Dispute between Al-Safriya Palace and Diraz Mosque

2017-06-07 - 8:23 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Why did the King take advantage of every incident to open a political dispute with Sheikh Isa Qassim? Why did he want a dispute and not a dialogue? And why did he not accept, at least, a dispute similar to the Arabs' concept of the dispute of war that is: No winner or loser!

It is said by the Arabs that war is a dispute, i.e. it is continuous between the two parties without the one being victorious over the other. The King wanted war, and every time he thought that he was about to achieve victory and end the situation that Sheikh Isa Qassim formed with his deadly calmness that has killed the dominance of the tribal will. The Sheikh's rhetoric continued to weigh the general situation and sought to understand the political contradictions with reason, while, the man in power continued to seek hostility, shrinking any space for dialogue, and expanding the areas of imposition and absolute domination over everything, leading up to Incorporeal execution (the revocation of citizenship) and dragging the country and the people into the unknown.

The year 2004 witnessed a dispute, without a meeting. The quarrel began without the King and Sheikh Isa. An argumentative approach was used and a rhetorical strategy for attack and elimination of the opponent. Its roots were derived from the conflict, rejection and will for domination. Then Sheikh Qassim took this dispute in the realm of politics, and «the art of war», and tried to turn it into a «dialogue».

The 2004 dispute is different from what we saw happen regarding the personal status issue, but it was still a dispute. The King and Sheikh Qassim were compelled to join the quarrel, which first took place between Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Khalifa bin Salman.

Al-Khawaja wanted a dialogue (with the King) to have his uncle, Khalifa bin Salman, dismissed from the premiership. The dialogue was impossible, and thus there was a dispute that was exploited by the King and made to be between the (royal) palace and the Diraz mosque.

In this report, we will see how the King was irritated by Al-Khawaja's statements against Khalifa bin Salman at a symposium on "poverty" and Sheikh Isa Qassim's sermon on the matter. We will also see how the title of "Sistani of Bahrain" came to be, and how Sheikh Qassim turned to realism in the dispute.

In this political dispute, we will see how Sheikh Isa Qassim said the King was not behind the deterioration, in order to persuade him to accept the logic of "no winner or loser", and to convince him to govern the country from the basis of building trust and securing a supportive public stance.

We will see how Sheikh Qassim will repeatedly prove that he does not want confrontation, or any security unrest. We will also see how he will distance the issue from being portrayed as a conflict between the people and the government. We will see how Sheikh Qassim did not always believe in conflict and mobilization.

We will see how the King put the leadership of Sheikh Qassim to the test, and also tested his plans and intentions. Even when the Sheikh proves time and time again the purity of his intention, we will see how the King did not reward favor with favor.

We will see in this report (as in the following reports) how the relationship between the Sheikh and the King appeared to be "untouchable," from both sides, until the King decided to destroy it, putting an end to this whole dispute.

The Three Symposia

Two years had passed, and the patriotic masses who have gave sacrifices for the sake of the parliament remained outside the structure of the authorities and government institutions . It was not yet clear what the official political opposition, who has been sentenced to be excluded since the beginning, would do.

What was the boycott program then? Nothing! The political and human rights activism throughout two years- from February 2002 to February 2004-  was not focused on the unlawful constitution. Instead, major popular symposia were held on other political issues: The Naturalization Symposium (July 2003), the Symposium on Discrimination and Privileges (October 2003), and the Poverty and Economic Rights Symposium (September 2004).

These seminars became the backbones for the political movement at the time and a natural prelude to a more direct political movement. The attendance at some of the symposia exceeded 70,000 people, which was perhaps the most provocative events to the government (between 2002 and 2005), i.e. before the political societies decided, even if theoretically, to join the parliament.

In addition to the excitement and elation generated by these events, a dispute had to happen on the matter between the royal palace on one hand, and the Diraz mosque on the other.

Although the official government stance regarding the Naturalization Symposium was more like an evasion, as the royal Palace preferred to not go into a dispute and remained silent, the Symposium on Discrimination and Privileges in Bahrain: The Unwritten Law, held on October 16, 2003 by the Bahrain Human Rights, had greater repercussions.

The Dispute between the King and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

Three days before the symposium, the King sent a long letter to the Prime Minister about what he described as the shift experienced by Bahrain and called on the government to to follow a number of issues, including discrimination, and to cooperate with and facilitate the work of non-governmental organizations, praising their efforts.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was the Executive Director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, took these words and treated them with a rare positive attitude (considering his strict stances against royal and government speeches later), and considered the seminars held by his center to be part of a dialogue based on "honesty and mutual trust," which the King had called for in his letter.

But the dispute (between Al-Khawaja and the King here) did not end there. After the symposium was held with a strong public presence, amid the disarray it caused due to the wording of the speeches of some figures, which not only accused the regime of discriminating against Shiites, but also accused the Al Khalifa family of granting privileges to its members at the expense of the rest of the factions of the population, the King made a direct response (which was also one of the very rare responses).

Mattock of Destruction: Do Not Insult My Family

The King rejected what he called an insult against his family, and considered it an insult against him. He said that what had happened at that symposium was a wrong practice of freedom of speech. But this did not prevent him from having a "positive spirit" to open the door to more controversy "for all to have the freedom to discuss discrimination in the constitution and law."

In one of the strangest descriptions, the King considered the act of insulting his family a "a Mattock of destruction" which was reminiscent of past experiences, which he said they would not return to (he was perhaps referring to the death to Al Khalifa that was raised in the 1990s). In fact, the king also tried to portray himself as the patron father, when he said that he is reaching out (to Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja) to take his hand and lead him to a meeting of good.

But Al-Khawaja's hand will be taken to jail in the end! The movement he led; however, would not have stopped. Thus, at the same place «Aloroba Club», Al-Khawaja named, for the first time, for the first time, the Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, as the major official responsible for «poverty», «discrimination» and «naturalization» and all the issues in Bahrain, breaking the "taboo" that all opposition factions have avoided since the beginning of the so-called reform project era.

Dispute between Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Khalifa bin Salman

This took place during the last three major symposia during the "time of boycott"", namely the "Poverty and Economic Rights" symposium, which also released a report documented in figures and a documentary film that brought the audience to tears. "Every time we talk about a major problem in this country, we find that the end of the thread reaches the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa," said Khawaja (who was the last speaker). "How long will he remain on the necks [taking over the lives] of the people of this people, for how long?," he added.

According to him, Al-Khawaja intended to go to the King and address him and urge him to dismiss his uncle. The same King who a year before wanted to reach out to Al-Khawaja, 24 hours after his speech, arrested Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The King rushed to the Palace of the Prime Minister with the Crown Prince, condemning what Khawaja said, confirming his "dissatisfaction" and describing what was said as a detour from the national goals and an attempt to create division. He also announced that Al-Khawaja from now on "is not with us in the reform project and the national development journey."

As a result of targeting Khalifa bin Salman, Alorouba Club was temporarily closed and the government dissolved the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The center, which has moved to work abroad and now headed by Nabeel Rajab, has been banned in the country ever since.

Sheikh Isa Qassim's Speech: A Nation without Poverty

The report on poverty issued by the Center was handed to Sheikh Isa Qassim before the seminar. Thus his speech on Friday, September 24, 2004 (just hours before the seminar) was titled "A Nation without Poverty", in which he reviewed the figures and statistics documented in the Center's report.

Qassim described poverty in Bahrain as a shameful issue, which "is treated with at least some degree of negligence" and implicitly praised the efforts of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in "urging the government to do its job." In the context of the necessary clarification, he said that the aim "was to resolve our national problems rather than to aggravate them," concluding his speech by stressing that no one wants confrontation and that the "issue is not a matter of conflict between the people and government, and mobilization of one party over another."

What the media understood from the King's statement after the symposium that he was upset because of Sheikh Isa Qassim's speech about poverty. Al-Hayat newspaper considered that the King's call for commitment to responsible freedom on "some religious platforms" was perhaps a reference to the last Friday sermon delivered by Sheikh Isa.

The Sistani of Bahrain

   / 2004

The seminar on poverty led to the emergence of "Sistani of Bahrain" with which Sheikh Isa Qassim was dubbed, in order to turn him against what Al-Khawaja said. On Sunday 26 September 2004, Al-Wasat editor-in-chief Mansour Al-Jamri wrote an article entitled "Gentlemen: We are not fuel for getting burned or burning," which caused a stir among people at the time.

Al-Jamri openly called on Sheikh Isa Qassim to intervene (ie, to engage in the dispute), in order to prevent matters from getting out of hand, after Al-Khawaja crossed the red lines. "The time has come for the lines to be defined and for everyone to know who is speaking for whom? And who represents whom? It is time for the «Sistani of Bahrain» to take action and protect the journey, direct the current to what benefits everyone, and have a dialogue with the one on the top of the political pyramid".

Despite the detailed coverage of Al-Wasat of the seminar on poverty and Sheikh Isa Qassim's speech, Al-Jamri's article (who is known for his close relations with the Crown Prince), was viewed as a message. The message may have been directly sent to Sheikh Isa Qassim as well. Some saw that the Al-Jamri's article was part of an undisclosed dispute that was meant to be raised between the palace and Sheikh Isa Qassim.

Sheikh Isa Qassim: Taking Part in the Dispute

In parallel with this public pressure on Sheikh Qassim, the local groups announced the organization of a mass demonstration on a Friday afternoon in solidarity with Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is considered the first political prisoner in the "reformist era."1 The situation continued to be fueled with media campaigns, the call for counter-demonstrations, and threats to crack down on the demonstration, which was expected to raise slogans against the Khalifa bin Salman.

"I want to say that I have fear, a fear of mobilizing demonstrations on the official [government] level, which would be faced by demonstrations and rallies on the popular level, especially if some demonstrations are painted with a sectarian color [...] As for the case of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the demand for his release will be expressed in all other calmer methods."

This is how Sheikh Isa Qassim's speech on Friday (October 1, 2004) was concluded that is with a direct verbal call addressed to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Solidarity Committee with Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to "abandon today's march to demonstrate its keenness to maintain the stability of the security situation, and we stand with them in demanding the release of Abdulhadi Khawaja."

Moreover, Qassim openly criticized Al-Khawaja's speech and his attack on Khalifa bin Salman: "We are not with a speech when it ignores the weight of the political situation, ... and jumping into something very harmful." The Sheikh also expressed in a speech his implicit support of the Crown Prince's steps in reforming the labor market.

The Sheikh's disapproval of the demonstration (the first anti-government demonstration in the reformist era) was interpreted in many ways. Some said it was because of the possibility of provoking conflict and sectarian strife, threatening security, or causing violations, or chaos. There were only hours between the time the demonstration was to be launched and the sermon, which caused a big stir, divided the street between supporters and opponents, and caused great pressure, hesitation, and ambiguity surrounding the fate of the demonstration, as many were split on choosing between what they see as their moral duty to show solidarity for a courageous person who expressed an opinion they share, and their religious obligation to obey the supreme religious leader, even if his guidance was a matter of advice.

This event perhaps demonstrates the first time Sheikh Qassim's calls caused controvery between the people.

Between the Diraz Mosque and the Palace

Close to the government road, leading to the cabinet building, the first demonstration was staged on October 2004 despite all the controversy and pressure. Thousands of people participated despite Sheikh Isa Qassim's disapproval, and for the first time the slogan "Step Down Khalifa" was chanted, forever eliminating all red lines.

"It's time for the Prime Minister's departure," a banner read. The protest also voiced support for Al-Khawaja. Although the demonstration ended peacefully, its voice echoed, and on its own it was like a victory made in a time of peace.

The political authorities; however, preferred to ignore it altogether, while the media dwarfed it and it only received small marginal coverage by Al-Wasat newspaper, which made Sheikh Isa Qassim's speech the main event that occupied the front page, noting that the newspaper had learned that official parties had received Qassim's calls for canceling the demonstration with great relief and expressed support for the stances calling for strengthening national unity (although the demonstration had already been staged).

Two days later, Khalifa bin Salman himself came out expressing "appreciation, gratitude and admiration of the efforts of the scholars and preachers who sought with their national efforts to calm tensions and maintain unity," which was considered a nod to Qassim's speech.

Then a day after, rumors emerged in the press about the government's intention to release Al-Khawaja to contain the situation and solve the issues "in the spirit of one family".

The same unknown source directly referred to Sheikh Qassim's speech by saying that the "positive spirit expressed by the various national parties, including Sheikh Isa Qassim's call, as he called on people during last Friday's sermon to distance themselves from the instigation, reinforces the stances aimed at cooling the situation."

However, the case of Khawaja was taken to court, perhaps also in line with Sheikh Issa Qassim's sermon, which hinted at accepting the rule of law if it is "just and fair," and called for its implementation instead of shouting and fomenting crises. As a result, other mass peaceful demonstrations were held, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and the release of Al-Khawaja, and amid these tensions, a wave of violence and arrests erupted!

On November 12, 2004, Sheikh Isa Qassim returned to talking about Al-Khawaja and the movement on the street. He criticized falling for any calls for taking to the streets, which lead to harm and chaos (The Solidarity Committee with Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja halted all its activities after this). In this speech, Qassim condemned the continued imprisonment of Al-Khawaja and considered it "to cause the contrary of what want, which is a calm and stable security situation and the strengthening of bridges between the government and the people."

Relationship with the King: Protected and Untouched

It seemed very clear that Sheikh Isa Qassim was at that time being very careful avoiding any clash with the King, in any case whatsoever, from realistic political points of view. He was building his conciliatory speech on the basis of preserving the relationship between the Shiite community and the regime and moving forward to a form of stability, with the highest authority, at the very least. By virtue of the symbolism that the King represents (whether in the constitution or in the circumstances of that historical period), the Sheikh and the rest of the Shiite clerics considered that the collapse of their relationship with the King, is an omen of an era that may be more brutal than the 1990s. Hence, they wanted this relationship to be "protected and untouched."

Sheikh Qassim perhaps saw that the attack on the number one man in power, Khalifa bin Salman, a prelude to attacking the King, so he rejected it.

In his view of this rejection, and his inclination towards political realism, Sheikh Qassim considered that "the political situation varies from one country to another, and every political situation has the limit of endurance. Some political environments and some advanced political spaces tolerate a lot of freedom, while others do not."

Qassim further criticized the arrest of Al-Khawaja, and the manner in which he was brought to court, as well as the events linked to this crisis that contributed to "complicating dialogue or even canceling it." He also criticized a draft law for societies and assemblies that he sees as proof of the fallback of the political scene and a factor of tension and instigation. He also clarified that those behind that are not from the highest authority in the Kingdom, absolving the King of everything taking place.

Al-Khawaja remained a prisoner for 9 days after the speech of Sheikh Qassim, who wanted the King to be absolved of everything that was happening. On November 21, 2004, Al-Khawaja was sentenced to a year in prison, and the King issued a pardon in his favor on the same day.

Al-Khawaja's arrest prompted Sheikh Isa Qassim to talk about the loss of trust and the security concerns, doubts, suspicions, and conspiracies it results in. Sheikh Qassim reminded of the failure of the security option, which ran the country for a long time, calling instead for governing the country "in the spirit of trust and reform". "Reform generates a sense of mutual trust and provides a popular, sympathetic and supportive public attitude," the Sheikh said (to the King).

End of the Dispute: What Next?

Sheikh Qassim dealt with this political crisis with a "realistic" approach. The aim of Qassim's approach was to not take the situation to a "state of emergency", and to not stop efforts for making "dialogue" and "confidence-building", on which all hopes depended.

For his part, the King wanted to complete the process of containing society, as described by researcher Abbas al-Murshid, who portrayed the King as attempting to prevent his project from shooting back.

The King was running a crisis, perhaps Al-Khawaja started, but the King mastered the craft of benefitting from his political project (albeit temporarily) by gaining a supportive stance from Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose (the stance's) importance surpassed the clatter of the demonstrations, and by attempts to undermine his religious authority and turn people away from him.

The King then put the leadership of Sheikh Qassim to the test, as well as his plans and intentions, especially after the constitutional issue was raised again. The King did not return favor with favor, and relied for a long time on the patience of the Sheikh, and the truth of his intentions. He attempted to put the Sheikh's choices in a bad light, and anticipated divisions to take place among his followers.

After the release of Al-Khawaja, Al-Wefaq offered their thanks to the King by their media spokesman Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, who saw that he had prevented the country from being dragged into a dark tunnel whose end could not be predicted.

The country did not enter the tunnel, but it was on the verge of a new uprising. The Al-mushahid Assiyasi magazine even issued a detailed report on Bahrain entitled, "100 years of delayed confrontation... Bahrain: The revolution of poverty demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister."

The revolution; however, was postponed for six years, thanks to the wisdom of a man who has always saved the country and the people from the pitfalls of brutal conflicts, a man who tried through experience to let politics take place. Following six years, the King struck the "mattock of destruction" at his relationship with Sheikh Isa Qassim, which he had promised not to return to. He decided to put an end to this dispute, not by targeting the Sheikh's family, but rather by stripping their name from the country's history, so "what's next?"2

Arabic Version



1- The history and documentation of political life at a stage known as the reformist era (which can be said to have begun with the release of Sheikh Al-Jamri in July 1999 and ended on 14 February 2011) is an unfinished task, and these events are still scattered and unrecorded, despite the large number of writings in newspapers, visual media outlets and Internet sites and even archives. While documenting history is part of the task of this file, it does not represent its essence, as it was made for research purposes. The writers of the reports in this file, due to the difficulty in collecting and arranging these events, see that they should draw the attention of researchers to this unfinished task, because of the impact it has on the reading of the Bahraini present, which at this moment is at the peak of its historical crises.

2- "What Next?" is the title of one of the symposia during which Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja speaked after he was released from prison in 2004, and through which he continued his journey, which caused him to be re-arrested several times, leading up to his latest arrest following the uprising of February 14, 2011. Al-Khawaja is currently serving a life imprisonment sentence. The former media spokesman of Al-Wefaq Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, who thanked the King's termination of the 2004 crisis, is also serving a life sentence.





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