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Revolutions seldom involve more than one percent of the population. However, in Bahrain, a small island nation with a population of around 570,000, twenty percent of the population took to the streets in February 2011 to demand greater democratic reform, making it “proportionally one of the greatest shows of ‘people power’ in modern history.” The regime's response was disproportionally brutal. Saudi-dominated troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council Peninsula Shield Force were “invited to” or “invaded” Bahrain, depending on who is telling the story. Under cover of the Saudi military, Bahrain's security forces killed dozens of civilians, torturing, maiming, and raping many others. The arsenal of repressive techniques was exhaustive. Belonging also was used as a tool of repression, with many being stripped of their Bahraini citizenship on spurious, terror-related charges.
Chapter four details the evolution of, and the repressive capacity and methods of Bahrain's security services. In particular it focuses on the police, for which most historical and current data is available. Ranging from the personalist explanations of repression, such as why Charles Belgrave himself engaged in beating detainees, to the institutionalisation of deviance, chapter three looks at how personal integrity violations in Bahrain are intrinsically tied up with the country’s institutional and political structures. It also explores how Al Khalifa conservatism underlined by Saudi fear of Iranian expansionism has informed a militant and coercive policy of repression. In particular, the chapter notes that while the British established the police and continued to play an important role concerning training and technical assistance, a shift in power occurred leading up to and following 1971. Following Independence, the increasing Al Khalifa and Saudi control, coupled with diminishing British influence on policy, led to a more systemically repressive coercive apparatus; one in which the British influence became hidden behind the legal distancing of ‘Independence’. As well as detailing the emergence of the police force, this chapter argues how tactics such as mass arrests and torture have emerged, not simply because of the criminalisation of the Shiʿa threat, but due to the embedded discrimination and sectarianism that pervades the security forces and the ruling regime.
Chapter Two lays out the justifications, concepts and theories for the study. There are four key issues. Firstly, regime type analysis of repression yields unsatisfying results. Secondly, Bahrain exhibits many characteristics that make it an interesting case study, such as the Al Khalifa regime and its reliance on foreign powers. Thirdly, studies of repression are often quantitative, and attempts to build generalisable causal models have reached often divergent conclusions, emphasising the need for fine-grained approaches such as historical ones. Fourth, there is a lack of nuanced conceptualisations of repression, and this book proposes a new one, ideally positioned to create a rich net for studying repression. In other words, this chapter explores what types of repression there are, and asks how can we apply them to study Bahrain?
The introduction gives and overview of the modern history of Bahrain, highlighting the cyclical bouts of repression the country has experienced. It lays out they key protagonists in the book, most notably the British Political Agency, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Al Khalifa Regime. It argues that the long history of repression in Bahrain makes it an interesting and important case study for analysing why certain repressive methods are used at certain times.
Chapter one explores different and overlapping studies of repression to formulate an operational definition. It rejects the dominance of quantitative studies in the field and calls for more 'fine-grained' approaches. It concludes by defining repression as the process by which the dominant hegemonic order attempt to maintain power by destroying, rendering harmless or appeasing those organizations, people, groups, or ideologies that potentially threaten their position of power or privilege.
By examining laws, legislation, and legal processes, it is argued in chapter five that the legal system in Bahrain is becoming an increasingly comprehensive tool of repression. Despite the increasing standardisation of law, the arbitrary nature of its execution during political unrest highlights the continuity of particularistic features of tribal law embedded within a standardised system. Also, legal repression has been facilitated by the emergence of specific legal structures and processes. As a consequence, laws have often been enacted as reactionary measures to con-trol dissent, long outliving their initial utility while simultaneously generating future grievances. The extent of impunity as an enabling factor for repression is also investigated and highlighted. In particular, a re-examination of historical sources sheds new light on the trial of the al-Madani killers in 1977, and the trial of the Khawalid shaykhs in the 1920s. While the emergence of ‘rule by law’ instead of ‘rule of law’ is implicit, this chapter sheds light on the nuances within even those repressive authoritarian legal processes.
The conclusion sums up some of the main findings of the book, including the revisionist and revelatory insights detailed by the various examinations of new primary sources. It argues that repression has changed form over the past two years, and not been moderated by democratic reform. On the contrary, it makes the cases that in many regards, repression has got worse acrosss many fields, from torture and mass arrests, to the co-optation of new digital technologies for social control purposes.
Chapter three details methods of statecraft in Bahrain across the Twentieth and Twenty First Century. In particular, the chapter notes several compelling trends. Firstly, the British desire to sail a Middle Course in Bahrain led to reforms designed to ameliorate dissent through indirect and pacific means, yet it also ultimately led to the crystallisation of the Al Khalifa regime. These methods included the civil list, municipal reform, and even the acknowledgement of primogeniture. It also notes that in the 1950s, growing Arab nationalism and a desire to sail this middle course of non-interference meant Britain innovated and improvised techniques of statecraft in order to repress the Higher Executive Committee. Post-Independence diminishing British influence and increasing Saudi ascendency meant that the government eschewed tactics like public-delegation through parliament in favour of methods centred around patronage. This Saudi largesse had the simultaneous effect of binding Bahrain closer to Saudi, resulting in long-term de-democratisation and rentierism. Diminishing British influence upon Independence also seemed to cause a manifestation of both Saudi and Al Khalifa animosity towards political opposition and the Shiʿa.
Chapter six explores how the control of information has become increasingly important throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century. In particular, modern communication technologies have been foundational in creating new forms of resistance and repression. Despite British involvement in the censorship of anti-regime material, their general encouragement to liberalise the media was met again with Al Khalifa hostility to this. This continued post-Independence, yet despite recent liberalisation, the process of Al Khalifa control has persevered. In addition to exploring the historical development of repressive information practice, this chapter includes elements of a framing analysis and virtual ethnography. Here news coverage and social media content is examined to reveal that protesters and opposition are framed as violent, Iran-sponsored agents working to install a theocracy. This chapter also problematises the liberating potential of technology by arguing how it is continually adapted as a tool of surveillance and control in the recent uprising. It also analyses the growth in importance of surveillance strategies, emphasising the continued importance of transnational linkages in maintaining these repressive processes. Specifically, it assesses how private British and American companies are capitalising on whitewashing human rights abuses.
Exploring Bahrain's modern history through the lens of repression, this concise and accessible account work spans the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, looking at all forms of political repression from legal, statecraft, police brutality and informational controls. Considering several episodes of contention in Bahrain, from tribal resistance to the British reforms of the 1920s, the rise of the Higher Executive Committee in the 1950s, the leftist agitation of the 1970s, the 1990s Intifada and the 2011 Uprising, Marc Owen Jones offers never before seen insights into the British role in Bahrain, as well as the activities of the Al Khalifa Ruling Family. From the plundering of Bahrain's resources, to new information about the torture and murder of Bahrain civilians, this study reveals new facts about Bahrain's troubled political history. Using freedom of information requests, historical documents, interviews, and data from social media, this is a rich and original interdisciplinary history of Bahrain over one hundred years.