The Bahraini appeals court has spoken. Abdulhadi AlKhawaja's life sentence stands. So do the sentences of Ibrahim Sharif and Hassan Mushaima. So do those of 17 other human rights and political activists. The 13 men who chose to remain in Bahrain will stay behind bars, seven of them facing life sentences.
This latest development really doesn't add anything new to our understanding of Bahrain's oppressive rulers. They have squarely rejected the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry after promising to implement them.
The response by King Hamad's Western allies will do nothing to change this.
The US will release a report, urging some form of action --- but does it matter? The American statement will be quoted in a few wire service reports, maybe find its way into an article on Foreign Policy's website. It will generate tweets, many of which will be addressed to US foreign policy officials --- their aides will read them, probably say something like "Gosh, I hate my job," and scroll on.
The European Union will follow suit.
Then nothing further will happen. Just as it has for 18 months, "stability" will trump human rights. Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and his fellow inmates will be collateral damage in a grubby alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States, their lives reduced to passing mentions in reports that never lead to action.
Is the US on the wrong side of history? Rephrase: can anyone honestly say it has been on the right side of history much in the past few years, save when that history has been completely and unquestionably to the strategic and material benefit of Washington and its allies. The US will continue to prop King Hamad and his family against human rights activists while simultaneously imposing sanctions on other nations for human rights abuses.
That pattern is well-established. So why devote yet another opinion piece to discontent about it?
Because the "right side of history" is not just a phrase.
Bahrain is currently going through a period in which the majority of its population's ideas are more or less coalescing into the demand of change. By putting human rights activists in jail under dubious charges, the regime resists that change as it imprison ideas.
Reform is an idea. Democracy is an idea. Human rights for all is an idea. Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, the most visible symbol of these ideas, is merely a conduit. Even if he ends up spending the rest of his life in prison, silencing him will not quash the thought that Bahrainis deserve better than King Hamad. All of those holding that thought cannot be put behind bars.
In the short run, today's verdicts will sadden many inside and outside Bahrain who hoped that the suffering of these activists would come to an end. But in the long run, Bahrain's rulers are left with a country brimming with discontent, slowly gathering behind ideas that will alter the course of their nation.
As Victor Hugo said over a century ago: "One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas." The war against the idea of reform in Bahrain has already been lost by its rulers. All its officials are doing now is prolonging the illusion: "Look, we put reform behind bars. Now you can't do anything!"
So a message to King Hamad, the Prime Minister, the Public Prosecutor's office which even today was shouting, "Iran" and "Hezbollah" rather than "justice" and "rights". Men can be imprisoned. Their ideas cannot.
Good luck finding the tear gas to wipe them away.