Saturday, 18th August 2012
Dear Lord Howell,
In the light of last week’s jailing of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, and last nights killing of 16 year-old protester Hussam Al Haddad, I write to you to request clarification of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office position on Bahrain the “Arab Spring”.
In particular, I request that make clear your position on the following statement attributed to you on the Bahrain News Agency website, dated 29th June, 2012:
“The Minister of State at Foreign & Commonwealth Office said that Bahrain was considered an example in the region and its situation should not be linked to the Arab Spring because the matters were completely different in this case, as the country had achieved remarkable reforms over more than ten years.”
The context is a meeting which took place in London that month between yourself and Bahrain Minister of Interior Lt-General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa.
According to the BNA, Mr. Rashid Al Khalifa also met with the Director General MI5 Jonathan Evans, Home Office Minister James Brokenshire, Northern Ireland Minister Hugo Swire and Attorney-General Dominic Grieve, and others.
Your words on the FCO website seem more guarded:
I ask you plainly: Is is it or is it not HMG’s position that Bahrain is not part of, or “should not be linked to”, the “Arab Spring”? Is the BNA representing your position accurately?
Any objective analysis of the rhetoric, actions, goals and aspirations of the Bahrain opposition, the slogans, tactics, and attitudes of the protesters in Bahrain, and the often brutal and repressive actions of the current Bahrain government in response to the protests will show that Bahrain is indeed part of the “Arab Spring.”
Indeed, Bahrain has seen, as a percentage of population, the largest and most representative protests of all the countries that have undergone “revolutions of dignity” (as they are known in Arabic) since the current wave of protests began in December 2010.
Moreover, the things that the protesters are protesting about: the crisis of political legitimacy and representation in Bahrain, the lack of genuinely democratic and civil society institutions, and the Al Khalifa state’s institutionalised sectarianism, have direct parallels with the grievances of protesters and opposition movements in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, the Yemen and elsewhere.
In their final crises the regimes headed by Assad, Gaddhafi, and Mubarak all claimed commitment to “reform” with Syria, for example, holding elections. In these instances the FCO rightly condemned such “reform” as a sham, yet, flying in the face of objective evidence and expert opinion, it is only too happy to take Bahrain’s claims to reform at face value.
I worked on one of the Crown Prince of Bahrain’s reform projects 2007-2011, was an eye-witness to the initial uprisings in the spring of 2011, have submitted substantial evidence to the BICI, and know first hand the deeply divided nature of the present regime and the hollow, “on-paper” nature of so many of its reforms, pre- and post-BICI.
It might seem — from the perspective of London — to be an adroit piece of positioning to isolate the “Arab Spring” as a phenomenon affecting only the historically anti-Western Arab republics, to pretend that the monarchical dictatorships of the GCC are immune from the uprisings, and to view the extension of GCC power beyond the Arabian Peninsula as an opportunity to consolidate Western interests in a rapidly changing region.
However, such an approach takes no account whatsoever of the situation on the ground in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, where a new generation hungry for the democracy, freedom, civil and increasingly open societies found elsewhere in the developing world make little if any distinction between the any of the region’s post-colonial dictatorships, be they republican or monarchical.
All are seem as equally rotten, of-the-past, part of the problem not the solution. At the turn of the millennium, in the year 2000, you, Lord Howell, wrote eloquently of “the Edge of Now” calling for innovation in economic, political, and social thinking; more recently, you revised your thesis in the light of an “age of revolutions” demanding “new paradigms for leadership”. In 2007 you called for:
” … Deeper recognition by society’s leaders … of the changed nature of authority in all its forms. Deeper understanding that heavy centralism, uniformity and hierarchy are no longer the key requirements of order, that in an age of interactivity and networks, when people can talk back, Authority has to earn respect and loyalty in new ways , to concentrate on new tasks and learn new techniques of governing. The whole approach to the organization of society has to become far more modest and circuitous.”
Then you re-entered government. In the light of the on-going arrests and killings in Bahrain, it is very hard to square these sentiments with the level of support that the FCO is giving to the widely discredited and ultimately unsustainable regime in Bahrain.
I wonder whether the grieving father of young Hussam Al Haddad would think the Al Khalifa regime, “reform” notwithstanding, is in any way remotely capable of embracing the model of leadership you have described above.
In a C21st in which the world will undergo a profound reordering of geo-political power, a “new paradigm” is very much required for Britain’s foreign policy in the MENA region. Clinging to the old certainties of the mid-C20th will not serve the British interest of the mid-C21st.
What might serve long-term British interest in the region is to give even-handed and consistent support to all who seek to attain against a background of tyranny the freedoms that we all too often take for granted.
I look forward to reading your clarification on Bahrain and the “Arab Spring.”
Dr. Mike Diboll.
William Hague, MP
Alistair Burt, MP
Nicholas Soames, MP