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Bahrain and Islamist Extremists

By Ala’a Shehabi for Foreign Policy – summarized by Julia Lugovska –

After the recent uprisings in Bahrain Bahraini government was working on confronting and crushing pro-democracy activists, but what about the supporters and followers of the Islamic State?

IS becomes very active in their online and video campaigns, trying to attract more and more new followers from many predominantly Muslim counties, including Bahrain. Videos created for this purpose are showing the soldiers of IS as the real warriors for purifying Islamic states and creating the real Islamic State, as the real heroes, and attempt to attract new members among Bahraini people, calling them to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in November and encouraging members of the local security forces to join IS forces.

These videos could be an evidence of the real problem of Islamist and Salafi radicalization in Bahraini society. The state cracked down on the non-violent pro-democratic activists and movements, but support of the extremist groups only flourishes in the recent times in Bahrain. Meanwhile the government’s reactions over these videos and over the issue that nearly 100 Bahrainis have already joined the IS, was muted. This number isn’t that big but it is significant, as Bahraini branch of the IS includes some influential religious figures, such as Turki Al-Binali, a prominent preacher.

The stance on the war of US and the coalition against IS of Bahraini state contradicts with its inactivity regarding extremism at home. Though it’s worth mentioning that Bahrain officially joined the coalition of US, Western countries and numerous Arabic states, launching the war against IS, as Bahraini Defense Minister even made an appearance on the Western media pledging Bahraini readiness to join the battle against IS and the wish to eliminate radical Islamist activities in the region.

Though back in summer some Bahraini officials seemed to be rather sympathetic with IS, for example, Bahraini Information Minister Sameera Rajab, who praised IS advances in Iraq and Syria, claiming that they might represent a “revolution against injustice and oppression” that dominated in Iraq during the latest times. This stance was supported and echoed by many prominent figures of Bahraini society.

Meanwhile, despite the violent crackdown against the peaceful pro-democracy protesters, rallying in the streets and demanding reforms since 2011, Bahraini officials paid too little attention to the issue of radicalization, spread of Islamist extremism and IS ideology and even to the issue of IS recruitment within the Bahraini society. Instead of an adequate reaction, officials preferred to dismiss radicalization as the result of the “misguided youth”.

In addition to that Bahraini officials didn’t pay attention even to the spread of IS ideology and extremist literature among the representatives of the state security forces as well.

So far there was no documented trial case against any person on charges of terrorist activities and cooperation with IS in Bahrain. Instead of this the government offered a three month amnesty for the former jihadists’ fighters, announced in March 2014.

On the contrary, Bahraini government violently oppressed the peaceful and non-violent pro-democratic movements, including the one led by Nabeel Rajab, President of Bahraini Human Rights center, currently banned by the local officials. Many activists were arrested and accused of “offending national institutions”, put into jails and facing the trials. The religious situation in the country remains tense as well, as many Shiite mosques were destroyed during the recent months, while many of the Shia followers appeared behind the bars.

Activists, lawyers, journalists, prominent public figures, intellectuals and thinkers are targeted by Bahraini intelligence and security forces and repressed, according to the evidences and numbers represented by many NGOs and human rights groups operating in the country. Many of those arrested were accused of the crimes related to terrorism and extremism, though they had nothing to do with it.

Though the main contribution of Bahraini government to the IS, even indirect contribution, is not only tolerating the fact of spread of IS ideology, recruiting new members and oppression of the civil activists, but also ideological and moral support, in particular from the radical clerics, such as Turki Al-Binali and others.

Of course, support of the IS ideology could be connected to some empathy and feelings of sympathy to the fellow Arabs in Iraq and Syria, fighting their oppressive regimes, but Bahraini government has also supported and nurtured extremist groups and their sectarian ideology trying to confront what they called “Shiite threats”, posed by the pro-democracy uprising.

The situation within the country is also tense and complicated, as the relations between the ruling regime and the oppositional parties have significantly deteriorated ahead of the parliamentary elections. Now that Bahrain is officially “at war” against IS, talk of reform and reconciliation has been relegated to the back seat.

But the biggest issues that needs to be resolved in the Gulf countries including Bahrain today is spread of Islamist radicalization and extremism and the ways to confront and eliminate it. It is not enough to tackle an enemy by military means only, as the problem is much deeper, as the radical IS ideology is being spread rapidly in the region, while the government remains silent about it.


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