Bahrain, or the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a small island located near the Western shores of the Persian Gulf. The island, 55 km long by 18 km wide, has been under the rule of the Al-Khalifa monarchy since more than two centuries ago. Bahrain is a member of the oil rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which also consists of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman – all monarchies. Human rights issues in these countries are often ignored, as most of them are allies to the West, and so governments’ interests have been prioritized over human rights issues.
Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, people in Bahrain decided to revolt against the Western-backed Al-Khalifa monarchy that came to power in 1783. The revolution in Bahrain represents an ongoing struggle against oppression. “We are fighting for our self-determination,” I was told by one of the Bahraini pro-democracy activists who refused to be named.
There has been little mainstream media coverage on the revolution in Bahrain compared to other pro-democracy struggles in the world. This can be credited to Bahrain’s Western allies. Media censorship is due to Western interest in the oil rich region, especially Saudi Arabia.
According to the US Department of State: ”Saudi Arabia is one of the leading sources of imported oil for the United States, providing more than one million barrels of oil a day to the U.S. market. The U.S. is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia is the largest market for US exports in the Middle East.”
On February 14, 2011, people in Bahrain flooded the streets. Some activists were organized, but ordinary angry protestors joined the demonstrations condemning the government’s human rights violations. A young man, Ali Mushaima, was killed the night before. Like protestors in Egypt, Bahrainis occupied Pearl Roundabout, the Bahraini version of Tahrir Square. Government forces attacked peaceful protestors. Hundreds were arrested, injured, and killed. More than 100 were killed, including 9 children. Thousands have been arrested. According to Amnesty International, about 80 children aged between 15 and 18 have been held in adult prisons and detention centres in Bahrain in the past few months. Al-Khalifa asked other GCC governments to intervene. Troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates invaded the island, killing, arresting and torturing thousands of protestors and activists.
Despite the brutal crackdown on dissidents, people in Bahrain refuse to surrender. They continue to protest, demanding real democracy, and an end to oppression, repression, and discrimination. Victims are people from different walks of life, and are of different ages. They include students, workers, teachers, medics, and others. Human rights defenders who condemn and denounce government’s violations are repeatedly harassed.
The demands of protestors in Bahrain are basic. They demand dignity, self-determination, and equal opportunities. In an attempt to stay in power, the Al-Khalifa government (which belongs to the Sunni minority in Bahrain) has been oppressing the majority of the population who are Shia. According to Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the government has been hiring foreign workers from outside the region despite the high unemployment rate and the deteriorating economic conditions. According to a report released in 2004 by BCHR, around half of Bahraini citizens living in the oil rich region are suffering from poverty and poor living conditions.
Like any other victim of oppression, students at the University of Bahrain and other academic institutions were frustrated by the situation. The government forces killed one of their colleagues, Ali Al-Moemin, during a peaceful protest. Many of their colleagues were arrested. They abstained from demonstrating inside the university building for almost one month until they received permission to do so. Dr. Mohamed Al-Khaqani described the permit as “a trap” to launch a crackdown on those who protest. Al-Khaqani was a professor at the University of Bahrain. He was dismissed from the university, and according to the authorities, received charges for “encouraging students to protest.”. Initially, he stood against any demonstrations inside the academic buildings. However, when students were attacked, he tried to save and protect them. He had no political activities in Bahrain, and all of his work was known academic.
Soon, the University of Bahrain turned to a place where students are attacked, arrested, and dismissed from classes. On March 13, students organized a very peaceful protest and sit-in at the university. Soon, government supporters raided the university with swords, knives and batons, vandalizing the building and threatening students. Al-Khaqani was at the university on that specific day. He confirmed that “thugs” were the ones who vandalized the university’s properties and attacked peaceful students. He tried to prevent them from entering the building where he was, but he could not. He defended his students from the vicious raid of the pro-government attackers. As a consequence for defending students, “homes of professors and instructors were raided,” said Al-Khaqani. He was one of the many professors and professional workers who lost their jobs in the recent government’s crackdown on dissidents.
Innocent and peaceful students received severe charges for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Freedom of expression that they aspired to have is protesting in solidarity with their colleagues who were detained during Al-Khalifa government crackdown on protestors. They were protesting against the Saudi forces besieges that were surrounding their cities and villages. They were demanding an end to the arbitrary arrests and the daily raids on people’s homes.
One of the detained students is Jassim Al-Hulaibi. At 2 am on March 27, 2011, police raided Al-Hulaibi’s home. They terrorized the children and arbitrarily arrested Al-Hulaibi. Numerous police cars surrounded his home. They started beating him in front of his parents. Al-Hulaibi and his family had no clue of what was happening. They dragged him out of his home, and started verbally and physically abusing him. For almost one month, Al-Hulaibi’s family did not know his whereabouts.
During the first two weeks of his arrest, Al-Hulaibi was subjected to torture. His eyes were covered and his hands were always tied with plastic tapes. Prison guards would beat him regularly, and offend his religious beliefs. All confessions were taken under torture. Al-Hulaibi was not at University of Bahrain during the protest. On March 13, 2011, Al-Hulaibi was at Salmaniya Hospital. He was receiving medical treatment for his injured leg. Government forces shot him during a peaceful protest in his neighborhood, and he was unable to go to university. The authorities refused to consider his official medical reports.
“Do you think that human rights organizations can put pressure on the Bahraini government to release my son and other prisoners?” Al-Hulaibi’s father asked me. I was speechless, and my heart filled with sadness. The West supports Bahraini and Saudi governments. Al-Khalifa and Al-Saud monarchies receive arms from United States (and Canada too) and use them to attack peaceful protestors. The only way to help stop the ongoing violations in Bahrain is to demand an end to the Western support to Al-Khalifa monarchy and to break the code of silence.