Bahrain court convicts 9 over terror links


The convicts run websites glorifying terror acts and fund illegal groups

Manama: Bahrain’s Major Criminal Court has convicted nine people of terrorism-related charges and sentenced them to varying jail terms, Bahraini newspaper Al Bilad has reported.
The charges included managing pro-terrorism sites on social media, transferring money for terrorist groups and promoting terror acts, including arson, rioting, attacks on police and unauthorised protests in the country over the period from 2013 to 2018.
They were also convicted of sheltering a number of wanted fugitives already sentenced to prison terms of up to life sentences, according to the paper.
The court sentenced the prime convict to six years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 100,000 dinars.
Three others were sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 2,000 dinars each.
Four co-defendants received a two-year jail term each, while the ninth was sentenced to three months in jail. The rulings are subjected to appeal.


Why we need a Middle Eastern security architecture: Part II


Marco Carnelos

As the US and Israel squeeze Iran, it is more important than ever to comprehensively address the opposing grievances throughout the region.

The risk that tensions in the Gulf will escalate into a major regional conflict has made a Middle Eastern security architecture essential: it the best possible answer to another, more threatening structure, the Middle East Security Alliance, also known as “Arab NATO”.
The latter is the name commonly used to identify the informal grouping of the US, Israel and some Arab states, engaged in promoting “peace and stability” in the Middle East by squeezing Iran and its allies and “solving” the Palestinian question through the “deal of the century”. This strategy, however, risks triggering a major regional conflict.
Could a better agreement have been reached? Possibly, but the nuclear deal was a compromise, not a panacea
The Middle Eastern security architecture should aim to prevent this, comprehensively addressing the opposing grievances throughout the region.
The first step is to achieve clarity on what negotiations with Iran, culminating in the 2015 nuclear deal, were supposed to achieve. Secondly, all players must be ready to give up some of their ambitions, interests, obsessions and distorted views; the enduring zero-sum game must be put aside.
The Iran nuclear deal was not meant to address Iran’s regional behaviour or its conventional military programme, but rather to prevent a possible military evolution of Tehran’s legitimate civilian nuclear programme.
The deal, negotiated extensively for years by top diplomats and experts, did not impose on Iran any commitments beyond those with which Tehran has been scrupulously complying until last month, as repeatedly certified by the IAEA
Now that Iran has started reducing its compliance, a year after the US withdrew from the deal, it has done so in accordance with the agreement’s legal framework, specifically articles 26 and 36. The deal was not intended to change Iran’s political alliances in the region or to modify its views and policies about Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon or Israel-Palestine. 

Nuclear ambitions

The deal’s main aim, at least from a Western standpoint, was to address the concerns of Israel and some Arab countries about a potentially nuclear-armed Iran. Despite US and Israeli claims, this result was achieved via the 2015 deal. Even some Israeli security experts recognise the agreement’s counter-proliferative value. 
Could a better agreement have been reached? Possibly, but the nuclear deal was a compromise, not a panacea - and in a compromise, both sides must give up some of their aspirations. The alternative is war or diktat; for both outcomes, no negotiations are required.
If the aim now is to address Iran’s regional behaviour and missile programme, a much more comprehensive and complex negotiation process is required. It would touch on the multifaceted crises in different areas with the awareness that they are all inextricably connected, and must be dealt with simultaneously, and not in sequence. 
The benchmark would have to be the famous “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, to deny the numerous spoilers on both sides any chance to disrupt the negotiations. 
If a fair and lasting deal is sought, there should be no room for the double standards or self-celebratory claims of moral superiority, exceptionalism or manifest destiny on either side.

Outsourcing policy

On the part of the US, it should make up its mind as to what it aims to achieve in the region, and stop outsourcing the assumptions of its regional policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Peace, stability and security, as well as real US interests, will neither be promoted nor safeguarded if Washington continues to grant unwavering support to Israeli and Saudi policies that are detached from reality. 
The US administration must reconcile, sooner rather than later, the fact that both its soft and hard powers are in a slow-motion decline, irrespective of President Donald Trump’s ambitions to “make America great again” (MAGA). 
Why we need a Middle Eastern security architecture: Part I
Marco Carnelos
Read More »
Washington must also finally come to terms with the 1979 Iranian Revolution and its consequences. The stabilisation of the Middle East can be achieved only with Iran’s cooperation.
Furthermore, the US establishment should rely more on Arab streets and less on Arab courts if it wishes to get a realistic picture of the regional mood and fine-tune its policies accordingly. 
If Trump is re-elected, what happens in the Middle East will determine the MAGA strategy’s success, considering how much US blunders in the region have contributed to the perception of the country’s declining power.
Ultimately, Trump’s legacy could also be defined by his capability to spare his country its third regional war in less than three decades, whether accidental or staged by its regional allies. 
A good Middle Eastern security architecture is the best antidote to such a risk. 

Existential threats

Israel, meanwhile, cannot pretend to erase the Palestinian cause through the US “deal of the century”, push for regime change in Iran as desired by US National Security Adviser John Bolton, and at the same time maintain peace and security for its own people in a Jewish state. This is hubris, not sound policy.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brilliantly enlisted USEvangelical Christians and some Arab Muslim leaderships to support the Zionist project, it cannot be enough to fulfil his dream, and the costs could be astronomical. 
While the evangelicals comprise tens of millions of voters who can affect a US presidential election, Israel's Arab allies are a restricted group of elites ruling over states in which they do not necessarily reflect the will of their people - and who could face in the future even more worrisome existential threats than that posed by Iran. Israeli strategists should not underestimate this eventuality. 
This is the second in a series of three articles.
Marco Carnelos
Marco Carnelos is a former Italian diplomat. He has been assigned to Somalia, Australia and the United Nations. He has served in the foreign policy staff of three Italian prime ministers between 1995 and 2011. More recently he has been Middle East Peace Process Coordinator Special Envoy for Syria for the Italian government and, until November 2017, ambassador of Italy to Iraq.


Fighting in Aden: Four key questions answered


A look at the different groups clashing and the effect the recent developments will have on Yemen's peace prospects.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition made up of several Arab states aimed at combatting Houthi rebels who had, just months earlier, overthrown Yemen's internationally recognised government and seized control of the capital, Sanaa.
More than four years later, there are increasing signs that the coalition - unable to defeat theHouthis in a multi-layered war that the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis - is splintering.
In a complicated turn of events and despite technically being part of the same military alliance, fighters backed by the UAE and forces loyal to Saudi Arabia turned on each other this week in Aden, the temporary seat of the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Though tensions have long been simmering, the effective seizure of the southern port city by the UAE-trained Security Belt force has raised fears of a "civil war within a civil war" and exposed divisions among the alliance's architects - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - over the fate of Yemen.
After days of clashes that killed at least 40 people, according to the UN, the separatists captured government military camps and the presidential palace in Aden, prompting senior government officials to accuse the UAE of supporting a "coup".
Southern Yemen was once an independent country whose population has long complained of marginalisation since its unification with the more populous north in 1990.
The Southern Transitional Council (STC), which has the backing of Security Belt fighters and has been seeking the south's secession, has since agreed to a Saudi-brokered ceasefire and welcomed Riyadh's call for dialogue. 
Al Jazeera takes a look at the different groups fighting and the effect the recent developments will have on the prospect for peace in the war-ravaged nation.

Who fought who?

The latest conflict in Yemen was set off by the secessionist forces' offensive against government targets in Aden on August 7.
The assault came on the same day of the funeral of Munir "Abu al-Yamama" al-Yafei, a leading commander in the Security Belt, a grouping of paramilitary forces that fall under the nominal authority of the Yemeni government. 
Yafei was among dozens killed in a Houthi-claimed missile attack on a military parade in western Aden on August 1.
Members of the STC, however, have accused al-Islah, a Yemeni affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, of being behind the attack and more broadly of acting in concert with the Houthis to destabilise southern Yemen.
This is even though al-Islah and the Houthis stand on opposite ends in the conflict pitting Saudi-backed, pro-government troops against the rebel group.
"Although Saudi Arabia and the STC are both formally part of the same coalition, the Saudi alignment with Islah, Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood, is a sore point for the STC rank-and-file," Samuel Ramani, a researcher at Oxford University, told Al Jazeera. 
"The UAE and STC used this attack on Aden to expel Saudi influence, and therefore, Islah's presence from southern Yemen.

What does the STC want?

The STC, like many groups before it, has been calling for the south's secession from Yemen. 
Separatist sentiment in the south goes back decades. 
Aden was the only British colony in the entire Arabian Peninsula to be administered directly by authorities in London between 1839 and 1967 as part of British India. 
Upon independence in 1967, South Yemen or officially the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen fell under the orbit of the Soviet Union. 
The collapse of the communism in the late 1980s hastened the reunification of the south and the north in 1990. 
But a disgruntled population angry that its wealth was being siphoned off and disproportionally allocated to northern provinces led to an attempted break away from Sanaa in 1994. 
A two-month civil war ensued in which the unionist forces of former President Ali Abdulla Saleh crushed the southern rebellion and led to power being concentrated in Sanaa. 
In 2007, al-Hirak al-Janoubi (the southern movement) was established as a way to challenge Saleh's grip on power and reaffirm the south's distinct identity. The Hirak gained momentum in 2011 after the fall of Saleh.
In the weeks prior to the 2015 Saudi-UAE-led intervention in Yemen, thousands of Hirak activists defended Aden against advances by the Houthis and Saleh. 
In May 2017, Aidarous al-Zubaidi announced the formation of the STC which he said would be tasked with "representing the will of the people".
In January last year, clashes between separatists and government forces broke out in Aden, killing dozens of people.
Even though there are still many questions surrounding last week's events, Rasha Jarhum, director of Peace Track Initiative, said the deadly violence "was not unexpected".
"We've already seen the same conflict dynamics that happened last year in January, when the presidential palace was surrounded," she added.
"The division is among those factions who have an agenda that is reclaiming the southern state and those who have a project for a united, federal Yemen."

Why is the UAE supporting the separatists? 

The STC is backed by the Security Belt, which the UAE has heavily supplied with military equipment and financial assistance since the beginning of Yemen's latest conflict in 2015. 
Analysts say that Abu Dhabi ultimately wants to secure vital shipping lanes along the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait. 
"The UAE would've supported the Houthis if their base was in the south and this is primarily because of economic interests in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, in Aden and Socotra," said Afrah Nasser, chief editor of Sanaa Review. 
"It (the UAE) sees economic benefits to the war it is waging in Yemen."
The strategy, according to an International Crisis Group report, is part of Abu Dhabi's economic diversification model. 
It is "built around its role as a logistics hub and regional headquarters" and is premised on freedom of maritime navigation, including through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb passageway. 
Nasser said that while the UAE and Saudi Arabia "are not being transparent with their purpose in this war", both sides have "a lot of economic, political and security interests".
For Jarhum, there doesn't appear to be a conflict between Saudi Arabia and the UAE but a "different set of priorities".
"The Saudis see that they need to first support the government of Yemen to end the coup, which is happening in Sanaa by the Houthis," she said. "They want to keep the discussion in terms of the peace process to be limited to basically a coup discussion ... ignoring old grievances and what is happening in the south."

What will this lead to?

But Ramani, the researcher, said that in seizing Aden, the STC had made their presence indelible at any future peace initiative.
"Their indispensability would be guaranteed, and they could be invited to a UN peace settlement for the first time. This is an especially coveted goal after they were left out of the [December 2018] Stockholm agreement." 
For Ramani, the STC considers dialogue with Saudi Arabia productive if Riyadh refrains from further military attacks. 
"But if Saudi Arabia uses coercion to forces an STC withdrawal from Yemen, dialogue will likely break down." 
Osama al-Rawhani, deputy executive director of The Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies, said this week's events in Aden are going "to represent a radical change in Yemen's conflict".
"It's adding different layers of complexity and it is very obvious how, starting from the coalition's position towards what happens in Aden, reflects the unclear intentions of Saudi's intervention in Yemen," he added.
"Now, the government which the Saudi claims to help regain its legitimacy has no capital," added al-Rawhani, calling for "clarity on what is next".
"Now, the STC has taken over Aden, who is going to run the country?" he asked.
"The government is now in exile - the state institutions are actually based in Aden, there has been a lot of shift after the Houthi coup from Sanaa to Aden - and the question now is who is going to run these institutions? Who is going to provide basic services and who is going to pay the salaries of civil servants?"


Bahrain activist jailed after Grand Prix criticism is released


by Nosheen Iqbal


Najah Yusuf pardoned following three years in prison for Facebook post against race and regime

An activist who was assaulted, tortured and imprisoned for three years for criticising the Formula One race in Bahrain has been freed by authorities today.
Najah Yusuf, a former Bahraini civil servant and mother of four children, was jailed in April 2017 after she criticised the race and the regime on Facebook. Yusuf was pardoned under a concession ahead of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, which takes place on Sunday, and is the first political prisoner to be released since 2011. Her family received a phone call from Isa Town prison in Bahrain to confirm Yusuf could go home.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) has led an international campaign to secure Yusuf’s freedom, which peaked during Bahrain’s Grand Prix in March this year. Yusuf wrote a first-person account of her experience for the Guardian in March, in which she declared: “Every moment I spend in prison in Bahrain stains the reputation of Formula One.” In it, she detailed shocking abuse and sexual assault at the hands of officers.
Initially, Formula One bosses admitted to having “concerns” about Yusuf’s case, but in a letter to Bird and Human Rights Watch in March, it said it had been assured Yusuf’s conviction “had nothing to do with peaceful protest around the Bahrain Grand Prix”. The Bahrain government also promised: “Anyone who merely criticised or continues to criticise Formula 1 is free to do so.”
The court judgement against Yusuf said she had written “no to Formula One races on occupied Bahraini land” and that she had claimed F1 coming to her country was “nothing more than a way for the [ruling] al-Khalifa family to whitewash their criminal record and gross human rights violations”. She also called for a “Freedom for the Formula detainees” march to raise awareness of the protestors jailed for criticising the race, which was cancelled after demonstrations in the country in 2011.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadei, the director of advocacy at Bird, said: “This is a monumental result for those who tirelessly campaigned to secure Najah’s release. Najah Yusuf is a fearless woman who bravely spoke out about the abuse she was subjected to at the hands of the Bahraini security apparatus. She should not have spent one second in prison, and must now be fully compensated for her unlawful imprisonment.”
There are currently six female political prisoners in Isa Town prison. Among them is is Hajer Mansoor, who has been declared arbitrarily and unlawfully imprisoned by the UN. Najah is among 105 inmates released today.


Bahrain: Playing With Fire


Did the Bahraini government collude with al-Qaeda members to target Shia opposition figures during the 2011 unrest?

27 Jul 2019
By Tamer Almisshal

In February 2011, following unrest in Tunisia and Egypt in the early days of the so-calledArab Spring, opposition demonstrators took to the streets of the Bahraini capital, Manama.

The protests quickly gathered momentum, with demonstrators demanding greater democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni regime.
But in March, the protests were quelled. The king declared a state of emergency and brought in the Peninsula Shield Force, the military wing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The government called the unarmed protesters and activists "terrorists". Civilian demonstrators were tear gassed, beaten and shot.
Now, allegations have surfaced suggesting that the Bahraini government made attempts to coerce members of al-Qaeda in Bahrain to target key figures in the Shia Muslim community during the unrest.
In secret video recordings, former members of al-Qaeda say that the Bahraini government and intelligence officials tried to get them to assassinate key Shia opposition figures, on orders from the king.
In one recording, former al-Qaeda member Mohammad Saleh says: "A state security officer and another officer ... paid me a visit. They said they'd come on behalf of His Majesty the King of Bahrain at a time when the country was having a difficult time. He said that we, as fighters and members of al-Qaeda could help quell the Shia."
In a different recording made at the same time, Hisham Hilal al-Balushi - who was later a known leader of a Sunni armed group in Iran, before being killed in 2015 - talks about being detained by Bahraini security services and then recruited to infiltrate another group in Iran.
The Bahraini government has strenuously denied the allegations made in this film. The foreign minister called them "lies and fallacies against the state of Bahrain".
The minister of information said there were "attempts made by Al Jazeera channel to contact him and other officials, through unidentified telephone numbers, to record their conversations without their knowledge or official consent and to provoke them by using despicable methods".
Al Jazeera also wrote to the office of the royal family, the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask them to respond to the allegations but has not yet received any replies.
After an Arabic version of the film aired on Al Jazeera Arabic, Mohammad Saleh and Jamal al-Balushi (the brother of now-deceased Hilal) appeared on Bahraini television, saying that although they did make the recordings in 2011, what they said was false.
Mohammad Saleh said "they all agreed to make the recordings and to include several false allegations in order to give them weight that would help international human rights groups build pressure on Bahrain's government and security agencies", the state Bahrain News Agency reported.
According to John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer Bahrain, "thought they could divide their own opponents by having their opponents attack each other".
"The Bahraini government believed it could pit Sunni fundamentalists against the Shia population and keep both sides divided that way, and that is not what happened," he tells Al Jazeera. "What happened was it further angered the Shia population and at the same time encouraged fundamentalism among the Sunni."
In this film, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Tamer Almisshal examines the video testimonies and speaks to former intelligence officers, diplomats, human rights activists and security experts about the allegations.