The protests in Bahrain beginning in February and March 2011, centering in the Pearl Roundabout represent some of the worst one sided violence of the Arab Spring. The experience of Bahrain is also unique in that foreign military intervention (from the GCC, and primarily Saudi Arabia) was used against non-violent protestors. The crackdown was brutal, with live rounds fired on protestors, prevention of medical treatment for protestors, arbitrary arrests, torture, imprisonment, and in many instances death. (Although the death toll is highly disputed and there are variances between government and activist numbers, the death toll does seem to be above our “25 deaths per year” threshold since 2011, with at least 5 members of the security forces being killed—see bahrainrights.org for more info).
These protests were widely claimed by the protestors to be Bahraini in origin, not Shi’a specifically; even though the Shi’a majority is ruled by a Sunni monarch—and much sectarian rhetoric was used by the government in the aftermath of the protests. There were plenty of instances of Shi’a and Sunni Bahrainis coming together. The goals of the protests were generally for democracy, curbing corruption, and increasing job opportunities. These seems like qualities that the U.S., the “leader of the free world” should have been supportive of, but the U.S. was alarmingly quiet on the issue when the protests were first taking place—of course do to other factors such as the large navy base in Bahrain, and the proximity to Saudi Arabia and its oil. Because of that silence, and because of the continuing protests, clashes, and repression, we all, as students in the U.S., should care about what continues to happen in Bahrain, especially in regards to repression of free speech.
After the scene of the protests was razed, the government focused on taking down the leaders of the protest movement, human rights activists, and anyone who happened to be present. Well over 1000 protestors were arrested according to Al Jazeera, including opposition members of Parliament, activists, poets, and even professional footballers who had shown support. There were facebook pages asking people to identify protestors so that justice could be delivered. Activists have been arrested for tweeting about the protests, and the continuing injustice—even when they encourage only non-violent tactics, such as Zainab al-Khawaja, who was arrested only a few months ago for tweeting about human rights violations (see New York Times article cited below).
If the repression continues to worsen, it is likely that the protestors and government will become more brutal and the situation will get farther out of hand and more violent—as peaceful demonstrations were un-peacefully put down. To resolve the issues, I would suggest a dialogue between protestors and government—although this is horribly idealistic, unlikely to happen, and many of the protest leaders have already been arrested. The U.S. has the obligation to at least pay lip service to democratic aspirations of the people of Bahrain, although I feel this opportunity has already passed. The U.S. could encourage some form of dialogue to help end some of the gravest violations of human rights and free speech.
As the repression continues, and free speech and other human rights continue to be violated, we need to keep an ever closer eye on the people of Bahrain.
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/2011/08/201184144547798162.html a great 50 minute documentary on the protests and their aftermath.