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France and Germany: It’s Time to Assert Your Values

A Letter to France and Germany from an imprisoned Bahraini activist

By Nabeel Rajab, Director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights - published in le Monde (in french) on 21 december 2016

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab arrives for his appeal hearing at court in Manama, February 11, 2015. © 2015 Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

It took years for the consequences of the west’s failures in the Middle East to be felt, but as the tragedy of the refugee crisis has spilled onto the European mainland, it clear that the consequences of what began with the events of the 2011 “Arab Spring” now ripple in Europe. France has been actively involved in region’s two crisis points – Syria and Libya – and it was the previous Sarkozy government, alongside Britain, which led the bombing of Gaddafi’s forces. The dictator deserved to fall, but in the aftermath the European forces retreated without helping Libya establish a post-Gaddafi consensus. The impacts have been devastating. Then there is the rise of ISIS, the worst manifestation of a violent ideology which still receives state-support in the Middle East.

European countries need to do their part to address these issues, but to do so they must win the war of ideas which pits democracy and human rights against authoritarianism and brutality, and to help establish these concepts in the Middle East, they must be willing to face off against the Arab Gulf monarchies. The Gulf states claim to be allies in this fight, but they have fuelled the crisis and alliances and support for these monarchies must be re-assessed. France and Germany are now the twin beating hearts of Europe and they need to assert their values.

I am on trial facing 15 years in prison for criticising the Saudi bombing of Yemen and exposing torture in Bahrain’s prisons. In September, I wrote a letter to the US administration and new charges of damaging Bahrain’s reputation were brought against me.

My trial is not exceptional, it is ordinary. Thousands of Bahrainis are in prison for voicing criticism and demonstrating against the government, and thousands more have been murdered across the Arab world for daring to exercise their right to self-determination. That is truly appalling.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops into Bahrain to crush its pro-democracy protests in 2011, and these are the same countries that have created a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The international community could have countered the negative role played by the Arab Gulf monarchies on numerous occasions since 2011, but have not. European support for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and their allies, through security cooperation and arms sales, has only increased.

It is the height of irony that Saudi Arabia claims to be fighting for Syrians who desire self-determination and for the legitimate government of Yemen, when it is one of the most violent dictatorships in the world. The Arab Gulf countries, rather than being induced to hold war criminals, human rights violators and terrorism supporters accountable, have felt empowered by the silence of key international allies – who don’t want to rock the boat with oil-rich countries – to use deadly force against innocent civilians and protestors.

Rather than open their doors to refugees, they create them. Rather than pursue those responsible for civilian deaths in Yemen, these countries imprison peace advocates and rights activists. I am not the only Bahraini who has been jailed for daring to voice criticism of the war being waged in Yemen – the leader of the Wahdawi political party, Fadhel Abbas, is serving five years in prison for calling the war unconstitutional.

There are books published by Bahrain’s Ministry of Defence which endorse the killing of Shia if they do not ‘repent’. How is this different from the ideologies of ISIS, which Bahrain is supposedly fighting against? The Bahrain Defence Force is a de facto sectarian army, and includes virtually no Shia soldiers, even though they account for the majority of the population. After ISIS published videos showing three recruits who had defected from the Bahraini security forces, I criticised the Bahraini security forces for allowing these violent sectarian ideologies to foster in their ranks. I received a six month prison sentence, and the Bahraini authorities still refuse to acknowledge the problem.

It is ultimately impossible to successfully defeat terrorism in countries such as ours, where it is impossible for a person to peacefully express their opinions without ending up in a prison cell.

You need to reassess your relationship with these monarchies, which actively work against democracy and human rights and fan the flames of violence and extremism. Security cooperation and arms sales must come with this strong condition: that these countries must respect human rights and international law, or lose their privileged relations.

Anything less will have calamitous long-term effects. These are the very countries which consider democracy and human rights a threat, and so condemn our region – and the world – to violence.

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