Sheikh Isa Qassem

Why Bahraini regime jails moderate opposition leader, revokes his citizenship?

Alwaght– Seven years after eruption of the popular uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain, the West-backed regime continues to press ahead with various ways to crack down on the protestors. On Monday, the Supreme Court of Bahrain finalized the rulings against the Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. The same decision also covered the verdicts of two of his aides, Sheikh Hussein Mahrus and Sheikh Mirza al-Obaidi. The Supreme Court also upheld the death sentence of the activist Maher al-Khabaz.

Sheikh Isa Qassim, 76, was stripped of his citizenship in 2016 and has been under house arrest in his home village Daraz since then. The spiritual leader of Bahraini Shiites in December 2017 underwent surgery after his health deteriorated as regime denied him healthcare at home.

The nationality of the vocal Shiite leader was revoked by a royal decree of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa himself and the court of appeal unconstitutionally uphold it. But the country’s state and judicial systems over the past years regularly violated the nation’s law and human rights. So, the recent confirmation of the nationality revocation is seen as a continuation of the past years’ unfair course.

Bahrain uprising leadership

Sheikh Isa Qassim returned to Bahrain in 2001 after graduation in Islamic studies abroad. His Friday prayers were the most populous in the country. His sermons in Daraz’s biggest mosque, and visiting peoples wounded during regime’s anti-protest crackdown and meeting with the victims of the regime’s repression campaign, have been raising concerns of the Al Khalifa family.

His features, including his knowledge and awareness of the nation and the world’s developments, have won him popularity among the people. The regime for some time has been trying to bring him into disrepute by setting in motion a psychological campaign him, accusing the cleric of collecting funds illegally and money laundering. The charges emanate from the collection of an Islamic tax called Khums, which in Shiite Islam is collected and spent by a senior cleric in the interests of the needy.

When the revolt against the regime sparked in 2011, Sheikh Isa Qassim led the protest movement. Bahrain uprising, among the other uprisings of the Islamic awakening, was the only anti-regime rise that has preserved a single leadership since its beginning. Ayatollah Isa Qassim is the face of the revolution believed in by opposition groups such as Al Wefaq and February 14 Youth Coalition. The great influence, power to lead, and the charisma of Sheikh Qassim are the key features keeping alive the uprising of Bahrainis.

Sheikh Isa Qassim’s objectives and demands

The Shiite cleric is recognized as a spiritual leader of the uprising and the Al Wefaq movement. Al Wefaq is a nationalist and Islamic opposition movement that is the biggest among other opposition fractions in the tiny island monarchy. Figures suggest that its members reach 35,000 people.

A focus on the sermons of the Shiite leader gives a picture of what he is eyeing for the protest movement and the country:

– Securing the religious unity and preventing sectarian disputes

– Unifying the Shiites and Sunnis of the country

– Supporting the political prisoners, the victims’ families, and those wounded during the repressive measures of the security forces

– Withdrawal of the Saudi and Emirate forces who are seen by the revolutionaries as interventionist forces

– Preventing sacrilege of the holy places and mosques

– Encouraging resistance until success of the revolution

What did Al Khalifa regularly do against Sheikh Qassim?

The presence of Sheikh Qassim among the people has often sent the Al Khalifa rulers into spins. The regime has several times detained him on bogus charges, including financial corruption, despite the fact that he does not do any business or any other type of financial activity. Even a mercenary group of 90 individuals in 2012 threatened to assassinate the ayatollah, a rhetoric caused thousands of his supporters to strongly react.

In 2016, his nationality was revoked over charges of dereliction of duties of citizenship and peaceful coexistence, opposing the constitution and the government institutions, and promoting sectarianism and violence in the society.

Less than a year later, the security forces attacked his house and put him under house arrest. The assault led to clashes with the cleric’s supporters, which left six people dead and nearly 200 injured. The Amnesty International accused the regime of using excessive force during the clampdown and called for an independent investigation into the case.

The regime strips the citizens of their nationality to more easily slap accusations on them and so pave the way for their military trials in violation of the international law.

With its repression campaign underway, the Al Khalifa regime has practically turned the country into a military zone all to serve the US and Saudi Arabian interests. The regime is a key regional ally to Riyadh and Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Ayatollah Isa Qassim is one of the most moderate popular leaders who has often urged his supporters to avoid armed clashes with regime.

Al Khalifa thinks that Ayatollah Qassim is the last influential leader of Bahrainis and therefore seeks gradual elimination of him due to fear of more unified popular revolutionary camp. But many experts warn that once the regime does more to press or eliminate him, it should wait for costly consequences. If the rulers purge a moderate and popular figure who is leading the uprising, the revolt will grow more radical and push the regime to the wall even more strongly.