July 24, 2012

The Trials of Nabeel Rajab

Not the first time that Nabeel Rajab's 9-year old daughter, Malak, has protested her father's detention, and probably not the last

The concept of punishment generally revolves around a nucleus of theories: justice, education and retribution. Settling human conflict often begins by attempting to repair the damage caused at an equal or greater level, then correcting the long-term behavior of the actor or actors. These factors, however, have been suppressed in the minds of Bahrain's King Hamad Isa bin al-Khalifa and his royal family.

Instead they have chosen the final option of punishment - spite - for leading oppositional figure Nabeel Rajab, who currently languishes in Jaww's controversial prison on a two-month stint. Rajab's case is prototypically repressive. 

Jailed for "insulting" Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa with a Tweet (he predicted that the Premiers' supporters wouldn't show up without being paid), the head of Bahrain's Center For Human Rights (BCHR) had been released from detention only weeks earlier for "inciting an illegal gathering." Reports also surfaced claiming that many of Rajab's accusers doubled as employees of Bahrain's security forces, and he ultimately received no real due process before being sentanced. Rajab's appeal was postponed from July 18th to the 24th and now to August 5th, demonstrating a systematic harassment against one of the region's noblest activists. 

Problematically for King Hamad, his treatment of Rajab is simply brightening the aura of a non-violent protest leader. Like a mutant that feeds on radiation, Rajab's stature is only growing with each detention and he will eventually return to the streets more powerful than before. This counterproductive strategy has immediately manifested on the pavement and Internet, where Rajab's presence remains a concrete force of action. Bahrainis are organizing solidarity protests outside of Rajab's house and Twitter campaigns in his name, destroying the monarchy's feeble attempt to silence him. 

His followers have skyrocketed above 160,000 and counting. 

The agitating effects of Rajab's latest case have also influenced the motions of Bahrain's political opposition, further obstructing a resolution to the 17-month uprising. As if anticipating Al Wefaq's solidarity campaign, the monarchy recently announced a blackout on protest permits inside the capital governorate. Such a move could be viewed as independent of Rajab's situation, considering the stand-alone assault on Al Wefaq's leadership, but the simultaneous combination leaves nothing to chance. King Hamad, of course, should fear Al Wefaq's mobilization since the group has massed in Rajab's corner. His imprisonment warns Al Wefaq's leaders that they could be next and, as a result, accelerates their own actions. 

The result: another weekend of intense protests and security crackdowns in "72 areas." 

Although Rajab understandably wishes to be freed from prison, he is smart enough to realize the boost that an activist often receives from jail time. He must realize that his profile expands in prison, fuels demonstrators in the streets and attracts a higher amount of media attention than usual. Judging from Rajab's statements in the media, the activist considers each detention to be a revolutionary trial of his spirit. He has endured everything that the monarchy throws at him, giving him true confidence to face down King Hamad and inspiring others to follow. 

Rajab even seems to relish in the absence of any Western backing. While he initially expected Washington and the European Union to support Bahrain's opposition, rationalizing that they need a stable island to operate militarily, Rajab has since admitted that he lost hope in the Obama administration. Both the White House and State Department have ignored his latest detention, as have London and Paris, where King Hamad just enjoyed a leisurely and untroubled stay. Rajab now accepts that he must climb alone with his people, and this realization supplies a powerful motor to invigorate the opposition. 

Disproportionate and cruel punishment isn't the way to "correct" Rajab's behavior. The King needs a representative parliament, elected prime minister and independent judiciary to do that - if he's lucky.

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