FaithWorld

Did Bahrain’s Shi’ite opposition squander its democracy chance?

(Thousands of protesters gather at Pearl Roundabout in the heart of the Bahraini capital Manama February 15, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

As martial law comes to an end in the Gulf Arab state of Bahrain this week, opposition activists are wondering whether they threw away what might have been the first real chance for democracy in the Gulf Arab region.

Shortly after young Bahrainis, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, converged on a roundabout in early February, the government offered dialogue with opposition parties on political reforms. But the talks failed to get off the ground. After weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions during which sectarian tension worsened between the Shi’ite majority and Sunnis who saw the ruling Al-Khalifa family as protection, Saudi troops poured in on March 15, martial law was declared the next day and the roundabout encampment was broken up on March 16.

Critics say the leading opposition party Wefaq, headed by Sheikh Ali Salman, failed to show leadership during the unrest, allowing hardliners within the ruling family and among the Shi’ite opposition to steer events. “What a massively missed opportunity. Wefaq should have had the conviction to stand ahead of the others and sit at the table. I’m sure they rue it,” one Western diplomat said. When talks eventually resume, he said, “the ceiling will be lower” and reforms could have been set back by a decade.

On Tuesday King Hamad called for reform talks “without preconditions” from July 1. But the parameters were vague, and with opposition leaders in jail, protesters off the streets and Wefaq attacked daily in state media, the government will have the upper hand to steer them away from parliamentary reforms.

Bahrain Sunni says majority Shi’ite opposition must change leaders

(An anti-government protester waves a Bahraini flag during a rally in Manama March 3, 2011/James Lawler Duggan)

Bahrain’s opposition must change its leadership for the divided Gulf Arab state to move on with political reconciliation after crushing a pro-democracy movement led by majority Shi’ites, a Sunni cleric said on Saturday. Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Mahmoud said the democracy movement, which began in February when protesters inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt occupied a roundabout in Manama, had been hijacked by Shi’ite opposition leaders with a sectarian agenda who were in contact with Iran’s clerical leadership.

Mahmoud led a team of Sunni negotiators coordinating with Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa in talks with the opposition days before Saudi troops entered Bahrain to help the government break up the protest movement and arrest its leaders in mid-March. He said Shi’ite leaders, headed by Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the largest opposition group Wefaq, had overplayed their hand by trying to marginalise the royal family in the talks on political reform and accused them of taking orders from Iran — a familiar Sunni charge against group.

Muslim Brotherhood treads cautiously in the new Egypt

cairo sunset

(A girl waves an Egyptian flag at sunset in Cairo February 14, 2011 /Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood is treading cautiously in the new Egypt, assuring the military government and fellow Egyptians that it does not want power and trying to dispel fears about its political strength. The target of decades of state oppression, the Brotherhood wants to preserve the freedoms it is enjoying under the new military-led administration that took power from Hosni Mubarak.

So far, signs are encouraging for the Brotherhood: an eight-man judicial council appointed to propose democratic changes to the constitution includes one of its members. But experts say the Islamists remain wary of the military. That partly explains why they have gone out of their way to say they are not seeking power — a reiteration of a position they have long espoused to avoid confrontation with the state.

Egypt opposition needs time, or Islamists will win – party

clean egypt

(Opposition supporters clean up Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 13, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression, said a former Brotherhood politician seeking to found his own party.

Abou Elela Mady broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s. He tried four times to get approval for his Wasat Party (Center Party) under President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, but curbs on political life prevented him doing so.

Banned Islamists say time for change in Morocco

mosque morocco

(A mosque in Ksar el Kebir February 5, 2008/Rafael Marchante)

The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco’s biggest opposition force, has said “autocracy” will be swept away unless the country pursues deep democratic reform.

The group of Sufi inspiration is believed to have 200,000 members, most of whom are university students, and is active mainly in the poor districts of some cities. Banned from politics, its avowed aim is to achieve a peaceful transition to a pluralist political system inspired by Islam.

In a statement posted on its website late on Sunday, Justice and Charity said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia left “no place today for distortions … and empty, false promises… The gap between the ruler and the ruled has widened and confidence is lost … The solution is either a deep and urgent democratic reform that ends autocracy and responds to the needs and demands of the people, or the people take the initiative and (it) erupt peacefully … to sweep autocracy away.”

Tide turns in favour of Egypt’s Brotherhood in revolt

brotherhood

(Essam El-Erian, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, at a news conference in Cairo February 6, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The first time Essam el-Erian went to jail, he was 27. Last Sunday, he left prison for the eighth time at the age of 57. The medical doctor’s crime for each incarceration was belonging to the Muslim Botherhood, Egypt’s most influential and best-organised Islamist opposition movement and long feared by President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the United States.

Egypt’s courts have repeatedly rebuffed the Brotherhood’s requests for recognition as a party on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.

Interview -Tunisian Islamists say they’re excluded, call for unity govt.

ghannouchi

(Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis February 3, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

Tunisia’s Islamists have been shut out of the interim government, Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi said, calling for a cabinet that brings together all parties and for the dismantling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s police state. Banned for over 20 years, his Ennahda (Arab for “Renaissance”) party applied this week for a license and will take part in Tunisia’s first free elections, though Ghannouchi himself has pledged not to run for any office.

“No one invited us and no one consulted us over the make-up of this government… We don’t know who made up this government, who chose these people, what their authority is, who they answer to,” Ghannouchi told Reuters in an interview. “We called for a government of national alliance comprised of opposition parties and civil society organisations such as the labour union, lawyers and rights groups, a government that… is not imposed like this.”

Tunisian Islamists show strength at chief’s return

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(Photo: Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (C, with red scarf) is welcomed by supporters upon his arrival in Tunis January 30, 2011/Louafi Larbi)

Thousands of Tunisians turned out on Sunday to welcome home an Islamist leader whose return from 22 years of exile indicated that his party would emerge as a major force in Tunisia after the ousting of its president.

The reception for Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, at Tunis airport was the biggest showing by the Islamists in two decades, during which thousands of them were jailed or exiled by president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood seeks int’l support over rigged votes

brotherhood (Photo: Mohamed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Cairo on November 30, 2010. The sign behind him says:  “Election fraud”/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it is gathering evidence of vote rigging and other violations in last month’s parliamentary elections and will alert international human rights groups. It also said on Saturday that it would turn to Egypt’s constitutional and higher administrative courts to call for the dissolution of the new parliament and a re-run of elections.

The Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, boycotted the second stage of the elections after a first round it said was rigged in favour of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP secured about 80 percent of seats, based on final figures released by the elections commission, compared with about 70 percent in the last parliament.

Although banned by a rule that outlaws religious parties, the Islamist movement fields candidates as independents. It said none of its candidates stood in the run-offs because of the boycott, although 26 had made it through the first round.

Egypt’s ruling party crushes Muslim, liberal opposition in vote

egypt brotherhood (Photo: A Muslim Brotherhood candidate holds up election ballots he said were burned by government supporters, in Cairo November 30, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party has swept to a predictably huge win in an Egyptian parliamentary election that the opposition denounced as rigged, state media reported on Monday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, boycotted Sunday’s second round after winning no seats in the first stage a week earlier. The second biggest opposition group in the last parliament, the liberal Wafd party, also withdrew.

The opposition and independent monitors cited ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation and other abuses in both rounds. But Sunday’s run-off passed off quietly, with some of the toughest races in seats where rival candidates from the ruling party were competing against each other.