The King’s Messengers Sent to Sheikh Isa Qassim and End of the Cold Peace!
2017-06-22 - 7:04 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Re-reading history makes one think that the opposition's meeting with the King on May 19, 2004 would have led to a turning point. (See: The King Listens to Sheikh Isa Qassim!)
The King listened to Sheikh Isa Qassim. He listened to every Friday sermon he delivered and not only when they met. The Sheikh was the first to have called on the King to have a dialogue with the opposition. Under the banner of a dialogue, the King instructed the Minister of Labor to meet with the political societies. Over the course of months, the Sheik observed the dialogue with all seriousness, and strived to prevent it from failing until the last minute.
The King sent messengers to the Sheikh so that they would say what he does not want to say himself. Some saw that the King's messengers were as mail couriers, agents, or intermediaries. Name them whatever you like. They were one the tools of this cold peace, replaced today by the war machine that had been besieging the Sheikh in the Diraz for 3 months.
"We do not want to go into a confrontation with the regime, nor boycott it." In response to Sawsan Al-Shaer, Sheikh Isa said that the talk about severed relations between him and the regime is false. He further spoke of more than one meeting held with "His Majesty the King" that discussed public affairs and the country's national interest.
The Sheikh went on to offer islamic doctrinal reasoning to prove that nothing forbids the Shiite sect to acknowledge the King and the monarchy, yet how can you say to the King with all due respect: Your ruling system is rather an absolute monarchy and not a constitutional one, and still maintain a good relationship with him? This is what Sheikh Isa Qassim was trying to do over a period of four years.
What was the outcome?
Dialogue with the "King's Messenger," the Former Dissident
At this points, talks about the petition will stop after the King's meeting, and the dialogue will begin to be discussed. The King authorized the Minister of Labor, Majeed Al-Alawi, to represent him in the dialogue, or perhaps that how the political scene portrayed it at that time.
On 28 May 2004, Sheikh Isa Qassim talked with enthusiasm about the declared dialogue, describing it as "negotiations on public affairs."
The problem with this supposed dialogue is not that it will be held with the same minister who until recently was in the ranks of the opposition, the same minister who threatened to close the societies, and the same minister who represents the "King's Messenger" to Sheikh Isa Qassim. The problem was with the agenda of this dialogue, and who is actually running it, especially since we know that the royal court minister was also assigned to participate in the dialogue, even without attending.
The first meeting took place on June 27, 2004 at the Labor Ministry headquarters. The two sides discussed the constitutional issue, and the opposition leaders came out expressing optimism and enthusiasm. It was then announced that meetings were to be held on a weekly basis.
The first meeting took place on June 27, 2004 at the Labor Ministry headquarters. The two sides discussed the constitutional issue, and the opposition leaders came out expressing optimism and enthusiasm. It was then announced that meetings were to be held on a weekly basis.
During the second session, it was announced that any constitutional or legal amendments were possible and subject to study, but their implementation would take place through their "sole legal channel," i.e. the National Council. It was then announced that the dialogue will continue for 6 months that is until February 2005 (on National Charter anniversary).
Although the dialogue was supposed to take place with the leaders of political societies, Sheikh Ali Salman was accompanied by Mr. Abdulwahab Hussein1. The call was made for societies to submit "visuals" for the constitutional amendments and postpone the dialogue for a month and a half.
Playing outside the Field: A Great Scholar, "Upset Boy," and Unqualified Minister
Barely a week went by before the third session, and the Minister of Labor had issued shocking statements in the first blow to the dialogue. Al-Alawi stated that the dialogue is not considered to be a historic step, that there is no agenda so far, and that the aim of the discussions is to convince the boycotters to participate. He also said that the societies cannot engage directly with the King, and that is considered playing outside field grounds. He also considered himself unqualified to discuss constitutional amendments, and that amendments might not be made: "let them take part in the elections and make amendments from the inside," he said!
Moreover, Al-Alawi (the representative of the authorities, as he described himself) pointed out that this is based on a prior political stance, which is that the opposition has erred in boycotting the elections, adding that they represent only their members, and described the opposition as an "upset child" who sits outside because he is not allowed to play. He; however, said that their representatives in the dialogue are respectable people who have their own history and activism, and that he appreciates them a lot. He said this as he strived on the other hand to prove that the King did not have any ill intentions when he issued the new Constitution in 2002.
Speaking of Sheikh Isa Qassim, Al-Alawi said: "He is a great scholar and our teacher. He is a keen vision, and is an ardent [supporter] of religion and the people." He further mentioned that he takes part in prayer that he leads, adding that "religious scholars have a special position and a special responsibility, and I am sure that they take on their responsibilities... I am not in a position to preach to them, for they are the ones who urge me to [the path] of righteousness."
Al-Alawi did not wait long before he received responses from the clerics. Sheikh Isa Qassim gave a very straightforward response, saying: "These statements have rendered the negotiations without substance, and have explicitly denied them... When the regime opened the door for dialogue, it did not open it jokingly but rather seriously."
The Sheikh called on the minister to reverse his statements. "Does the minister know that refraining from adjusting these statements and sticking to them puts an end to the dialogue process, destroys it, and harms the reform process... as well as expands the circle of boycott more than it was?"
We do not know whether Al-Alawi was present when that sermon was delivered, but in any case, he fell between the hammer and the anvil. It was clear that he was speaking in the King's name. However, his role and character require him to maintain a strong relationship with Sheikh Isa Qassim.
The King is Ready
The exchange of statements continued. The opposition responded angrily to the statement and then held a seminar on the dialogue, in which Abdulwahab Hussein said that there are reasons that lead the King to offer the opposition what would convince them to participate in the elections. In an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, Hussein said that "the King is ready to make constitutional amendments, but the limit is unknown."
Sheikh Ali Salman threatened to reject the dialogue and return to confrontation, if it turns out that it lacks credibility and seriousness. The dialogue between Al-Alawi and the opposition was expected to resume in early September 2004, but was postponed without warning. The opposition accused the government of postponing it due to the political tussles that took place.
On September 11, 2004, Al-Alawi met again with the opposition. Everyone calmed down the heated press exchanges that took place between them during the previous two months. Al-Alawi reported the King's "keenness" to continue the dialogue, and that "the government is very interested in the subject of dialogue." The two sides agreed to hand over to the Minister the visuals for the four-party coalition on the constitutional amendments to be submitted to the King and the Cabinet, and to be answered on October 2, 2004, after examination.
End of Dialogue without Historical Turning Point
On September 26, 2004, the societies presented their views on the constitutional amendments to Majeed Al-Alawi. At that time, the country was experiencing a tense atmosphere, following the arrest of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the dissolution of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the eruption of anti-government demonstrations and calls for the Prime Minister's resignation. (See: Dispute between Al-Safriya Palace and Diraz Mosque)
The Royal Palace was furious. A meeting between the opposition and the Minister of Labor was supposed to have taken place for in order to listen to the government's response on October 13, 2004, but the minister sent a message postponing the meeting. Six days later, Al-Ayyam newspaper published a false report about an alleged meeting between the opposition and the British ambassador, and quoted the minister of labor as saying the authorities had decided to suspend the dialogue for this reason.
That was the argument and excuse for ending the dialogue- a clear escape mechanism. The regime had no answer to the demands to amend the constitution, and no longer wanted to hear more of this talk that was taking on an official nature.
Nonetheless, in a timid response, the minister came back the next day to say that no one doubts the allegiance and loyalty of the opposition, promised to resume the dialogue soon, and said it was postponed for further study.
The least that was said about Al-Alawi then was that it was not clear "whether he represented himself, the government, or the royal will." The late Al-Nuaimi commented on the minister's response at the time, and said that despite the contradictions in his statements, "he is a good mediator.. But the issues are bigger than him." Al-Nuaimi's explanation for the postponement of the dialogue was that the minister "did not get an answer (from the higher authority)."
In other words, Al-Alawi, even in the dialogue sessions, was only a messenger.
The most prominent thing that contradicted this outcome was the King's speech in the Parliament, which he gave only a few days ago prior. The King announced that the Crown Prince was to follow up the ongoing national dialogue. He spoke of the courage that the government has to talk to its citizens about their problems, considering it a continuation of the reform process that began with "the referendum of the Charter and the reinstatement of the Constitution," which he described as "a turning point in the history of our long struggle for freedom, progress and justice."
Al-Alawi did not call. The Crown Prince did not call, and there was no turning point in history, and so this is how the dialogue came to an end!
Putting Petition Back on Table
The opposition returned to their offices frustrated. What next? They put the constitutional petition back on the table again.
Late on Sheikh Ali Salman will reveal that 70,000 people signed the petition. In mid-January 2005, the societies sent a letter to the King requesting a meeting to discuss the constitutional issue and submit the popular petition. The Royal Court Minister refused to arrange the meeting and asked them to hand the petition over to the Parliament.
On January 31, the societies sent the constitutional petition to the King via the express mail service, but the post office notified them that the Royal Court refused to accept their letter, and they in turn refused to take it back.
Since his meeting with the King was gone with the wind, Sheikh Isa Qassim remained silent until December 10, 2004 (after the Khawaja case was over). He went on to present the disputes and problems between the opposition and the regime in a more radical manner, sensing the King's fears that prevent him from accomplishing real reform!
The Sheikh Addresses the King's Concerns about Shiite Thought
In the sermon, he said that he would address a sensitive issue explicitly: "Scholars as well as political figures and the general public are fully prepared to reassure the country's ruling regime that they are not aiming at destabilizing the regime and negatively affecting its security... They do not intend at all to rise against the existence of the official system."
Over the course of two sermons, Sheikh Qassim presented a detailed perspective on solving the concern of incompatibility between the hereditary rule and the Shiite political thought, which he said that the regime may especially fear, particularly regarding the question of Imamate and the Wilayat Al-Faqih (Governance of the Jurist). The Sheikh wanted to do away with these fears and show that they false fears, using the same mechanisms of political realism, which he excels at. He concluded the sermon by stating that there is a "pressing need for an urgent constitutional consensus on a reform path..."
"The suspension of dialogue by the government is a shock... and it is a cause for further complicating things," the Sheikh told Al-Wasat weeks later. He advised the King to give his reform project a proper top limit, but he said reassuringly that what is happening today "does not mean the post-reform situation equals the pre-reform time."
The Second Constitutional Conference
Following the failure of the dialogue, Sheikh Ali Salman spoke of proposing an alternative constitution and a popular vote on this constitution, or the forming a delegation of political parties to visit a number of countries, while the preparatory committee of the second constitutional conference completed its preparations.
On February 10, 2005, the second Constitutional Conference was held, and some of its sessions witnessed heated debates, exchange of blames and a sense of despair. The attendees felt as if they were repeating themselves and hated it. Some even went to the extent of proposing filing a lawsuit against the Government of Bahrain.
The conference once again came up with a new slogan, reflecting the sensitivity of the issues "Constitutional Reform Comes First." We did not know whether this slogan was directed at the regime or the political societies. Under the same slogan, it was decided to organize the first protest against the 2002 Constitution, on March 25, 2005.
Abdullah bin Khalid, a Messenger Sent to Sheikh Isa Qassim
Once again, Sheikh Ali Salman calls of staging the protest. Once again, the 1990s uprising, the history of the opposition and the crises in Bahrain will be restored.
Like the popular petition, the protest will go through a period of mobilization and encouragement. Once again, the government will try to prevent the movement, under the pretext that it is unauthorized and illegal. To prevent tensions from reaching their peak, the King will send his messengers back to Sheikh Isa Qassim, even though the dialogue wound had not healed yet.
This time the King sent two of the most important figures of state to Sheikh Qassim and Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi, one night before the Sitra march, one of whom was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid Al Khalifa.
Speaking of the meeting, the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Wasat newspaper, Mansour Al-Jamri, said: "It seems to me that the messages exchanged by the two parties at that critical time were not as they should have been... What Sheikh Isa meant was that him getting involved required his followers to be convinced that he can talk to the political leadership about public affairs more seriously."
Al-Jamri, who is close to Al-Wefaq and the decision-making circles of the state at the time, and the person who dubbed Sheikh Isa Qassim the Sistani of Bahrain and urged him to take on the leadership of the movement2, believes that the King respected the position of Sheikh Isa Qassim, when he sent these two messengers. He also notes that Sheikh Isa remains to be a safety valve for the country and the movement on the street, and that when he decides to address the issues personally, the majority of the Shiite community will listen to him.
Nevertheless, the Sheikh did not stand in the face of the protest despite the pressures of the palace, and its attempt to prevent it until the last minute, but the Sheikh also did not support it publicly. On the day of the march, Sheikh Isa wished that the two parties would agree. In a calming speech, he stressed "that if the demonstration took place, it should not be a final point of separation."
The opposition estimated that the number of demonstrators who participated in the constitutional reform march were more than 120,000.They waved national Bahraini flags, and marched through the streets of Sitra, chanting the slogan, "We sacrifice our lives and blood for you, O Bahrain."
The demonstration ended peacefully, yet with the threat of suing or shutting down Al-Wefaq. Sheikh Isa Qassim immediately stressed that "closing down (Al-Wefaq) society will constitute a shift on the level of relations to the opposite direction... Al-Wefaq Society should never be closed..."
The government calmed down and reversed its stance after a lengthy meeting between the Minister of Development Fatima Al-Balushi and Al-Wefaq officials. During the Friday sermon on April 8, Sheikh Isa Qassim appreciated the fact that the government did not target the march or retaliate against Al-Wefaq, thanking the King specifically, without revealing whether there had been any contact between them.
Later on regarding the ban on marches, Sheikh Qassim Majaz used "red signal" as a metaphor.
"If you put a red light on on every road, and forced this situation to continue, all the drivers will eventually get very frustrated and traffic will start moving without taken into account the risk of crashes and accidents.. And if you set at each crossing a checkpoint, people will get fed up with the checkpoints and fear for their lives," so they will attempt to evade them even if they might get hurt. "Let us beware of the abundance of red lights."
Sheikh Isa Qassim Coordinates with Ibrahim Sharif
After the constitutional reform march, Sheikh Issa's speech intensified. It will accumulate the crises, laws and problems, such as the terrorism act and the association law. His speech spoke of more and more crises, issues and files, day after day.
Although the people and political societies took a hardline stance regarding the parliament at the time, Sheikh Isa Qassim was more tolerant and flexible. Following the parliament's announcement of opening the Constitutional issue again, he had implicitly urged to accept the constitutional amendments, even if it came through the current parliament, as "the important thing was to achieve the legitimate popular demand."
Sheikh Isa played the role of bringing together points of views and building confidence between the palace and the opposition. He rephrased the demands, highlighting that they are far from being "political ambitions." The regime; however, remained steadfast and silent.
Similar to Shiite Iraqi Authority Sayed Sistani's call for participation in the elections in Iraq, Sheikh Qassim said that "the government in Bahrain calls for political participation as well, yet the call here is empty and arrogant, lacking dialogue and any concessions. The government here should learn a lesson from the Iraqi reality."
Gradually, Sheikh Isa Qassim's assessment began to negate the whole experience: "Let us acknowledge that we are still very far away from the expected outcomes of the current phase, the expected reform is not very promising, and the political will of the government needs a new, strong and serious revolt from within." This time, the Sheikh was the one who called on the political forces to take action and confront the government.
In fact, it was not just about this call, as he even managed to reach a rare public coordination with secular parties. On 23 April 2005, the delegation of the General Secretariat of the Constitutional Conference visited Sheikh Isa Qassim and met with him to discuss the upcoming moves, including holding a national conference on the constitutional crisis. The delegation was led by the head of Wa'ad Society Ebrahim Sharif. Once again, Sharif met with Sheikh Isa Qassim at the end of 2005, accompanied by the president of the Constitutional Conference, Abdul Aziz Abel. The delegation presented to the Sheikh their framework for the third conference.
An Unjust Law that Can be Endured
Sheikh Isa Qassim strived not to cause crises with the existing regime, and not to boycott it. Despite his firm stance against the new laws such as the association law and terrorism act, he forbid "rebelling against laws," noting that there are some unjust laws that "can be endured to an extent."
He delivered one sermon after the other, and stressed that the "stagnation" of the constitutional formula, the increased arbitrary laws, unemployment and naturalization, etc... «do not leave any taste, color or scent of reform"... "and destroys hopes born under glossy slogans."
Constitution of Banu Omayya
Later, the Personal Status Law put more oil to the fire in the constitutional crisis.
Denying that the constitutional guarantee demanded for the enactment of the Personal Status Law is a tantamount to acknowledging the legitimacy of the current constitution, Sheikh Isa Qassim said in a symposium after the personal status demonstration3: "When I ask for an amendment to the constitution, it does not mean it's a recognition of the constitution." he explained that it however necessary to deal with it... "This constitution is a reality. It is illegal, but still is a reality. Does the fact that all parties deal it means that they recognize it?"
Unlike his initial stance, which was very flexible, Sheikh Qassim distanced himself from any recognition of the 2002 constitution, and rather resorted to his religious speech, undervaluing the state's constitution: "Even if it is a constitution agreed on between the people and the government, it is a necessary constitution. The constitution that the believer must seek is the implementation of Allah's law."
On the following Friday, the Sheikh declared his final stance regarding the constitution: The 2002 Constitution is illegal on the basis of circumstantial legitimacy... It is a very backward constitution that marginalizes the people. The 1973 Constitution has been surpassed by the level of the people. Therefore, there must be a contractual constitution that exceeds in substance the 1973 Constitution. This was the first time Sheikh Qassim called for a new constitution.
The Sheikh also gave his final ruling on the personal status law: Passing it means a split between the people and the government and a bitter political conflict. He described it as being imposed on the sect and its followers as well as "a declaration of war against us," adding that it is blatant persecution, revealing the ugliest forms of oppression.
War and Dictatorship
When some ask Sheikh Qassim: "Your excellency, but you say that the King is the guardian of the religion and the state, and he is the guarantee," the Sheikh will say: "With all due respect to the King, in any case, he is only human."
In an escalation, the Sheikh demanded that the issue of unemployment be given attention, and so things will get worse following the incident of the activist in the movement of the unemployed Mousa Abdel Ali.4
In an angry tone, commenting on the incident, the Sheikh asked, "Is it war, O government?" He further described the incident as blatant, barbarous and aggressive. In protest against everything that was happening, Sheikh Qassim called for a march entitled, "The March of Rights and Dignity" and he led it.
"A stick of thorns cannot give an apple tree, nor can colocynth be planted to produce honey. The road is scary, the tunnel is dark, and the introductions are not promising."
"The objection to the current constitution had been born and continued to this day, and it will exist until it is replaced", this is how Sheikh Qassim broke down the political crisis.
On June 2, 2006, in response to the same accumulated files, Sheikh Qassim announced a serious conclusion: "If democracy had started in Bahrain, it has indeed turned into a dictatorship." He further stated angrily: "Tell the people explicitly, we have asked for a dictatorship not a democracy; he who is content with that, let them be and he who is angry, let them be, and we are sorry to have raised the slogan of democracy before."
This is how the Sheikh shifted his speech regarding the reform project and the constitutional crisis.
This was the course that Sheikh Isa Qassim's speech went through, and these were its transformations. In this context, his speech escalated to this level of anger, despair and frustration. The government erased all the aspects of his previous speech. For four years, the government worked on change Sheikh Isa's speech, and succeeded in transforming it from a speech that embraces political realism into a rhetoric that embraces rejectionism and conflict. It succeeded in shifting it away from accepting the King as a unifying ruler as well as the ruling tribal system and its rentier state.
Until December 2004, the Sheikh did not see that the situation had changed from before the reform project. He still believed that there was a reform project, which he insisted on and believed in. But in 2005, Sheikh Isa Qassim's relationship with the King experienced a critical turn.
All this; however, did not prevent Sheikh Isa Qassim from meeting with Minister Majeed Al-Alawi again at the end of 2005, on the initiative of the latter, to discuss the projects of the Ministry of Labor aimed at addressing the issue of unemployment. Today, the time of the messengers is over, as the era of cold peace comes to an end!
1- Abdelwahab Hussein was the one to take the most hardline stances in dealing with the constitutional coup, and that is why he publicly disagreed with Sheikh Isa Qassim, and give up the imamate of prayers and Friday sermons. Over the course of two years, Abdulwahab fought to direct the compass towards the constitutional dispute, but the policy of Sheikh Isa Qassim and Al-Wefaq was different, until 2004. Although he was one of the founding fathers of Al-Wefaq, he did not run for the society's leadership. Being included in the dialogue team, even though he had no administrative position at Al-Wefaq, brought him back to the forefront, and due to his historic role, he voted on the National Action Charter.
2- For more about how Mansour Al-Jamri dubbed Sheikh Isa Qassim the "Sistani of Bahrain," see the second report, "Dispute between Al-Safriya Palace and Diraz Mosque"
3- The personal status march was organized on November 9, 2005. For more on information the demonstration and the personal status law crisis, see the third report, "Ayatollah Isa Qassim, Reminiscent of Sheikh Khalaf at the King's Palace."
4- Bahraini activist Mousa Abd Ali, who is currently resides in London, was kidnapped by masked men linked to one of the state security agencies. He was stripped naked and subjected to brutal assaults. He was then thrown in a remote location and his case caused a big stir at the time.
- 2017-06-15The King Listens to Sheikh Isa Qassim!
- 2017-06-07Dispute between Al-Safriya Palace and Diraz Mosque
- 2017-05-21Ayatollah Isa Qassim, Reminiscent of Sheikh Khalaf at the King’s Palace
- 2017-05-12Crown Prince's Meeting with Sheikh Isa Qassim: The Project that Failed to Win over Shia Citizens by Rentier State Theory
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