The “Democracy-on-My-Terms” Cult, Part 1: Brian Dooley
There is something uncanny about a self-described human rights activist writing in (Qatari owned) Al Jazeera about how opaque Bahrain is—on the cusp of its 22 November parliamentary elections. But, tongue in cheek, Brian Dooley of Human Rights First has managed to ignore the subtle suppression of Qatar. He omits Qatar’s abuse of imported migrant workers slaving over the ill-conceived World Cup 2020 venues and forgot its open support for jihadi groups (re: Al Nusra) in Iraq and Syria and a Motley crew of extremists in the Sahal. But Dooley did not forget that Al Jazeera has a global audience. He was, and is, comfortable forgetting that Qatar is a very undemocratic place so that he can use its global media to poke Bahrain in the eye.
In his latest depiction, Dooley accused Bahrain of lacking transparency and democracy and linked that claim to an alleged 100 ISIS members of Bahraini heritage (a claim unverifiable at best, fabricated at worst). Democracy (or the lack of it) is the problem in the Middle East is his argument. But it is, of course, selective. Dooley would hardly suggest that his native UK or France was undemocratic, and yet ISIS draws much more support from among those European nations than from Bahrain, a point neatly left out of his Al Jazeera piece.
But surely Bahrain is not transparent and that is the problem? Compared to the Al Wefaq bloc Dooley champions, Bahrain is an open book. I have tried for weeks to contact Al Wefaq, left emails, tweets, asked others after the bloc … nothing. There are no working telephones, no spokespeople, no information hotlines. Nothing. Al Wefaq is as opaque as they come. There are no real policy guidelines, no funding details, no leadership elections. The organisation is hollow, a shell. And yet its webpages are full of information, updated and fresh. After some poking around, it became clear that Al Wefaq relies on the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) to update their webpages. So, let it be known that the BCHR is not non-partisan; it actively supports Al Wefaq and is, de facto, their spokesmen.
On the other hand, Bahrain is democratic and transparent. It is preparing elections and has a variety of election observers en route to watch – this author included – and ensure that there are no irregularities, no manipulations, no deceit. These elections are being contested by men and women, Shia and Sunni, secularists and Islamists. But this is not enough for Dooley, his vision of democracy is dysfunctional. It is not enough that other Shia blocs are participating, he wants Al Wefaq to enter the race or else have the race cancelled until Al Wefaq can win. But Dooley needs to accept that Al Wefaq choose not to run because they knew they would lose—a point reflected in the multitudes of former Al Wefaq candidates leaving the bloc and trying their luck as independents.
Dooley is suffering from a complex; a “democracy-on-my-terms” neurosis that generates a set of horse-blinders along his temples and sets his vocabulary to “replay” as it reads and rereads tired and worn scripts about the nature of Bahrain, its society, economy, political life and national identity. Instead of constantly attacking Bahrain for its imperfect, but steady efforts at democratisation, Dooley ought to do what a human rights activist is meant to do and be honest about Bahrain and its dynamic society which is about to cast their ballots freely and fairly.