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Notes from the Bahraini Field [Updated]

[Protesters gathered at Pearl Roundabout. Image from yfrog.com] [Protesters gathered at Pearl Roundabout. Image from yfrog.com]

As of Saturday February 19, 2011, several people have been killed and hundreds more have been brutally injured in Bahrain. The Bahraini police and military’s violent oppression of the peaceful demonstrators was further escalated after the GCC’s 28th extraordinary meeting that took place in Manama last Thursday, February 17. The GCC ministers’ message was clear: The Bahraini monarchy (and by extension all other Gulf state regimes) will not tolerate such acts of resistance to its rule and will put down the protests at any cost.  The grave media and internet restrictions that the al-Khalifa regime imposed since the beginning of the demonstrations on February 14th has compounded the already-deplorable coverage that the Gulf island has received. The absence of Al-Jazeera coverage, dubbed the “Arab Spring’s News Channel” by revolutionaries in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, sent a clear message to everyone: revolutions, and the mainstream media that cover them, stop at the doors of the oil monarchies. 

The following constitutes a series of email reports from Jadaliyya affiliates in Manama. They will be updated in the next few days to reflect the latest developments in Bahrain. For some important differences between Bahrain and Egypt/Tunisia, see our Jadaliyya article entitled "Is Bahrain Next."

 

Sunday, February 13

Tomorrow Bahrain will definitely face even more media restrictions than those seen in Egypt. The counter-revolution has already started with ‘Day of Happiness’ parades held on Saturday, and set to continue tomorrow. These parades are staged, perhaps to celebrate the announced handouts of BD1,000 (approximately $2650). The Ministry of Interior tweeted “Illegal rally in Karzakan 3 policemen attacked, Police had to fire 2 rubber buttons 1st as warning shot 2nd bounced & hit a demonstrator. Who knows which unfortunate soul has been given the honor of tweeting on behalf of possibly the least respected and most notorious, corrupt, and brutal institution in the country.

To get some sense of the trajectory leading to this day, you can see elements of inspiration in the Egyptian people’s revolution, rising up from mud that a stick wouldn’t stir – formally known as “the reform process.” But this inspiration only adds to Bahrain’s own situation, defined by corruption, the expropriation of public land and sea, the gradual erosion of already-limited freedoms in media, association, and expression, authorized police brutality, unwarranted mass arrests, a draconian “anti-terror” law, discrimination, the silent relegation of women’s rights in exchange for a political settlement with opposition forces, state-promoted sectarianism, the political naturalization of Sunnis from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, and Pakistan (who, with the exception of the Saudis of course, are largely recruited into the Interior Ministry, given passports, public housing, and meager salaries to enforce the word “police” in “police state”), and more.

The Feb 14 demonstrations appear to have drawn in Bahrainis from a more varied demographic and psychographic than the usual suspects (i.e., Shia youth), who have been arrested in a descending spiral of state violence and public disenfranchisement. Demands broadcast on one of several Facebook pages include a new constitution, as well as a national consensus based on universal human values of equality and justice. Other pages have attracted more than 14,000 followers.

The Bahraini regime is becoming more and more adept at good PR, including free concerts, politically correct (double-speak/euphemistic) tweets from senior government officials, and promises of future media freedoms. It is ostensibly trying to avoid repeating one of the former (and it makes me so happy to use that word!) Egyptian regime’s biggest blunders by concerted efforts not to reveal the regime’s repressive apparatus. Enough to wipe the grin off the Cheshire cat’s face, there are unconfirmed reports that Saudi troops (army, police, riot squads?) have already been deployed across the 20-minute causeway between the two countries. And the state violence has already begun (see the initial Ministry of Interior tweet for a sense of how media management of the days’ events is going to work).

 

Monday, February 14

One demonstrator has been killed already. Ali Abdulhadi Al Mushaima was in his 20s and died in a hospital as a result of being shot in the back. Mohammed was critically injured. Both of them are from Sitra.

Woke up this morning to the sound of helicopters; during my drive to work there were massive deployments of riot police stationed at the roads leading from the main highway of Budaiya; up to 8 police jeeps and a bus of riot police ready for unarmed people protesting peacefully. Several tweeters reported the blockage of internet sites, particularly videos showing police attacking demonstrators on Youtube.

As I have witnessed myself, and according to reports from other gatherings around the country, demonstrators have deliberately taken a nonviolent approach. For example, some 200-plus people (men, women, and children) are holding a sit-in at the Sehla junction.

 

Tuesday, February 15

Fadhel Ali Matrook, 32, was killed Tuesday morning when a funeral procession of more than 10,000 people (mourning the death of a protestor killed on Monday night) was attacked by riot police. He is reported to have died after being shot with a bird-shotgun.

There are said to be many more injured as a result of attacks on demonstrators on Monday and early Tuesday.

In a televised address, the King offered condolences to the victims’ families and said he had assigned his Deputy Prime Minister to set up a “special committee” to investigate. He also promised to “continue with the progress started ten years ago,” in reference to the National Action Charter of Bahrain– a national reconciliation document put forward by the Bahraini King in 2001 in order to end the popular 1990s Uprising.

Al-Wefaq, described by news outlets as the “largest Shia opposition bloc,” even though it has been a long time since they opposed anything being done to their constituents, announced that they were suspending their participation in Parliament in response to police brutality. Conveniently, this allows them to hop onto the bandwagon without having publicly supported or officially participated in the demonstrations on Monday (Feb 14th’s events).

Protestors were expected to amass at the Pearl Roundabout (also known as Lulu Roundabout), a landmark named for Bahrain’s reputation as the “Pearl of the Gulf,” which comes from its pearl diving history. A convoy of at least twenty army jeeps blocked the main highway leading to the Seef/Central Manama area (where the Pearl Roundabout is). No news of where they have been stationed.

Sources have also confirmed that a major telecommunications company has been asked to monitor Internet activity.

Riot police were called off towards late afternoon, although they remained stationed nearby in massive numbers. This resulted in what people started to call “Bahrain’s Tahrir Square,” a makeshift camp with public speeches by members of Bahrain’s secular democratic party, Wa’ad, among others, along with a few tents, public discussion, chants, and … tea.

In addition to the political gain, people at Lulu Roundabout said they felt like they were ‘living’ and reclaiming their country rather than feeling like the guests of the ruling family. The worry is that the government has allowed this to happen in order to show the international media (which has finally stepped up its presence!) how ‘democratic’ it is, and then instigate violence in order to show that a crackdown is justified. Tomorrow morning, there will be a funeral and procession for Fadhel Matrook. So I guess we'll see. For now, here’s hoping for something better.

 

Wednesday, February 16

. . . Almost forgetting the violence of the previous two days, Wednesday night ended with scenes of jubilation at a camp set up at Pearl Roundabout (described as ‘Bahrain’s Tahrir Square’ or ‘Pearl Square’), and also, like ‘Tahrir Square’ is in fact a landmark roundabout at a central intersection in Manama. After two days of demonstrations, two protesters killed by riot police, and a televised apology from the king, some thousands gathered at the Pearl Roundabout (in no official coalition) but with demands including a new constitution, a new cabinet without the current Prime Minister (Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, uncle of the current king) who has been in power since Bahrain’s independence in 1971), the release of political prisoners, an end to political naturalization, and more jobs and housing for Bahrainis.

 

Thursday, February 17

. . . woke up to horrific news that the Pearl Square (“دوار لؤلؤ بي مسمى ميدان لتحرير الان”) had been ambushed in the night. During my somber and enraged drive to work (many maintained a ‘business as usual’ policy in order to show support to the regime) I could only imagine the fear and horror of those who awoke to the siege carried out by riot police, in which at least 4 people were killed. The protest camp included families, and according to those present, some were asleep in their tents when a massive deployment of riot police besieged them from two directions.

Riot police reportedly shot tear gas, birdshot and live rounds at protesters and then chased them as they escaped the roundabout--eye witnesses described splatters of blood on cars and tear gas canisters littering the streets of the nearby area Qufool. Riot police also attack ABC News reporter Miguel Marquez during a live feed to correspondents in the US, to the embarrassment of the Bahraini regime. After the attack, at least 60 people are said to be missing and 3 dead (*this is an extremely graphic image). The Interior Ministry later releases a statement claiming that they "cleared" the area after "trying all opportunities for dialogue." Speaking to BBC Radio, leader of a liberal opposition party Ibrahim Sharif says that the events are bad for everybody; "Now there will be no restraints on the people. They will not listen to anyone."

Interviews at Salmaniya hospital (Bahrain’s main public hospital) where the injured were taken indicate that doctors, paramedics, and nurses were also attacked at the scene, including one doctor who was hospitalised himself after allegedly being tied up and beaten by police. Reports then surfaced that the riot police were forcibly preventing ambulances from arriving at Pearl roundabout. Doctors and nurses staged a demonstration at the hospital some 8 hours after the attack, apparently in response to the health minister’s decision to withhold ambulances from the injured. AFP reporter Hadeel AlShalchi describes, “Hospital was chaotic, protesters chanting outside, dozens bleeding from head, broken limbs, exhibit birdshot wounds”. Hours after the attack, doctors and nurses staged a demonstration in the hospital grounds, protesting against an alleged decision by the Health Minister to withhold ambulances from the injured.  Al Wefaq, the largest opposition bloc in Parliament suspended its participation in protest at police brutality. Head of the government created National Human Rights Committee, Abdullah Al Derazi, resigned from his post in protest of the government’s actions. Rumours then surfaced that the Health Minister Faisal Al Hamer, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nezar Al Baharna and Majeed Al Alawi resigned in protest, but these are later denied. Later in the day, in an unprecedented move, tanks were deployed around Pearl roundabout. An extraordinary meeting of GCC Foreign Ministers was also held in Manama.


Friday, February 18

The mood is already grim as the day starts. Although demonstrations have been forbidden by the Interior Ministry, Friday will bring a funeral march for those killed at Lulu roundabout on Thursday, and also, an ill-timed (to say the least) pro-government rally (which, in yet another seriously questionable move, appears to have been given official sanction). At the funeral, which is being attended by thousands, people are much angrier and calls are now being made for an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa regime. Meanwhile, state TV is broadcasting pictures of the "pro-government rally" (better described as the anti-reform rally). The area around Al Fateh mosque is also filled with thousands of people (although, from reports and footage seems much smaller than the funeral demonstration) waving flags and honking the horns of their (many expensive) cars. AFP reporter tweets that pictures of the king and t-shirts are being given out, and that up to 50% of those in attendance are expatriates; unconfirmed reports suggest that participants include youth from neighboring GCC states (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are connected by a causeway).

The afternoon is quiet though extremely tense until demonstrators approach the Pearl roundabout and in an indescribably horrific turn, the army fires live rounds at the people. It really is better to read one of the reports in the media; or see one of the many youtube videos being circulated. Again, disaster at Salmaniya hospital with staff and services overwhelmed and Bahraini doctors' pleas on international TV to protect Bahrainis (and no offer from the Bahrain Defense Force or other main public hospitals to take in the injured). Again, ambulances reportedly prevented from transporting the wounded and Salmaniya hospital becomes the site of angry protests. Painfully timed, shortly after the incident the Crown Prince appears on TV urging ‘calm’. In the only good news of the day, a member of the police defects, and is raised up by cheering crowds at Salmaniya hospital.


Saturday, February 19

Bahrain is in shock. At least one of the demonstrators from Thursday’s attack will probably die; he has a bullet in his head. Little by little, mild, temperately worded and ineffectual international reactions have been filtering in; criticisms from the US (including a statement that ‘we always urge concessions’ made by the former US ambassador to the UAE on Al Jazeera International’), UK, EU and Ban Ki Moon, as well as more meaningful action in the UK with the reported revoking of arms licenses selling weapons to Bahrain. Bahrain is in the top 4 news stories of every major network, but there is very little humanization of those killed in reports, although I guess this is in part due to the conditions (rapidly changing) and time (little) in which things are happening. There are also more reports today about media repression, including the 15-hour detention of a BBC producer. A long overdue  call goes out from the Bahrain Labor Federation for a general strike – although it is immediately followed with reports of threats to workers that they will face serious action if they do not show up. By afternoon, the army was withdrawn from the streets and by evening, there were jubilant scenes of protesters 're-taking’ Pearl Roundabout.

Towards the end of the day the crown prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa made a speech after apparently holding private talks with opposition figures. He apologized to the families of those killed and injured, said that how the army came to attack its own citizens should be looked into, and called for dialogue "with everyone." Later at Pearl Roundabout, speeches were made and protesters are said to be formulating a list of demands . . .

For a recent summary, click
here.

And for a more nuanced explanation of the over-used "Sunni/Shia" tags used to describe the uprising in Bahrain, click here or here.


[For updates beyond these dates, please see our second installment here.]


 

*Resources suggested by our affiliates in Manama: “Please support the people of Bahrain by following (these are just a few suggestions) and sharing (posting, emailing, tweeting, liking, and calling from the rooftops). Thanks!”

- http://twi​tter.com/B​ahrainRigh​ts

- http://twi​tter.com/c​hanadbh

- http://twi​tter.com/e​moodz

- http://twi​tter.com/r​eemkhalifa​17

- http://www​.facebook.​com/pages/​Bahrain-Yo​uth-for-Fr​eedom/1689​2931648607​1

- http://www​.facebook.​com/TrueRo​yalDemocra​cy

To keep track of events:

- In English: http://twitter.com/maryamalkhawaja

- In Arabic: http://twitter.com/Nabeelrajab

For photos, please see here and here.

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1 comment for "Notes from the Bahraini Field [Updated]"

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Another great source of info is a site based in Bahrain that has been recently blocked there. It uses crowd-sourcing to gather info about the protests: http://crowdvoice.org/human-rights-crackdown-in-bahrain

Fatima wrote on February 19, 2011 at 06:27 PM

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