to take concrete steps to end them. The letter anticipated the Bassiouni report commissioned by the king, which confirmed the seriousness of the violations.
Nov. 21, 2011
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
We are writing to you out of concern with ongoing developments in Bahrain.
“meaningful reform and equal treatment for all Bahrainis are in Bahrain’s interest, in the region’s interest, and in ours.”
As we await the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) on November 23, we are also pleased to hear that the administration will “review the Commission’s findings carefully and assess the Government of Bahrain’s efforts to implement the recommendations and make needed reforms.”
We are hopeful the BICI report will thoroughly document human rights violations committed in Bahrain that have been independently verified by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and many others since protests began in February. Furthermore, we hope the implementation of reform and accountability mechanisms for human rights violations will lead to a process of substantive political reform that is responsive to the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Bahraini people.
As you noted recently, “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.” In order to restore public confidence and deliver on its promises to uphold human rights and accountability, the U.S. Government should urge the Government of Bahrain to:
Unconditionally release political prisoners and end torture, arbitrary detention, and incommunicado detention;
Protect Shi’a places of worship and religious buildings, rebuild destroyed mosques, and end systematic discrimination in political representation, government recruitment, employment, and naturalization policies;
Take measures to ensure the reinstatement of all workers and employees who were dismissed from their workplace for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, political opinion, and assembly;
Allow and fully cooperate with independent human rights organizations and observers, including U.N. bodies such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to investigate claims of human rights abuses; Investigate and hold accountable all individuals who authorized, condoned, or committed human rights abuses, including the use of violence or torture against peaceful protesters and detainees
Release medical professionals and political prisoners who have been detained without charge or convicted and sentenced for political offenses; and
Allow access by local and international journalists to activists, protest sites, hospitals and other public institutions.
While we hope the BICI report will comprehensively address the range of past and ongoing human rights abuses, the Government of Bahrain’s commitment to reform should be demonstrated by concrete efforts to quickly implement serious reforms. The democratic demands of the Bahraini people are based on a universal desire for dignity and self-determination. Such demands include, but are not limited to:
The empowerment of elected rather than appointed government institutions.
Universal and equal suffrage, including in the designation of electoral districts;
A judicial system that operates independently, both financially and administratively, and is impartial and transparent in its proceedings;
The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation based on political opinions that are different than others; and
A security apparatus respectful of human rights and subject to independent review.
These concerns have been articulated in documents such as the National Action Charter of 2001, the Manama Document of October 2011, and points laid out by the Crown Prince of Bahrain in a speech on March 13, 2011.
After considering the recommendations of the BICI report and previous reports by international rights organizations, we hope that, as you have stated, the U.S. Government will “hold the Bahraini Government to these commitments and to encourage the opposition to respond constructively to secure lasting reform.”
We were pleased to see the delay of the recently proposed sale of arms to Bahrain, and we hope that no sale of items that could be used to repress the Bahraini people will move forward until reforms are agreed to, implementation has begun, and the Bahraini government has clearly ceased using torture and violence against its own people. As we also recognize the “need for dialogue, reconciliation, and concrete reforms,” we look forward to a comprehensive reconciliation process that restores respect for human rights and holds violators accountable. We hope that process will be a first step that can lead to a meaningful, substantive national dialogue, which includes all parts of the peaceful opposition, to produce concrete political reforms that meet the democratic aspirations of the Bahraini people.
Project on Middle East Democracy
Human Rights First
Physicians for Human Rights
Council on Foreign Relations
Center for American Progress
Reporters Without Borders
Just Foreign Policy
Human Rights Watch
David J. Kramer
Jennifer L. Windsor
Center for a New American Security
University of Michigan
Jamie M. Fly
Foreign Policy Initiative
University of California, Davis
Peace Action West
University of Maryland
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Universal Muslim Association of America
New York University
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Laurie A. Brand
University of Southern California
3P Human Security
James E. Winkler
General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church
1. Egypt’s security police and other forces are alleged to have killed 13 persons and wounded hundreds more at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo as they systematically cleared it of protesters. The protesters were demanding that the military step down in favor of civilian government. The interim government of PM Essam Sharaf and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) affirmed that despite the turmoil, elections for the lower house of parliament would begin November 28 as planned.
2. In Syria, two rockets slammed into Baath Party buildings in Damascus on Sunday, the first time the embryonic guerrilla resistance has hit inside the capital. . Security forces killed at least 9 protesters on Sunday, in Homs and points north. Meanwhile, the Arab League stuck to its guns with regard to its plan to send 500 observers to Syria. The Baath government complained that the plan as it stood would infringe against Syrian sovereignty. The Arab League deadline has passed for the Syrian government to cease shooting down its people, and some AL states have threatened economic sanctions. Syria has been suspended as a voting member of the Arab League.
3. Libyan fighters arrested feared former intelligence chief Abdullah Sanoussi near Sabha on Sunday. The capture came a day after Saif al-Islam Qaddafi was apprehended. Sanoussi is under indictment at the International Criminal Court for war crimes against the Libyan people, and has also been convicted in absentia of terrorism in France. Sanoussi was Muammar Qaddafi’s enforcer and is allegedly implicated in many killings.
The new Libya appears increasingly safe from any rearguard rebellion led by former regime figures, as all the significant ones are now in exile, in custody, or dead.
5. Update The Tunisian al-Nahda Party is denying the following report. If it is true that the Bahrain news agency is now just making things up about the stance of foreign observers, it signals a new low in disinformation for the island kingdom:
In a shameful piece of sectarianism, the al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, which gained a plurality of the seats in the new parliament in recent elections, was reported [to its subsequent denial] to be taking the side of the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain against the largely Shiite protesters. Al-Nahda is a Sunni fundamentalist party that has benefited from the Tunisian revolution, waged mostly by secular forces last January. [If the Bahrain report is true,] It is disappointing that it would allow its judgement to be affected by fellow feeling with the island nation’s Sunni monarchy.