Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Since the revolution was launched on February 14, 2011, the US-based NGO "Human Rights First", greatly pressured the Obama administration to get engaged in Bahrain's issue, to take a "more resolute" stance toward policies adopted by the Bahraini government, and to use its power to force the ruling Al Khalifa family into accepting change, political transition and into protecting human rights.
In addition to seminars, statements, reports and press briefs in Congressional offices, HRF has suggested many initiatives and blueprints for the US administration, on how to deal with the Bahraini government. The most recent blueprint was issued on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, during a Hill briefing hosted by Congressman Jim McGovern, outlining a new strategy for US engagement in Bahrain.
The blueprint focused on a number of procedures such as reviewing the bilateral relationship with Bahrain, denying visas to officials believed to be involved in corruption and to their dependents, insisting on the integration of Shias into the virtually exclusively Sunni security forces, withholding further arms sales and transfers to the police and military, and that US embassy officials should state publicly whether or not the proceedings of politicians and activists meet international standards.
Brian Dooley, director at HRF, is the author of this new blueprint. Dooley is well-known for his work on the Bahrain's issue in Washington DC.
Dooley has made exceptional efforts, concerning the Bahraini issue. He has produced a series of reports and articles on Bahrain which were featured in US and international press, almost on a weekly basis. Dooley is also very active on Twitter.
Playing a big role in supporting the Bahraini cause at US congressional, State Department and other governmental hearings, Brian Dooley was denied entry to Bahrain more than once. He is also a target for the "Troll" attacks on Twitter, and pro-government websites or websites linked to public relations companies that work for the Bahraini government.
Dooley is the Director of Human Rights Defenders at HRF. He has previously worked as Head of Media for Amnesty International in London and Dublin. He had early experience on the Hill, interning for Senator Edward Kennedy in the mid-80s as a legislative researcher, contributing to what ultimately became the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act. Before that, he lived and worked as an English teacher and community organizer in a black township in South Africa in defiance of the apartheid's racial segregation laws at that time.
Bahrain Mirror met with prominent activist, Brian Dooley, on the occasion of the Bahraini revolution's fourth anniversary, to have him comment on the new blueprint written by him and introduced by HRF for the US administration on Bahrain. The following is the interview with Mr. Dooley:
Bahrain Mirror: HRF put a lot of efforts in pressuring the US administration, regarding the Bahraini issue, and suggested many initiatives, plans and blueprints, but now the international political scene is different, and it manipulates everything, even the human rights issues. So, do you think amidst those complications, the US administration will hear your voice? Do you think that Washington is still concerned about anything in Bahrain? What is the usual response of the US administration to your work about Bahrain, and what do you expect in regards to the new blueprint?
Brian Dooley: There are a few things there. They absolutely hear our voice, because I meet with the US government representatives every time I bring out a blueprint or report and I discuss it with them, and I told them face to face what they are doing. So there is no question that they know about the ideas that we have, and the most difficult thing of course is to get them to do it, and again it's a fair question of how the US administration will respond.
I think it's a little bit more complicated than that, because there are many different parts of the US government, and some are not at all sympathetic to human rights in Bahrain, and some are. I think that there are people inside the US government- in some parts of the US government- particularly the congress, but also in the administration who would like to see something close to what we would like to see.
The problem- I think- is that they are often so outvoted, but I think that the concerns that we have, as I say some people in the US administration have, and the changes that we would like to see don't happen because of the people in the American Government say "we need this military relationship with the Bahraini regime and though the human rights situation there is embarrassing for the US, it's worth it. We can't risk upsetting that relationship."
Not everybody in the American government thinks the same thing. So, it's never that nobody listens to you, or everybody disagrees with you. It's not really that. It's that there aren't enough of those people, who think that it's in America's best interest to support the cause of human rights more strongly.
Bahrain Mirror: So, do you expect any change in the US opinion with regards to your blueprint?
Brian Dooley: I do really. I think that some of the recommendations we make can't be done overnight, but some of them really can be done tomorrow if they want to. For instance, they're publicly announcing that they're really going to apply the anti corruption powers they have to prevent Bahraini government officials who are suspected of corruption from getting out and into the US. They can do it tomorrow if they wanted.
They could say the trials that they witnessed in Bahrain are unfair. They could do that tomorrow, and tomorrow they could announce that they will, from now on, refuse to train exclusively Sunni groups of security officers. We think these are not requests for regime change. These are not things which are super ambitious or which are going to take years to achieve. These can be done tomorrow, and so I don't know if they'll do them. But yes, I suspect that we will have to see some change in the US government because -forget the morals of it- it's just not a smart thing for the US government to keep watching as its interests in Bahrain, its fleet, the stability of the country- those things are a greater risk from the lack of a political settlement.
Bahrain Mirror: Mr. Dooley, it seems that you are almost dedicated to the Bahraini issue, as you were dedicated to the South African issue in the 80s, so, what drives sympathy to Bahrain in your opinion?
Brian Dooley: I've been to Egypt many more times, since 2011 than I have been in Bahrain, and I've written more reports on Egypt than I have written on Bahrain. So it looks like-I guess- because of the social media presence of Bahrain and my involvement in those conversations, that I probably do write, in terms of blogs, press releases, articles, etc., more about Bahrain than Egypt, but that's really more a question of tactics. A lot of the Egypt work that I do has been writings of more formal reports and lobbying in the US government to do the right thing in Egypt, but sometimes less publicly. So yes, I'm committed to the Bahraini issue, but I'm not exclusive, I'm not monogamous about Bahrain.
Bahrain Mirror: You often criticize the US stance in Bahrain, and you are interested in the Bahraini issue, but it seems that there are not a lot of voices (in the Congress, media and by activists) - especially in the US- that pay attention to Bahrain, why is that? How can this change?
Brian Dooley: That is not true. I think that of course people in the US, because of the ties in Bahrain and sort of responsibility the American government has to Bahrain ought to pay more attention to it. But it is not true that Bahrain doesn't get much attention in the US. It gets a lot of attention in the US government. It gets a lot of attention in the US media. I argue with many of my friends who are Bahraini human rights activists, who complain that the US and the western media ignores what's happening in Bahrain. That's just not true. If you're trying to get attention for human rights abuses in Mauritania, the Western Sahara, Chad , Nigeria, or plenty other places in the world, you would be delighted with even half the amount of the press coverage that Bahrain gets.
Bahrain has been the subject of several editorials by both The Washington Post and The New York Times, which have been fantastic over the last few years. So, I think that Bahraini activists, of course, like everybody else, want more and more attention to their case and I understand that, but to think that they have been ignored just isn't true. The American press in 2011 and 2012, and the amount of press coverage that the medics' case got was phenomenal. I, over many years-20 or 30 years- have been doing this. I've rarely seen the international media pay such attention to human rights cases.
But if you mention the word "Bahrain" to most people in the US, they're not going to know where it is or anything about it. But, if they do- If they know about Bahrain- what they're most likely to know about is something connected with the human rights problem. The most famous Bahrainis in the world are Nabeel Rajab, the Al-Khawaja Family, and possibly now Ali Salman. They're not athletes or government representatives or celebrities. They are human rights people. If you ask people what they know about Bahrain, they might say the Formula 1, but in my experience, people say: "Oh! That's the country that tortured its doctors and nurses".
Bahrain Mirror: After the new revelation about ISIS, it somehow appears that there are dangers and threats to the security and military apparatus in Bahrain. Does the US administration realize this, and how could it respond to it?
Brian Dooley: Yes it does. The people, whose job is to worry about ISIS and its influence in the Middle East, all know about the defections from the military in Bahrain to join ISIS. Some of them will interpret that as reasons for continuing to spot the regime in Bahrain. But I think actually-I know- there are others too who are absolutely worried that Bahrain's security forces are capable of producing people who are sympathetic to ISIS. As we said last week in the Blueprint and the other material we've been producing in recent months. This is really time (for) the US (to) look at the problem of the makeup of the security forces in Bahrain, that it's almost exclusively Sunni police force and military. It's sort of contradictory to be fighting the sectarianism of ISIS- it's quite right to fight the sectarianism of ISIS- but to be fighting it with coalition partners, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and others, who themselves promote sectarianism, and whose armies are themselves not reflective or not inclusive of the population.
Bahrain Mirror: You said that protests in Bahrain will be continued this year, the coming year and the year after until achieving a compromise. What makes you so sure of that?
Brian Dooley: It's been four years now, and I just don't see any sign of people giving up basically. Some people are tired. Some people who went to protests in 2011, who were at "Pearl Square" four years ago today, are not protesting, but there are other people who protested in 2011, 2012 and then sort of gave up for a while, in 2013 and 2014, and who are back again now. If I could draw another experience, (I'd say) we have Northern Ireland which there came a point after 4, 5 or 6 years of protests, for teenagers, and for some people in the villages particularly, this is a new normal. Unless there are significant changes in the government of Bahrain, over the next year, yes of course, there will be protests again next year and the year after, because people have grievances and they will continue to protest about them. The way to stop people protesting is not to shoot them, but to remove the grievances.
Bahrain Mirror: After the last developments with Ali Salman and everything in Bahrain, we saw that Shia clerics, politicians, human rights activists, and others, are all stressing on the peaceful manner of protests, do you think that Bahrain might face more violence challenges, as anger and frustration are growing among youths?
Brian Dooley: Yes, absolutely. I'll be shocked if that didn't happen. I think it was President Kennedy who said "those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." I think that the surprise is actually in how is peaceful most of the protests still are, not that some have gone violent.
If you want to protest, if you're angry and you want to protest against the government, whether you're justified or not, if you are offered a range of peaceful ways to do it, you are more likely to take them up. I think that there are some people who prefer violent methods of protest. They might think it's more effective. But for others, there are so few ways left for them to protest peacefully. They may feel that violent protest is the only option, the only way to get attention.
Peaceful march is in the capital and it is very difficult to get permission for it. Criticizing the ruling family on twitter, we see what happens there, people go to prison for that. Doing peaceful protests, with other people or on your own, like Zeinab Al-Khawaja's style of a one-person protest, even though they're peaceful, you could be jailed for that. So if you want to make a peaceful protest, there aren't many ways for you to do it, and so some people may think that if there is so much risk in doing a peaceful protest, they may as well join a violent protest and get attention that way.
Bahrain Mirror: What does HRF plan to do more about Bahrain? How many people other than you are engaging in these efforts?
Brian Dooley: Well, the last time that HRF went to Bahrain, it was in the end of 2012, and it wasn't me who went. I wasn't given permission to go, but the head of HRF, Elisa Massimino and somebody from the board of HRF, Joe Hudson, who is a former US navy admiral, went on behalf of HRF, and they are both still engaged in Bahrain efforts.
It looks like it's only me on social media, more traditionally, but it's really not. There are other people around me who are doing research and lobbying efforts and who work in communication (affairs), and (things related to) the media. It's not that it's just me writing things, putting them out on my own. There is a whole team who supports me, in the media work, in the advocacy work, and in the research work too. It's a little bit different from Egypt. We decided our best way to try to make a difference in Bahrain is to be very public and prominent about it. There is less behind the scenes work that we do on Bahrain than that we do on some other countries. Looking from the outside, you'll get the impression that I'm only dedicated on Bahrain and I am the only person who is fixated on it and that is not the truth.
Bahrain Mirror: So, Your idea about doing something for Bahrain is about publicizing the issue more, right?
Brian Dooley: In a different way, I think that it's useful for us to bring in other voices, to the issue. So for instance, instead of just me saying last week, that Bahrain needs to look at the problem of the makeup of its police force, we had a policing expert say that too, somebody who knows about the problems that arise when any country draws its police or its military from a very narrow band of people, rather than reflecting the whole community. So, we tried to do that, I think, last time we did the recommendations, (which) we launched with the endorsement, we spoke with a guy who is a former CIA officer, who said "this is in America's negative interest. It goes against America's interests not to try to push for reform." So yes, we used different experts and different voices and we keep doing that and we have to respond of course to whatever it is that happens this year.