For many of us here in Bahrain, me included, it is fair to say that August 14 has proven rather anti-climactic. Pictures and video footage uploaded by activists on social networking sites suggest that no more than a handful of small protests took place throughout the day in some of Bahrain’s villages.
For the most part, main roads and highways remained open, and the capital city Manama, where the financial and business centre, government offices and foreign embassies are located, remained unaffected.
Several factors account for this failure, not least of which is the neglected fact that two, not one, Tamarod campaigns are working in parallel in Bahrain. At times, they have even issued conflicting instructions to their followers: For instance, one urged people to congregate at the ‘Seef’ main shopping district while the other instructed its followers to organise sit-ins in front of their homes.
The first, dubbed Tamarod Bahrain (@tamarrodbh) hardly has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter (35 per cent of which are fake, according to TwitterAudit.com). Yet, despite its limited effectiveness on the ground, international media outlets have placed Tamarod Bahrain under the spotlight, thanks largely to the support of renowned activist Maryam Al Khawaja.
The campaign’s spokesperson Hussain Yousuf, who operates out of Beirut, gave a press conference on August 7 in which he announced several escalatory measures leading up to August 14. The press conference and the majority of his other media appearances were covered primarily by Iran’s Al Aalam TV and Hezbollah’s Al Manar.
The second campaign, called Tamarod Storm, is sponsored by the 14 February Coalition (@Coalition14), a notorious extremist group that ideologically espouses the use of violence against police. It has claimed responsibility for terrorist acts in the past, including a car bomb detonated in the heart of Manama’s financial district on April 14, in the run up to the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Although the group is highly organised and mobilises groups of masked youths across different villages rather effectively, its campaign remains largely under-reported by the international media.
Both the Tamarod Bahrain and the Tamarod Storm campaigns transpire merely as an attempt at rebranding the two-and-a-half year old protest movement, which began on February 14, 2011, but took a consistently more violent turn roughly since the end of 2011.
Since July 6 alone, six IEDs and car bombs have been detonated, tragically claiming the life of one police officer and injuring seven others, according to the Ministry of Interior.
Even then, the attempt to rebrand has not proven successful. The outcome of the Egyptian Tamarod has been, to say the least, divisive. Although many sighed “good riddance” at the news of Mohammad Mursi’s ouster and the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leaders by army chief General Abdul Fattah Al Sissi’s troops, the fact that Egypt’s first democratically-elected president was overthrown by the military remains a source of tremendous discomfort and embarrassment, particularly in the West.
Nonetheless, it would be too early to predict the complete demise of the Tamarod campaigns in Bahrain. The last time Egyptians descended en masse on the streets back in January 2011, Bahrain arguably witnessed the most turbulent couple of months in its history.
Clearly, the government is taking the possibility of unrest seriously, and the National Assembly — at the behest of the government — has approved 22 strongly-worded recommendations on July 25 that widely expand the mandate of the Ministry of Interior to crack down on terrorism and unlawful and violent protests.
But the National Assembly’s recommendations went overboard, stipulating that the capital Manama be designated as a ‘no protest zone’, peaceful or otherwise, in its entirety. To my mind, one comment made by an overexcited MP illustrates the assembly’s mood. He comically exclaimed that “we should first execute terrorists, then withdraw their nationalities and let them choose which country to go to!”
The fate of Tamarod hinges partly on the position that the Shiite Al Wefaq Islamic Society — Bahrain’s largest political group — and more importantly its clerical patron Ayatollah Eisa Qasim will adopt over the next few days. Followers and observers alike will be anxious to listen to the ayatollah’s sermon today.
Al Wefaq has so far shied away from fully endorsing the Tamarod brand, partly I suspect because it recognises the fundamental irony at its core: Al Wefaq is Bahrain’s own version of the Brotherhood (whose rule Egypt’s Tamarod originally protested against).
Both are religious, illiberal parties that rely on poorer rural outskirts for support, perform well at the ballot box, and boast clerical patrons at their helm.
Ultimately, given the repeated failure of opposition groups of various inclinations to extract any meaningful political gains through street protests or violence, it is doubtful just how much faith their constituency still places in their work. Apart from the few hundred-strong bands of masked youths that clash on a nightly basis with the police, there is a general exhaustion that appears to prevail in Bahrain’s villages. After two-and-a-half-years of tensions, people seem to simply want to get on with their lives.
Hasan Tariq Al Hasan is a Bahrain-based economic and political analyst.