In the background of this the second anniversary of the uprising and continuing revolution that has shaken Bahrain to the core passed this week on 14th February celebrated with mass demonstrations both inside Bahrain and in other countries in solidarity with the People’s demands for democracy and freedom against the ruling dictatorship of the al-Khalifas. Some opposition have entered dialogue with the regime excluding its leadership, while the youth in particular are intent on regime change rather than reform.
An interview with Dr. Saeed Shahabi, a Bahraini exile in London and leader of the Bahrain Freedom Movement about the past and future of Bahrain. Dr. Shahabi has been convicted in absentia, of terrorism, by the al-Khalifa judiciary and sentenced to life in prison.
Q: I’d like you to firstly clear something up because the Bahraini regime accuses you of being quote, “a London-based terror master mind who glorifies acts of terror and sabotage, subverts national security, fuels sectarianism and drives wedges between the nation”. Your response to that?
Shehabi: Is there a tyrant in the world who would not accuse his opponents of such lies. But nobody listens to that. The regime knows that I am not that sort of person and that’s why it has called me many times; sent many people to ask me to go back; he (the king) asked me to meet, the dictator - I met him twice.
So if these attributes really are true why should he sit with a terrorist a mastermind and so on?
Q: Getting back to the week’s events, the protests that have been taking place to commemorate the anniversary and we’re hearing also that a 16 year old boy was killed, heavy security presence... What have you made of this week’s events?
Shehabi: On the 14th of February as we know it was the anniversary of the revolution - two years after the 14th February and the people went ahead with a lot of activism; they went into demonstrations in various parts of the country; they blocked the roads; they called for a national strike... But the response of the regime has been very harsh.
We saw that thousands upon thousands of troops were stationed on that day on various roads in almost every locality. The people found it almost impossible to congregate yet they went out and a 14 year old boy, Hussein al-Jazeery, was martyred.
Q: The opposition or parts of the opposition are actually conducting talks, reconciliation talk with the regime at the moment.
What do you make of that because I know that you’re somebody that believes in regime change rather than reform?
Shehabi: If the regime was reform-able I would have called for reform of the regime. But when we have opposed it for the past 40-45 years - I have, I realized this regime couldn’t be changed and it would be folly for me to just go and ask for a repetition of something that had already been tried and failed.
Q: So you think al-Wefaq are making a mistake by talking to the regime?
Shehabi: I thought al-Wefaq would have been better advised to have stayed away and if they had joined forces on the 14th with the people. Although, they are maintaining that they will keep up the struggle and that is only a way of trying not to be blamed by the Western governments for not joining.
Q: What other route is there to national reconciliation and saving the country other than talks?
Shehabi: Well, it is also a deception to talk about Bahrain in terms of social tensions, there is no social tension except when the regime wanted it to be there.
The problem in Bahrain is between the people and the ruling family, no one else. Of course he introduced and shifted the blame on these social tensions, but in reality he knows before anyone else that there is no such a thing.
Q: Is the opposition divided where some of them want to talk to the regime about reform, some of them want regime change and is this division something that the regime can play with.
Shehabi: I’m sure these are technical matters, the regime is aware of that. Those who are calling for a Constitutional monarchy are apparently far from achieving it as with others who are calling for the regime change in the sense that they will face a lot of obstruction especially from the West.
But at the same time, I think the entire people of Bahrain want real change.
Q: If I could come to you and ask your personal opinion - what does the future hold for Bahrain?
Shehabi: The future should be bright because we have had enough darkness that has lasted for too long and I do not think that the laws of nature allow for a very, very long period of darkness.
After darkness you always have some rays of hope and this is what we are waiting for because the people are determined and the regime has lost almost all its cards. It has really lost the legitimacy to remain and to exist. So I think it has to go.
Q: You say it’s lost all its cards; it has two major cards, doesn’t it - Saudi support and Western support?
Shehabi: Dictatorships cannot remain forever, dependent on outside support. You are right in the sense that the only way the regime is now standing on its feet is because of the supporting mechanisms offered by the UK and Saudi Arabia. Remove these two and... in fact it fell two years when the people were on the streets. Usually dictators go, usually people remain.
Q: But if you can’t change the position of the West and Saudi Arabia, how is this revolution going to succeed? Can the people overthrow the Khalifa’s on their own?
Shehabi: None of those dictators that have been brought down came down because of the Western decision. The West would rather keep these dictators. It will never support any peoples to bring down these dictators.
So I don’t think the West is instrumental in bringing down dictatorship, in fact it is instrumental in propping up dictatorships.
So the people will rely on themselves, but they will create a new reality and new dynamics by which the West will have no alternative, but to acquiesce to the demands of the people.
Q: Over two years the Bahraini revolution has remained by and large, peaceful. Do you fear that if the frustration grows that at some stage it is going to get violent - it’s going to become militarized?
Shehabi: It seems to me that the opposite will happen because the regime is becoming more violent.
And as we saw two days ago during the 14th of February the people were going in the streets in a peaceful way yet the regime had to use shotguns to kill a 14 year old young man, Hussein al-Jazeery.
The people know that with their patience, with their blood they will achieve victory. The regime knows that the longer it continues peacefully the more likely that it will fall.
And this is why it is resorting to violence - extreme forms of violence. We expect more violence by the regime, more torture, more imprisonment, more demolishing of walls... Everything that happened in the past two years will again happen.
It is for the West to decide if it is moral for them to keep supporting this dictatorship.
Q: Is there any room for the al-Khalifa’s in a future Bahrain?
Shehabi: For them as citizens nobody will expel them from Bahrain. But for them to continue holding their guns to the heads of the people I think their time has gone.
And I don’t think that any citizen even those who have gone to dialogue, their aim is not to keep al-Khalifa in the same position, their aim is to nationalize all aspects including police, judiciary, security, army and intelligence - All these five sectors must be nationalized and must be run by the people because they have been exploited and misused by the regime, by the Al-Khalifa and so no utility in the country must be kept solely for the use or control by the al-Khalifa.
Q: You obviously believe in change you hope for change, that is part of your work and you must believe in that. But realistically given the geo-politics and everything else that is going on in the country, what do you think the timescale for change will be? Are we looking at a couple of years, five years, ten years, fifty years?
Shehabi: In my generation, in my lifetime I saw and I was part of, in one way or another, the downfall of the Shah (of Iran); the downfall of Saddam Hussein; the downfall of Hosni Mubara; the downfall of Gaddafi; the downfall of Ali Abdullah Saleh; the downfall of Ben Ali and activists in almost all of these countries were friends of mine and I was at one stage or another part of these people.
Now, you are telling me that the weakest of these regimes will remain when all of these strong regimes - that appeared to be strong regimes, have gone? I believe within the next five years this city will not remain.