The EU Commission Representation in Helsinki, Finland – or, as locals call it, the Europa Hall – held an event to bring together distinguished guests with diverse backgrounds to launch the book Small State, Dangerous Region: A Strategic Assessment of Bahrain, authored by Mitchell Belfer (Peter Lang, 2014). The audience included representatives of academia, political and social activists, diplomats and an assortment of members of civil society, locals and from Bahrain, who are interested in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region. This group, the atmosphere and the event itself was conducive to public discussion, debates and dialogue over international interpretations of Bahrain’s internal and external challenges.
Belfer presented the work as the result of three years of research and exploration of Bahrain and its performance in the region. The author commenced with a brief explanation as to why Finland was chosen for the event since it is a country with a similar history of being caught-up in the larger dynamics of super-power competition; as a small state trying to survive the dangerous region of WWI and WWII Europe. Belfer then moved to illustrate the situation facing Bahrain where not only the regional players of the Middle East are involved. Belfer suggested that geopolitical realities must not be neglected when trying to portray the performance of Bahrain in both wider scales of world affairs as well as in management of its internal security. The message was clear: yes, Bahrain does have to repair its domestic political scene and continue to work at reforming the Kingdom, but it needs to do so at its own pace not one imposed exogenously. Also, Belfer was undeterred from linking many of Bahrain’s internal problems to Iran’s rise to regional hegemon. Particularly, Belfer highlighted the linkages between the theocratic regime in Tehran and the spiritual leadership of the Baharna Shia in Bahrain, Issa Qassim and argued that much of the internal turbulence unfolding in Bahrain is the result of Iranian orders. This theme formed the basis of the subsequent roundtable discussion which, in addition to Belfer, involved: Toumo Melasuo (Professor Emeritus, the University of Tampere), Wolfgang Muehlberger (Senior Fellow, The Finish Institute of International Affairs), Khwala Al-Muhannadi (President of the National Monument in Bahrain), Abdullatif Al-Mahmood (President of the National Unity Assembly of Bahrain) and Nasser Al-Khalifa (2nd Secretary, The Embassy of Bahrain in Brussels).
The event was planned together with the Finland-Bahraini Friendship Association. The venue was donated by the EU’s Representation to Finland. Special thanks to Mrs. Pia Jardi and Mr. Ilari Rantakari for their help in organising this event.