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Pro-government cleric to start own party in Bahrain
SAAR, BAHRAIN— A well-known pro-government Shiite cleric plans to launch a new party in an uphill battle against the tiny island kingdom’s opposition establishment.
Sheik al-Asfoor comes from a long line of Bahraini Shiite clerics and is still respected by many for his scholarship.
But his pro-government political views have alienated most of Bahrain’s Shiite majority, which has grown increasingly anti-government since the Sunni royal family crushed a month-long uprising with the help of troops from the Gulf states.
“What people call a revolution wasn’t really a revolution,” he told The Washington Times at his home in the affluent village of Saar.
“It was mimicking what happened in Tunis and Cairo, but for a revolution you need the agreement of the entire population when that wasn’t the case here.”
More than 30 were killed after protests began on Feb. 14, but Sheik al-Asfoor blames their deaths on Wefaq.
“Nobody had to die, but they created the environment in which people were killed and then used the blood of the dead to their advantage,” he said.
“Every step of the way where they could have been positive or constructive, they chose another direction.”
He said that the sectarian polarization that resulted from the unrest compelled him to establish his own political movement.
Sheik al-Asfoor said his yet-to-be-named movement would be exclusively Shiite and would have as its prominent figures “academics, doctors, people of caliber.”
He called it “a multiphased project,” saying that it would begin by targeting selected constituencies in next month’s by-elections.
That vote will replace the 18 seats held by Wefaq, which walked out of parliament in protest of the regime’s crackdown and says it will not return without serious concessions on political reform.
The sheik said that he was not against reform in principle, but he argued that it needed to be achieved gradually and peacefully.
“The question is what would happen if Wefaq came to power, especially acting on a foreign agenda,” he said.
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About the Author
Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.
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