Uneasy calm ahead of lifting of emergency law in Bahrain

May 31, 2011

Offering unusually huge discounts on a wide range of clothing items, electronics and furniture, the Marina Mall in downtown Manama is on Tuesday afternoon full of customers eager to take advantage of the shopping opportunities.

However, a few meters away, an eerie silence clashes with the bustling shopping mall.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Roundabout, popularly known as the Pearl Roundabout, is gone, replaced by a new road junction that is not operational yet.

The roundabout was the epicentre of the protests launched on February 14 to press for more political and constitutional reforms.

A first evacuation operation on February 17 resulted in casualties and the army moving to the roundabout.

However, after Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa made a television appearance in which he said that the army units were returned to their barracks and called for a national dialogue, crowds went back to the roundabout, put up tents and a set up a large stage for speeches. The 300-foot monument of six swords holding up a pearl became a backdrop for the activities at the small tent city.

The roundabout lost of its political and social relevance after radical demonstrators opted to take the action to around Bahrain Financial Harbour where they blocked access to the financial district and to several official buildings.

Bahraini authorities invited in units from the Peninsula Shield, the military arm of the GCC, under a common defence agreement and declared a state of national safety, emergency laws, for three months.

Political parties and the parliament continued their work, but crowds and rallies were banned. A night curfew around a seafront highway in Manama was imposed and rallies and gatherings were banned.

On May 8, Bahrain said that it would end the state of national safety on June 1, two weeks ahead of schedule, despite repeated pleas from lawmakers to prolong it for at least three more months. The decision was welcomed as an indication of a clear amelioration of the situation in the country.

On Tuesday, and after 78 days of emergency law and with only hours before their lifting, Bahrainis, even those shopping at the Marina Mall, are eagerly waiting for the events that will unfold.

“We need to learn from the lessons of the past,” Salah Al Jowder, a social activist, said.

“Bahrain’s higher interests should be above all considerations and our collective responsibility is to work together to heal the wounds and regain our national unity and cohesion. We need to start a new phase in our lives in which we build more robust relations and confront together sedition and extremism,” he said.

Ahmad Juma, the head of political bureau of Al Mithaq, one of the 18 political societies officially registered in Bahrain, said that Bahrainis needed now to draw lessons from the past and build on closer relations between all segments of the society.

MP Abdul Halim Murad, from Al Asala, the expression of Salafism in Bahrain, said that the lifting of the emergency laws did not mean there were no dangers lurking.

“Bahrain still has to confront big threats,” he said. The crisis is not over yet and whoever thinks that the situation is now calm and that the sedition is over should review the situation carefully. There are those who are plotting day and night and we have to remain very vigilant,” he said.

Abdul Halim, a strong proponent of legal action against the demonstrators who were reportedly implicated in violent action, said that he was shocked by alleged calls for demonstrations after the lifting of the emergency laws.

“We are fully ready to reinstate the popular committees that looked after the security and safety of our people when they were under threat. We are for peace, but we should not be underestimated or overlooked because we know how to take care of ourselves in case some people try to take us into a dark tunnel,” he said.

His call was echoed by Ahmad Al Ansari, a municipal councillor in the Central Governorate, who said that several popular committees in the Riffa area were coordinating their efforts to confront potential threats after the emergency laws are lifted.

“As we keep seeing threatening messages posted online, we have decided to take all necessary measures and precautions to secure the area and deal with any danger to the safety of the residents in the Riffa area,” he said. “Nevertheless, we urge all citizens to keep calm and not be disturbed by statements and rumours that seek to undermine unity.”

Al Wefaq, the largest political society, said in a statement that with the lifting of the emergency laws, it would continue arguing for a political solution to the issue and would continue calling for a constitutional monarchy.

“We are looking for a civil state, and not a religious state, as some people have been claiming,” the society said.

Al Wefaq said that it would shun mass gatherings, like the ones held at the Pearl Roundabout, and would resort to rallies and sit-ins to press for its demands.

“Our rallies will be peaceful and will take into consideration the interests of the business community and will not stall the interests of anyone,” the society said.

However, the justice, Islamic affairs and endowments ministry, reacting to Al Wefaq’s statement, pledged a zero-tolerance policy towards political societies engaging in or calling for activities that would “threaten security and put people’s freedoms and safety at risk.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, the ministry “condemned remarks that stress insistence on going ahead irresponsibly with attitudes that had contributed to instability and to incidents that threatened people’s lives and safety.”

“Such extremist attitudes reflect a weak sense of patriotism towards the consequences of the incidents that tore at the social fabric,” the ministry said. “We are shocked that the negative statements are made at a time when people are exerting outstanding efforts to tackle the repercussions of the crisis.”

The ministry said that Bahrain now needed deeds that would reinforce security and stability and would help the country move forward.

“What Bahrain has been through is a conspiracy and not an uprising as some people insist on describing it in their drive to mobilise crowds,” the ministry said. “Everybody should assume their legal and moral responsibilities towards the nation.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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