Violence is once again rearing its ugly head in Bahrain. The coordinated detonation of five home-made explosive devices in the capital of Manama on Nov. 5, resulting in the death of two people and the maiming of another, was not some crude attempt to celebrate Guy Fawkes night, but an escalation of bloodshed that threatens to tip the island kingdom into chaos.
The attack appears to be an amateurish attempt to cause terror and mayhem, achieving no result other than killing innocent expatriate labourers. The quality of the explosive devices was poor, suggesting that the attacks were the work of unsophisticated actors working with little institutional support.
Four individuals were arrested for the bombing just one day after it occurred, with Bahrain officials warning darkly that the attacks "bear the hallmark" of Hezbollah. The link to the Lebanese militant organization is crude: Poorly constructed pipe bombs are not Hezbollah's style -- one need only look at the July attack on the Bulgarian city of Burgas to see the group's devastating efficiency in killing innocents. So while it is possible that the individuals responsible may hold some affinity for the group, it is highly unlikely a Hezbollah cell is to blame for this act.
Government officials and some of their more hard-line supporters have at times stretched the truth in describing actions by anti-government factions as terrorism, and very rarely has the opposition's strategy of civil disobedience strayed into violence. But let's be clear: the Nov. 5 bombings were acts of terrorism, committed by terrorists. The government would be justified in prosecuting the offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
The important question to ask is why terrorist actions are now increasing to what appears to be a sustained level. The fact is, this latest attack is the result of a political reconciliation process that is going nowhere and is radicalizing the Bahraini population in the process. The Interior Ministry's Oct. 30 decision to ban all protests and the Nov. 7 decision to strip 31 activists of citizenship are just the latest in a series of measures taken in the kingdom that appear oppressive, and serve only to further harden the political battle lines in this deeply divided country.
There is, fortunately, a silver lining amidst this grim news. Some of the reforms proposed by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which the monarchy commissioned to investigate the abuses committed during last year's uprising, have been implemented: Security reforms have been comprehensive, and some police units' performance has improved significantly -- instances of police brutality have dropped significantly in recent months. Furthermore police units still acting irresponsibly will have to face an independent ombudsman who will judge their actions without political or ministry interference. Additionally, five Shia mosques that were inexplicably razed to the ground last year are also in the process of being rebuilt, with two more scheduled for reconstruction, though there are still 32 lying in rubble.