New year – a year of peace and democracy in Bahrain?

The end of 2011, but not the end for the Bahraini democracy movement.   I wish everyone in the world a happy new year – and a new year that brings democracy, peace and happiness.

The Bahrain Uprising in Numbers by , December 29, 2011

Number of citizens: 535,000

Percentage of citizens who are Shia Muslim: 70

Percentage of those in government: 13

Number of senior positions they fill in the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, the National Guard, the Supreme Defense Council, and the Royal Court: 0

Percentage in the Ministry of Finance: 10

Percentage in the Ministry of Information: 6

Percentage in the judiciary: 5

Of the 1,000 National Security Apparatus employees, percentage who are non-Bahraini: 64

Percentage who are Shia Bahraini: less than 5

Of the 20,000 paramilitary Special Security Forces, percentage who are non-Bahraini: 90

Percentage who are Shia Bahraini: 0

Number of elected Bahrainis from all sects who sit on the country’s all-powerful Shura Council: 0

Day pro-democracy protests began in Bahrain as part of the Arab Spring: Feb. 14, 2011

People who took to the streets: 300,000

Proportional equivalent if Egyptians had done likewise: 40 million

Evidence that Iran instigated the demonstrations: 0

Day Saudi Arabia invaded to put down the uprising: March 14, 2011

Number of Saudi, UAE, and Qatari troops who arrived in armored vehicles: 1,500

People killed since Feb. 14: 50

Fatalities as a result of tear gas shot into residential homes or birdshot fired at close range: 30

Age of youngest victim: 5 days

Arbitrary arrests: 1,500

Civilians sentenced by military courts: 208

Physicians sentenced for offering medical treatment to demonstrators: 20

Cumulative jail terms levied: 2,500 years

Citizens currently accused of violating freedom of speech or assembly laws: 1,000

Documented cases of torture and ill-treatment since the revolt began: 1,866

Bahraini officials held responsible for killings or the systemic use of torture: 0

Mosques destroyed: 40+

Journalists targeted: 90+

Workers fired for supporting, taking part, or suspicion of having taken part in pro-democracy activities: 2,710

University students expelled for the same reasons: 477

Prisoners of conscience: 500

Bahrain’s rank among countries in political prisoners per capita: 1st

Proposed U.S. arms sales to Bahrain: $53 million

Years the al-Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain: 228

Days left in power: numbered

Thanks to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and other NGOs for helping compile these figures.

Cartoons and thugs

So much that I want to share in this blog today –

Firstly, I want to honour all the wonderful women of Bahrain.  It was Women’s Day in Bahrain on Thursday.  I want to pay tribute to the courageous women of Bahrain.  In the past year, many have had to face and overcome obstacles they never imagined they would meet.  They have faced terror, intimidation, torture, bullets and rape.  They have continued to stand up for what they believe, despite the personal costs and many are very changed.  To you all, I applaud you for your strength, your dignity and your commitment.

Another interesting cartoon is ‘Bahrain, lines in ink, lines in the sand’.  by Josh Neufeld.  It follows Mohammed and Sara, two young Bahraini editorial cartoonists who found themselves on opposite sides of Bahrain’s short-lived Pearl Revolution.”

The results of the Boussini inquiry have now been out for a week.  This is what Human Rights First had to say about it. “Today the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, led by Cherif Bassiouni, released its report on the brutalities that occurred during this spring’s pro-democracy protests.  Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, on the ground in Bahrain, has issued the following statement:

The Bassiouni Commission today confirmed what Human Rights First and other leading human rights organizations internationally have been saying for months – that thousands of people were arrested, tortured, and subjected to unfair trials.  Thousands of workers and students were dismissed for association with the democracy protests.  Bassiouni told the world what it already knew from media and human rights reports—that the calls for democracy were brutally crushed, and were not masterminded by Iran.  Despite early claims that Tehran was behind the protests, the King conceded that ‘the government of Bahrain was not in a position to provide evidence of links between Iran and specific events in our country this year.’

The onus is on the Bahrain government to stop and show that it has stopped attacking its population.  Yet today, the opposition MP Matar Matar was due back in court for taking part in peaceful protests and there are reports of a 37-year-old man killed by a police vehicle.  On Monday, November 28, the trial of 20 medics who treated wounded protesters resumes.

When the Bahrain government’s own commission of inquiry confirms severe human rights violations and when some of those violations continue, it’s hard to see how the U.S. government can proceed with the proposed $53 million arms sale.”

So – what has the king done?  He’s said, oh, yes, this is terrible, we must do something about this and ensure that our police are properly trained so this doesn’t happen again.  So off he goes, and hires and ex-US police chief to ‘help with reforms of its law enforcement procedures’.   But not just any police chief.  The man who will take on the job is John Timoney who was chief of the Miami Police during the protests at the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in 2003. “Many criticisms about systemic police abuse throughout the days of the protest have been made. A judge presiding over the cases of the free trade protesters, Judge Richard Margolius, said in court that he saw no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers during the November demonstrations, adding to a chorus of complaints about police conduct. Various footage of the protests that took place and alleged police abuse is the subject of many internet videos.[1]  The Miami Police force was backed at the time by $8.5 million in anti-terrorism funds which were funneled by Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld.[2] The conduct of the Miami officers indirectly resulted in the death of one protester, Jordan Matthew Feder[3]

To find out what Timoney’s reputation is like in the US, this article by David Rovics entitled ‘John Timoney’s bloody journey’ may be helpful, though depressing.  “John Timoney, until recently chief of police of Miami and before that Philadelphia, formerly of New York City, where he also was a high-ranking cop, is heading to Bahrain to train the cops there, according to the Associated Press.  If you happen to know anybody from Bahrain who might be thinking that hiring this New Yorker could be a step in the direction of less massacre-oriented policing policies, this might be a good time to relieve them of any such illusions.”

And if you need any more clarification, listen to the song David Rovics wrote about John Timoney in 2005 called ‘Butcher for hire”.  The chorus is:

John Timoney, butcher for hire
he’s a brutal thug and a dirty liar
a cop among cops and a man among men
and oh my god he’s back again.

The next verse says “He’ll protect our freedom in his own special ways by smashing in your face today.  He’ll spray tear gas in your eyes and look in the camera and tell lies.”

Don’t you think the Khalifas are clever?  They order a commission of inquiry into their abuses and the international community applauds. Then the commission finds that yes, abuses did take place and the king says, oh, dear we must make changes.  And the international community applauds.  Then the king says, we will appoint an American to train our police in how to deal with such situations in future.  And the international community applauds.

From State to Kingdom

This story is the continuation of the story I posted on 12 October called  “My Valentine with Freedom” – 14th February 2011  Once again, the writer has written this particularly for this blog.

Growing up, satellites weren’t widely used by people; at least the community around me, and that consisted of middle and lower income families. We could get the two local channels, one in Arabic and one in English and if your TV aerial was working properly you can get the local channels of the neighboring states, Qatar, Saudi, Kuwait, Oman and the Emirates. 1999 to me is the year that everyone switched to satellites. Overnight, almost everyone I know had satellites. We were forced to. You see, the Prince, had a heart attack and died. So we had a week holiday to “mourn” and the local channels and those of the Gulf States all had Quran reading on them around the clock! All week! It was unbearable; he punished us, even in his death, this time with cruel boredom!

The new Prince ascended to the throne, people joked about his uncle’s contempt and desire to be the ruler instead of his young nephew, but no royal coup took place, the uncle resorted to remaining Prime Minister and controlling the economy at large while the young Prince took his time in the lime light and started moving to impress on both the internal and external level with empty promises. Of course, at the time people were wishfully thinking these promises were going to materialize.

As a naïve child, I assumed the best in people. I had hopes and dreams, I had watched all these cartoons about princes being different than their fathers and making things different for their people, so I secretly had a fantasy, that this Prince will be different, he will make our world different. Despite the fact that everything I grew up with and experienced in my short years told me otherwise and in spite of all the skepticism surrounding me about the future with the new Prince, I dared to dream in my heart.

In a year’s time, the Prince became a King! We went to school and all our books were changed, on the upper right corners of all the books where it usually read:

“State of Bahrain, Ministry of Education”
It read:
“Kingdom of Bahrain, Ministry of Education”

It was surreal for a while, countless jokes were made about a place as tiny as Bahrain being called a Kingdom, but we eventually got used it. There were other pressing matters; the King introduced the National Action Charter, to be followed by a constitution like that of 1973! The nation was taken over by debate; could they trust him? Should they vote for the NAC or should they boycott? Who’s going to work on the constitution? Even if all of this happens, is there going to be real application?

Of course, no one answered to those concerns and discussed anything with the people! What were you thinking? Royalty don’t go around taking your opinion, they simply put a project on the table and expect you to be grateful they even considered doing it. Then you must praise them and congratulate them for it, everywhere, on every page of every newspaper, for days on end, you must hail their wonderful ideas and forward thinking. Soon after the vote on the National Action Charter took place, people started comparing our King to Saddam; you see, it was declared that 98.4% of the population voted “YES”. This puzzled people who knew that those who boycotted the vote were definitely more than 1.6% of the population; so it reminded of Saddam who was hated by the largest segment of his people, yet he declared that he won elections by 99% of the votes. It kind of made me feel sorry for them, were they truly that self-absorbed and self-loving to believe or expect people to believe that these percentages are true? Such arrogance has always been beyond my understanding.

When the King changed the constitution and started adding royal decrees left and right to make it even worse, there was a lot of rage on the street. The young me heard a lot about how frustrating and infuriating that was, but at that moment in time it didn’t really sink in, I was busy being positive. I wasn’t positive about the Prince/King or anything political, I was only excited because I was looking forward to seeing my cousins! The Prince/King declared a pardon for all political exiles; they were allowed to come back!

I had two uncles who lived abroad, not by choice. They escaped the country in the early 80s, because had they stayed, they would have been arrested, tortured and/or killed. Those of their groups who couldn’t escape were sent to prison by the late Prince for up to 15 years, they faced all kinds of unimaginable torture. One of my uncles was older than father, the other was younger. The older one married a Bahraini woman, she travelled with him everywhere he went and they started their family together. Their children were born in more than one country, so they had lots of stories to tell. The other one married an Arab woman, whom he met abroad, and they started a family the same way. I saw my younger uncle for the first time when I was nine years old. They had just settled in his wife’s country, and we went to visit. He had a daughter my age and we became friends instantly. My older uncle, I didn’t see till I was eleven. He lived in a farther country, so the visit included me, mother and 3 of my siblings only. I became friends with his daughters instantly as well. When we left to go back home on both occasions, I felt a great sense of loss, I had all those cousins who were wonderful and I couldn’t see them easily. And my uncles were both kind and funny. They looked like father SO MUCH, it was freaky, but in a good way. I could see my feelings mirrored in father’s eyes, but that was presumptuous of me, now I realize his pain was a lot deeper and his loss much graver.

I wasn’t the only one who was distracted by the idea of the return of loved ones. My grandmother was just as taken over by anticipation as I was. We were the ones asking dad every day if my uncles are coming back or not. My older uncle had just finished building a house for his family, which he’d been working on for years, he bought the land with another Bahraini who lived with them and they shared it. My other uncle had started a small business in his wife’s country, so it was also a hard question for him whether to come back or not. Soon, my younger uncle came to visit, since he lived close by. We had a huge reception for them at my house, not the formal western style, the Bahraini crowded-home people-pouring-out-of-every-corner-you-can-think-of style. It was a day larger than life for me and I had so much fun. My father had a smile that I’ve never seen before on his face and my grandmother had tears of happiness for the first time in years.

She had always said that what blinded her was crying so much over being separated from my uncles. To a certain extent, that was true. Her eye sight lowered majorly after they left, leading up to that operation that caused her to lose it completely. They never even sued the doctor or complained to the Ministry of Health, they said mistakes just happened those days!

My grandfather’s old house was remodeled and fixed for my uncles to share. The family wanted them to feel welcome and reassured that they have a place in Bahrain. My younger uncle wasn’t going to come back, because of his business, but he did visit quite often. My older uncle, after much persuasion and pleas, finally announced he will come back. A year had passed since the pardon. He waited until the summer, so that his children were finished with school and they all came back. I still get the goose bumps when I think of the day they returned. We waited at the airport for hours as they finally landed and went through strict security detail. A whole bag of books that he had attempted to bring home was confiscated at their entry. But all of that didn’t matter, the trouble, the wait, the fear, all didn’t matter when father hugged his one year older brother, his childhood and youth companion, for the first time in 21 years. I don’t ever recall seeing him have a lighter expression or happier eyes.

For years I was so overwhelmed with my family’s reunion that I cared little for the political issues on the ground. Outside my pink bubble those who came back and those who saw change and progress on the way were all disappointed. Following the National Action Charter and the constitution mirroring a three-decade-old vision, the King and his democracy-crippling royal decrees making the situation even less promising and to many, it felt like outright deception. In years time I had my own experience of that deception and my pink bubble was burst violently to say the least. The chains around my pen won’t allow me to finish this part of my story, but one day, I am sure, I will be able to tell the world, about the lie that pierced my heart and the truth that changed my life, about life under a tyranny, and patience and hope for the day to overcome it. One day…

Many sunk into a skeptical existence, including me, and many others chose to work for progress. It wasn’t until I graduated high school and went to university that I began to believe in change again. Of course, I was still skeptical and very critical of the government, however, the change I started dreaming of was the kind that comes from the people, the only ones I believed in anymore. Everything I did from that point onwards was to contribute to changing myself and people, working on the little things, the basic principles and rights that if planted in people could one day blossom and make them see the world and themselves in a new light. I spent those short amazing years learning of people’s struggles for freedom around the world, suffrage movements, women rights, abolition of slavery and different forms of discrimination. The dreamer part of me hoped to use my learning one day and the skeptical part always assumed it’ll all just stay in my head. I never thought I’ll see the day where people, MY PEOPLE, will be marching in unison expressing all my dreams and the possibility of making up for our wounds and the wounds of all the generations before us.

To be continued…

Nothing like a little comedy

One thing I love about Bahrainis is their sense of humour – and their ability to turn tragedy into comedy.  The whole Bahraini situation is a Shakespearean tale with twists and turns, manipulations, farce and drama.

Once again, the Prime Minister continues to be the comedian of the week with this comment, “Bahrain has gone a long way in respecting and protecting human rights, which is obvious to all and has earned the kingdom regional and international praise,” His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa said as he received at Riffa Palace today Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF) Director Willy Foutre.” Does he really believe what comes out of his mouth and expect others to as well?  The whole article is worth reading as an example of the typical ‘doublespeak’ government propoganda and misleading information.

The unfortunate part, is that so many people believe this trite nonsense.  They also believe the information they see on Bahrain TV.  This article shows a so-called serious news story – a reporter interviewing ‘protesters’ and then describes how the protest was staged and filmed by Bahrain TV. No sooner does this kind of show go to air than the pro-democracy movement turn it into humour and satire.  But thousands of others believe it’s the truth.

My story in my beautiful island called Bahrain

Here I am going to tell you my story in my beautiful island called Bahrain. I was born at the end of 80 , in a village called Sitra, kingdom of Bahrain and I became Bahraini citizen. I was the seventh child born in my family. Yes seven, this number is normal in my country. I have four older sisters and three older brothers. We were living in an old village house and buildings were old, the village is surrounded by factories and it’s polluted from all around. The oil factory is on the south side, highway is on the north  everywhere in that village and people die from cancer each year.

However , I was born and raised in a Shia Muslim faith and throughout the 1980s and 1990s Shia struggled discrimination in Bahrain.  This led to a civil uprising which took place against the ruling royal family minority government between 1994 and 1998. At that time, I was fearful of the police who were meant to protect us but they were not. Sometimes I wasn’t able to attend school during the disturbances. This was until 1999 when the king of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa ascended to the throne, reforms  were promised and civil unrest eased.  We were happy, because the sun light of freedom was ahead. Constitutional occurred to promote greater democracy and openness, but in reality they represented a  ‘ fake democracy’ and people demanded further reforms . Thousands of people in Bahrain protested in the street against the government corruptions, freedom of speech, unemployment, citizenship policies ,  and discrimination against the Shiites from the minority Sunni the royal family of Bahrain Al-khalifa.

I participated in protest against the government that was organized by Al-Wifaq political party (the biggest political association in Bahrain) between 2003 and 2006. The protest did not experience any problems from the authorities. Initially in the first years of the reforms in Bahrain, people were allowed to protest but later protesters were beaten and imprisoned. The government did not listen to the demands of the people and the situation gradually deteriorated.  From 2006 and 2007 (approximately) I attended demonstrations against pollution and ill health caused by oil cement and sheep companies in our village, The protest was held at the entrance of the village and another protest near the Bahrain Petroleum company (Bapco) premises. The protest was organized  by the people in our village.

In 2007, I completed the high school achieved a high grade. Consequently,  I was awarded a scholarship to study outside Bahrain in a foreign country (I do not want to tell the country as I want to be unknown). Most of the students who achieved 90 percent were entitled to scholarships.  However , some students obtained scholarships despite only achieving grades in the 70s or 80s, this is because they belong to specific faction or had connection. I travelled to study outside Bahrain to study, and I usually come back home each year. While I was outside Bahrain, I received bad news that my dad passed away. I could not attend his funeral but my friends helped me to go over it.

In August 2010, Bahraini political activists were arrested and detained. The government set up checkpoints in the villages of Bahrain including our village. Some people were assaulted at the checkpoints when the riot police were not happy with responses to questions.  At the end of October 2010, I went back home for my long vacation. The situation in Bahrain was miserable, riot police were everywhere without any reason and protests were held almost at night to release the political activists.

On 14th February 2011, peaceful protest began everywhere around Bahrain at the same time. It was organized by young people communicating on Facebook who had been influenced by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. One protestor was killed on 14 February  and another was killed the next day at the funeral of the first martyr Ali Al-Mushima. People were angry at that time and decided to go to the Pearl Square and make it a camp protest same as Egypt and Tunisa until their demands were achieved.  On the 16th of February, I attended the demonstration at Pearl Square around 7.00 and 8.00 pm.

King Hamad had indicated that the deaths would be investigated. People trusted the king to investigate the killings and listen to demands of people. They believed the security forces would not hurt the protestors and it was safe to attend. They wanted the prime minister, Khalifa bin Salman to leave his position , political prisoners to be released and changes to the citizenship policies. Illiterate people from Pakistan , Jordon and Yemen and Saddam Hussain loyalists had been recruited into the Bahraini security forces, intelligence service and the military and provided with housing and vehicles. The  original people of Bahrain, Shia citizens did not enjoy such privileges and were discriminated against.

I stayed for two hours and I left the demonstration and went home. But I returned at 11.30 pm with a friend. We chatted about the expectations for greater freedom, we had black tea and some snacks which was provided at the Pearl square, of course for free!!. Men, women, children were sleeping at the square . I stayed there until  3:00 am , About five minutes later the protestors was attacked by the riot police. I did not expect that – no one did, as the king had gone on TV and promised there would be investigation for the killings of two people.  In the morning of 17th February, the military forces were around the Pearl Square, five protesters were killed.

Soon after this, I departed from Bahrain.  On the 18th February, people still wanted to go back to the pearl square and protest there.  The military forces opened fire against protesters.  World news reported about Bahrain and the international community condemned the violence against the protesters in Bahrain. This led the government to withdraw the military forces and allow the protest in Bahrain.  People went back to the Pearl Square and protested. . In the middle of February, CNN channel reported that 600,000 people participated at a protest for ‘a day of honour for the martyrs’.

In late March 2011, I attended a protest at the Saudi embassy outside Bahrain.  The protest was against the intervention of Saudi forces and the massacre that took place in Bahrain. Also, I attended another protest to show and express the solidarity with Bahrain nation. At the beginning of April, I received a call from Bahrain that my scholarship was canceled because I participated in a protest against the government. From April until uploading this story,  the situation in Bahrain is unrest.   Please Google it to see the news about Bahrain and try to talk about it with your relatives, friends, colleagues and talk about how the Bahrainis are suffering.  They only want their freedom and democracy without corruption to develop their countr !!!

Not Sunni, not Shi’a, just Bahraini

This is what the 14th February Revolution in Bahrain was based on.  This is what the placards read.  Holding these placards was reason enough to the arrested, expelled or dismissed.  Yet it’s the message that the Bahraini people continue to give – this revolution in not based on sectarianism but fairness and democracy.

Last Friday a huge rally was held in Ma’ameer – a very poor village surrounded by industry and pollution.  Here the leaders of the two main opposition parties spoke.  It is worth reading the summaries of their speeches.  What I continue to find inspiring and extraordinary is the ongoing commitment to reform through peaceful, non-violent protest.  This fact is not highlighted enough.  In the history of the world, this revolution will stand out as one of perseverance and commitment through non-violence.

The following is an extract from Aljalil Khalid from the Al Wefaq Party.   

“Our revolution is not sectarian, and enough playing with the false sectarian allegations. Those are funny claims and are a means to run away from facing the people’s demands.”

– “All the wise people in the Arab world know that. The writer Mohamed Hussanein Heikal said that Bahrainis are oppressed, and [former Secretary-General of the Arab League] Amr Moussa said that the change is coming and nothing can stop it.

– “To all our Suni brothers, do not listen to the untruthful voices, this revolution is for all the people and does not raise any sectarian agenda.”

– “Our demands are clear, we demand an elected government, a council with full power, fair election circles, an independent judiciary, and security for all. Are those demands only for Shites without Sunis?

– “This is a letter to all the truthful people, let’s all put our hands together for a better Bahrain.”

In his speech,Isa Ebrahim of the Waad Party talked of the Manama Document which is a joint document prepared by the opposition political groups.  This document spells out the decades long push for democracy and the demands of the Bahraini people.  It is time the west supported the Bahraini people in achieving these demands.

It makes you want to weep.

The following is from an Al Jazeera article.  I would urge you to have a look at the article and the testimonies of those who have been convicted.  At the end of this Al Jazeera article, is an article from Eurasia Review (whatever that is) which talks of how the Bahraini Prime Minister supports human rights. Hmmmm….. ?

“Teachers, professors, politicians, doctors, athletes, students and others have all appeared in Bahrain’s military courts. In just two weeks, 208 people were sentenced or lost appeals, leading to a cumulative total of just less than 2,500 years in prison.

Many of those imprisoned took part in massive pro-democracy protests earlier this year. Others, families say, were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were targeted by virtue of their religious sect.

One lawyer, who represents dozens of the convicted and who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera the total numbers of how many have stood in front of military courts are not clear – but he estimates at least 600. Well over 1,000 people have been arrested since the crackdown began, he said.

And if you aren’t weeping now, read the double speak of the Bahraini Prime Minister and the hypocrisy of the US State Department.

Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa stressed Sunday his country’s aims to promote human rights and bolster global security and stability, reports Bahrain state media.

The statement made to a US Congress delegation comes amid reports a US arms deal with Bahrain could be linked to claims of human rights violations. A US State Department spokesperson confirmed Friday that Bahrain is negotiating a $53 million contract with Bahrain for “armored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, better known as humvees and TOW missiles to go on them” aimed at protecting the country from a potential attack “or nefarious activity by countries like Iran.”

According to BNA, Al-Khalifa, “stressed the importance of dialogue-as a strategic choice – and the protection of human rights and liberties as the cornerstone of Bahrain’s reform policies.”

BNA reported “that the US Congress delegation led by House of Representatives member Donald Payne acknowledged Bahrain’s efforts to embark on democracy and promote reforms steadily. They also lauded the Government’s efforts in this regard, ensuring Bahrain’s pioneering democratic and reform strides.”