Bahraini pounds buy UK silence on human rights abuses

From a small office in central London, Bahraini exile Sayed Alwadaei is taking on the abusive monarchy that runs his home country.
Publish date : Monday 27 November 2017 11:15
Code: 295866
Sayed Alwadaei, a human rights activists
Amongst the most prolific commentators on the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain, activist Alwadaei has been indefatigable in his calls for basic reforms. His approach to human rights personifies fairness, an absence of sectarianism, and honesty.
Last month, Alwadaei wrote about how his mother had recently passed away, and his daughter was due to arrive into this world “stateless”. Meanwhile, his wife’s mother, brother and cousin were soon to be imprisoned on trumped up terrorism charges back home. They confessed, the Bahraini state declared, though their prosecutors could offer no DNA or third party witnesses to support their confessions.
“The fate of each is tied to their relationship with me,” Alwaedaei grimly concluded. The year before, his wife had been interrogated in Bahrain airport, coincidentally following a high-profile protest he had just taken part in over in London. Having stripped him of citizenship the authorities have now moved to hurt those closest to him, with show trials prefaced by torture sessions.
Those arrested were his wife’s mother, Hajer, her 18-year-old brother, Nizar, and Mahmood, her cousin. Nizar was prevented from sleeping for two days, then badly tortured and threatened with execution unless he confessed to planting a fake bomb. Hajer fainted after she was forced to stand for hours during interrogations, and was eventually hospitalised. There were suspicions that Mahmood was only taken into custody because he happened to be hanging out with Nizar when the police knocked his door down.
Last week the United States weighed in, raising the “major concern” that the “confessions” of Alwadaei’s relatives had been “obtained under duress”. These false admissions alone led to their triple conviction for terrorism-related offences on 30 October. An appeal will be heard later this month. Their sentence stands at three years.
This is the price the brutal Al-Khalifa family exact as punishment for criticism. Interrogators asked endless questions about Alwaedei’s activities in London, including such details as the length of his commute. Likewise when his wife was previously arrested, airport security officials had clearly been tasked with finding out as much as possible about his activities in the UK. Senior advisor of Washington based Human Rights First, Brian Dooley, notes that “targeting the families of activists in Bahrain is a serious and growing problem.” Worse still it is a problem that the British state plays a deliberate role in.
Bahrain and the British establishment remain infamously entwined, from the personal friendships between our royal families to the recently enlarged British naval base in the capital city Manama and the constant allure of new energy and defence deals. The large numbers of well-off expats and the importance of maintaining good relations with Al-Khalifa’s primary sponsors – the House of Saud in Riyadh and their counterparts in Abu Dhabi – means you will hear little criticism of persecution from Whitehall mandarins or the ambassadors.
The additional pressure is now Brexit. It was no mistake that Theresa May’s trade planners booked her a flight to the Gulf almost the moment she had been handed the keys to number 10. She visited Bahrain in December 2016, just as real estate investors managing wealth portfolios on behalf of the Gulf royals and their attendant economies, and had begun to finalise their plans for which cities abroad might benefit from their billions in cash in the coming years.
Three months later an analyst told Property Week that, “Their real estate portfolios are beginning to take shape and London will, without doubt, be on the agenda”. Amongst these financial mega-brands was Mumtalakat Holding Company, whose coffers are filled each year with the surplus revenue of Bahrain’s majority state-owned oil and gas fields. While the gas will slowly make its way to Europe, weaving its way through contested states, civil wars and pipeline politics, the immediate goal is to make sure that the money generated is invested into London.
The Bahraini elite are amongst the richest and most mobile citizens in the world, and eager to quasi-colonise London. One such project is Paddington Gardens, which is being developed by Bahrain’s Ahli United Bank. Designed by award-winning and expensive architects, the complex comprises four buildings set around an acre of gardens with 335 homes plus offices, restaurants, retail space, a primary school and a 340-room hotel. Forty per cent of the homes, as of July, have already been sold to Middle Eastern investors. “Buyers have been lured by the investment opportunities created by Brexit”, an optimistic spokesperson told Arabian Business earlier this year, while others note that with 50 per cent discounts on London mansions “Brexit concerns” and a depreciated pound might better describe the influx of Middle Eastern cash to London’s property bubble.
Either way, with Britain now facing two decades of economic stagnation and uncertainty until at least 2019 on the Brexit negotiations front, every bit of money from the Gulf will help keep the treasury figures looking, if not actually being, positive. Every pound that arrives from the Bahrainis, or their allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, buys yet more silence on human rights issues. It is a British tradition not to criticise the Gulf. With Brexit, that tradition is set to last a lot longer.