A picture of Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa decorates a tank as armed forces secure Manama's Pearl Square on March 19, 2011 Photograph: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Why is former Met police commander John Yates working for the brutal Bahraini regime?

Yates is defending a blood-stained Middle East tyranny.

Oh dear. What happened to John Yates? How did a suave, sophisticated, liberal British policeman, once tipped for the top job in the Metropolitan Police, end up shilling for a vicious Middle East dictator who shoots, teargasses and tortures unarmed protesters?

“Yates of the Yard”, as he became known during his pursuit of Tony Blair over the cash-for-peerages scandal, was appointed by the king of Bahrain to oversee reform of the country’s security forces late last year.

This was the very same King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who had turned those security forces on his own people when the Arab Spring reached the country’s capital on 14 February, 2011. Protesters had arrived in Manama’s Pearl Square to demand greater political freedom and greater equality for the Shia majority. More than 30 people were killed in the crackdown that followed.

Opposition groups say that Yates, who quit the Met over the phone-hacking scandal, was hired to give the ruling al-Khalifa family a veneer of respectability – and he does seem to have taken to his new role with relish. In February, Yates told the Telegraph that the turmoil in Bahrain wasn’t the result of “organised protests” but “vandalism, rioting on the streets”.

Earlier this month, with human-rights groups calling for the forthcoming Bahrain grand prix to be cancelled, Yates intervened to urge teams to travel to the Gulf kingdom, suggesting that he and his family felt safer in Manama than in London. In a leaked letter, dated 11 April, Yates admitted that there were “nightly skirmishes” but claimed that these were “overplayed” by social media sites sympathetic to the opposition. “I feel completely safe,” he wrote. “Indeed, safer than I have often felt in London.”

Of course, if you’re in charge of security and policing for a brutal, unelected dictator, you do tend to feel quite safe.

Until, that is, the inevitable revolution comes. Then they’re often strung up from the nearest lamppost. If, and let’s cross our fingers here, Bahrain’s al-Khalifah ends up going the way of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yates might well find himself desperately trying to book a seat on the first flight out of Manama.

The former Met commander is a disgrace. To cosy up to News International is one thing; to defend and dissemble on behalf of a blood-stained Middle East tyranny quite another. If Yates really believes Bahrain is “safe” and that the protesters are “vandals”, then perhaps he should venture out of his plush, air-conditioned office inside of the interior ministry in Manama and go and speak with the family of 22-year-old Ahmed Ismail, who bled to death last month after being shot by government loyalists at a rally. Or with the parents of 15-year-old Sayed Hashim, who bled to death on New Year’s Eve after being hit in the neck by a tear gas canister.

Yates was appointed to his post in December 2011; according to a recent report by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, there have been at least 30 documented cases between November 2011 and March 2012 where Bahrainis have died after confrontations with police or security forces. So much for his “reforms”. Yates of theYard has failed. Again.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

I’m in Bangladesh as I needed to put a few thousand miles between myself and the Hovel

So I had to go to Dhaka. To its literary festival, to be precise.

So I had to go to Dhaka. To its literary festival, to be precise. I was invited a few months ago, I’m not sure why. It was certainly before some maniac at the London Review Bookshop, probably desperate to drum up custom for an event I was chairing there, described me as “Britain’s most influential book critic”, a title that cheered me up, to be sure, but, for all the benefits that have accrued to me as a result, may as well have been “Ireland’s most unpredictable wasp”, or “Poland’s wonkiest ladder”.

My invitation to Dhaka arrived, instead, shortly before the July attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery by Islamist extremists, in which 29 people were killed. Before then, I had noticed that Bangladesh was becoming one of those countries where writers and atheists were hacked to pieces more than was strictly necessary, and had experienced some collywobbles, but an epic dinner at Rules given me by Ahsan Akbar, the festival’s director, made me snap my fingers at danger.

Really, it would have been rude to refuse to travel; besides, the threat I constitute to myself is at least on a level with the one posed by any militants. If you think I exaggerate, the state of my bedroom alone, which I have not allowed Martha the Cleaner to enter for the past three weeks, on the grounds that it is too shameful, is enough to make me want to kill myself. I had to get out of there before I did myself any further psychic damage by merely looking at it. It was time to put a few thousand miles between myself and the Hovel.

I have been in Bangladesh only a day now, but never, considering how I am being treated, has the title “Down and Out” been less applicable to the words beneath it. The journey started with an Emirates flight from Heathrow, and if what I was in was economy, then heaven alone knows what first class is like. Maybe it is heaven, and indeed the steps leading up to the next floor of the plane suggested something magical and other-worldly, like the staircase in A Matter of Life and Death.

I scanned the inflight entertainment brochure with awe. It covered several pages. I decided to watch La Grande Illusion, the Renoir classic, but then, realising that I actually have the DVD at home but just haven’t got round to watching it yet, settled on a binge-watch of episodes of M*A*S*H and a surprisingly fascinating documentary on the making of Star Trek: the Next Generation. This after playing the Velvet Underground for my take-off. The music selection itself, I must say, is incredible. It’s like flipping through the record collection of your coolest friend. Not just Unknown Pleasures and Never Mind the Bollocks: there’s Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, for crying out loud. I was aching for sleep, having pretty much not slept since the night of the US election, but it was almost too exciting.

And now Dhaka. We arrived in darkness, but this only made the lights of the police escort all the more visible. Having a police escort is a new experience for me, unless you count the more informally organised police escort I was offered after being caught with two tabs of LSD in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace in 1982. (Long story.) This time, though, the police were armed and, notionally, on my side, though one of them seemed to be giving us the evils.

“No,” said one of my fellow authors, “that’s just a sexy underlook.” (I hadn’t encountered the word “underlook” before, but from now on I intend to adopt one as part of my seduction technique, even if this might be a risky thing to try at my age.)

My fellow authors are delightful. They have to be. The English-speaking author abroad on a cultural jolly is bound by a firm obligation: to ensure that as much as possible of every conversation consists of a joke. I suspect that a convention of comedians would be notable for its seriousness of word
and deed; writers are happier to subvert themselves. Maybe. But even V S Naipaul, who opened the festival from his wheelchair, was able to crack wise a couple of times before and after cutting the ribbon.

The hotel is so luxurious that it fills me with guilt. As for Dhaka, I’ve not been here long enough, except to marvel at the traffic, which moves only at the exact moment you have given up all hope of ever moving again, and at the kindness of the people, and at the warm, soupy air. The city isn’t exactly tidy – but, as you might have gathered, that kind of thing isn’t going to bother me. l

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile