By Toby Matthiesen, University of Cambridge
* This memo was prepared for “The Arab Thermidor: The Resurgence of the Security State” workshop held at the London School of Economics and Political Science Middle East Centre, October 10, 2014.
In February 2011, Bahrain probably had the highest ratio of protesters as part of the citizen population of any of the Arab countries. In the preceding decade, its security establishment, while never totally absent from politics, had become less visible. In mid-March 2011, however, the security forces were able to instigate a broad clampdown against the mobilized public and ensure the survival of the regime within a matter of days. How can this be explained? And what are the enduring consequences of the resurgence of Bahrain’s security state?
The general phenomenon of popular challenge and regime crackdown in Bahrain is not new, of course. Bahrain has experienced mass movements for democratic reform throughout much of its modern history. In most cases, harsh repression and the awarding of extraordinary powers to the security forces effectively ended those cycles of protest. In 1956, the leaders of a cross-sectarian reform movement, the High Executive Committee, were arrested and exiled, and many others were imprisoned at home. In 1965, a broad-based workers’ uprising that paralyzed key parts of the economy was suppressed. Thereafter, the British government installed Ian Henderson, a colonial police officer who had participated in the suppression of the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s, as head of security in Bahrain. He would oversee the creation of a special investigations unit to track domestic opponents. This unit was also key inprotecting the regime after the ruler Sheikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa aborted the parliamentary experiment from 1973-75 and abolished parliament. Continue reading on The Monkey Cage.