Peaceful protestor holds up poster of Bahraini spiritual leader Ayatollah Isa Qassem. (Photo credit: HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Exiled Bahraini spiritual leader Ayatollah Isa Qassem issued a statement on 25 May on the upcoming general elections in November.
Ayatollah Qassem warned that the elections have a potential to be used as a means of deceiving the people.
“The correct choice, which should not be disputed, is either elections that settle the will of the people, or no popular participation that may escalate the regime’s despotism and tyranny,” the exiled spiritual leader stated.
The Bahraini cleric essentially asserts that elections must be held in a manner that represents the popular will of the Bahraini people, and that otherwise there should be “no popular participation” in the elections.
“It is quite startling that elections turn into an opportunity for the government to manipulate and deceive the people, and to reinforce dictatorship under the guise of democracy,” Ayatollah Qassem warned.
Bahrain is touted as a constitutional monarchy; however, the elected legislative body has very little power while the majority of power is in the hands of those appointed by the ruling Al-Khalifa royal family. Such a system has led to little popular input on public policy.
The ruling family has issued a series of decrees which severely limit the ability of citizens to form political parties, instead opting for “political societies” whose every move is monitored and approved only by the authorities.
Additionally, foreigners from various West Asian and South Asian countries were naturalized as citizens en masse, in order to change the demographics to benefit the ruling authorities, as the native population comprises a majority of Shia Muslims.
The foreigners are mainly Sunni Muslims, although many Sunni Muslims belong to the opposition blocs alongside Shias.
“… the elections remind the people of the rights of the martyrs and tortured prisoners; a right [that] provokes fervor for their religion and dignity, and strengthens their adherence to their right to freedom and honor,” the Bahraini spiritual leader said.
One of the many examples of the island kingdom’s human rights abuses and repression of political dissidents was on 20 June 2016, when the Bahraini authorities arbitrarily revoked Ayatollah Qassem’s citizenship, based on allegations of actions that were contrary to state loyalty.
In a charge slapped against Ayatollah Qassem, Bahraini authorities labeled the religious practice of khums – where one-fifth of the annual disposable income of Shia Muslims is paid to top clerics for distribution to the community – as “money laundering.”
After the ruling was announced, a peaceful sit-in took place outside the house of the Bahraini spiritual leader. On 26 December 2016, security forces fired live ammunition at the unarmed protestors, killing 17-year-old Mustafa Hamdan.
Today marks 5th martyrdom anniversary of the brave devotee Mostafa Hamdan (17 years) who had spent roughly 2 months in the hospital due to a gunshot he sustained after #Bahrain’s security forces opened fire at protesters staging a sit-in next to Ayatollah Isa Qassim’s house. pic.twitter.com/3e7XM9Mrns
— سُنْدُس اَلْأَسعَد (@sondossalasaad) March 24, 2022
A few months later, on 23 May 2017, security forces again used live ammunition on the unarmed protestors, resulting in five deaths and hundreds of arrests.
On 23 May 2017, security forces again attacked the protesters with tear gas and shotguns before denying dozens of wounded civilians access to hospitals and medical care.
The bloody attack resulted in at least 286 arrested and 5 martyrs.https://t.co/VpupdXHSBg
— سُنْدُس اَلْأَسعَد (@sondossalasaad) April 17, 2022
Ayatollah Qassem was eventually allowed to leave the country due to health issues and currently resides in exile in Iran.
Former Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim gave an interview earlier this year where he confirmed that Bahraini authorities intentionally lock up political dissidents under false pretexts.