An Open Letter to President Obama: The ‘Winning Side’ is with Consensus, not Violence

Originally Published in Gulf Daily News and DT News

15th February 2014

Open Letter to President ObamaMr. President,

The time now as I type is twelve minutes past midnight on February 14th 2014 in my country Bahrain, exactly three years when thousands of my countrymen – predominately from the Shia community- took the streets in their attempt of an ‘Arab Spring’. A political movement plagued with mistakes, inflated egos and grave human rights violations from both the government and its excessive use of force, in addition to the sectarian assaults from opposition supporters to their fellow Sunnis as recorded in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report (BICI). The country has been in political deadlock – an impasse ever since.

I write this letter with deep disappointment after reading many opposition figures and supporters tweeting and mentioning your Twitter handle in hope to reach your BlackBerry and convince you to “add more pressure on the regime”. What I felt was shocking as a Bahraini was the defiant tone of many of their tweets “choose the right side of history” – “We shall triumph in the end”.

My question is who will you triumph over? Your fellow Bahrainis who do not share your stance for radical change; one that could lead us into the unknown or into a highly likely sectarian regime as in post-war Iraq or a deeply divided state as Lebanon where identity politics and terrorism are king?

Mr. President,

In the last week alone, a market in the heart of the capital Manama, a government ministry, a high school, the American Mission Hospital and its chapel have been targets of a series of car bombs. These cars were stolen, set on fire with gas cylinders inside them which later explode. Thankfully, no loss of life or serious injury was caused due to these explosions.

The formal opposition headed by Al-Wefaq and Wa’ad have yet to condemn these cowardly attacks on people’s lives and the institutions these places represent: the economy, education, healthcare, and religious freedom in Bahrain. In fact, the formal opposition canceled their planned demonstration on Thursday 13th February as to “integrate” their efforts with the other “revolutionary groups” who spent the day causing mayhem by blocking roads; threatening shop keepers to shut down their shops as part of a civil disobedience campaign; committing acts of violence against innocent people including throwing Molotov cocktails at a school bus filled with young children on their way to school.

All of which was given a blind eye by the formal predominately Shia opposition.

Education in particular, has suffered greatly from the ongoing violence in Bahrain. In 2013 alone, over 90 assaults on public school property were recorded, mostly damaged by Molotov cocktails thrown into the school premises. In many other cases, fire extinguishers were stolen to be used as homemade weapons to “fire” sharpened steel rods at police officers and innocent bystanders. A young Bahraini woman, Zahra Saleh, died in late 2011 after suffering a ghastly head injury from one of those homemade weapons.

Mr. President,

I am not here to claim that I am part of the ‘silent majority’ in Bahrain, for I have chosen to speak up.

I, and many Bahrainis like myself believe that dialogue is the only path towards a political solution and national reconciliation, and more importantly that violence will not lead to a solution and only feeds the sectarian tensions in the country.

“A Bahraini solution” is a vision Bahrainis and your administration share. We are capable of resolving our own internal issues. Yet, it seems that the government, opposition and loyalist groups alike spend too much time building foreign support, whereas their focus should be fixed on discussing the pressing issues and reaching a consensus on how to progress democratically through meaningful and constructive dialogue.

This can only be achieved by building confidence through ending violence on our streets with a dire need from the formal opposition and their spiritual leadership to step up to the plate and condemn all acts of violence explicitly without failure. The government on the other hand, needs to show more tangible results of implementing the BICI report recommendations and improve its human rights record and actively participate in the dialogue process as a party in the talks, not as a mediator.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, my message to your good self, your administration, and my fellow countrymen and women is that the “winning side” is not empowering the will of one side over the others, but that of Bahrainis from across the political spectrum working side by side in an inclusive dialogue process for a better, more democratic Bahrain for the sake of our generation and the generations to come.

Yaqoob Al-Slaise

Member of Al-Fateh Youth Coalition – Kingdom of Bahrain

14th February 2014.

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