Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bahrain: Audacity of hope

People & Power revisits activists featured in an earlier film and hears tales of arrests and torture but also of hope.


"In mid February 2011, pro-democracy activists in the Gulf state of Bahrain took to the streets of the capital Manama in an attempt to win the kind of dramatic results achieved by their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. At first the demands of this predominantly Shia-led group were for constitutional reform and a reduction of the powers of King Hamad and the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty. But opinion soon hardened into calls for the end of the monarchy when seven demonstrators were killed during a police action at Manama's Pearl Roundabout.

After a month of continued protests, Bahrain's government invited some 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to enter the country in support of local security forces before imposing martial law and instituting a fierce crackdown. Hundreds of activists were arrested; many were beaten and tortured in detention. Medical staff at the island's main Salmaniyya Hospital, where many injured protestors were treated and where demonstrators gathered after Peal Roundabout was cleared, were also targeted for arrests - and many of them subsequently received long prison sentences for their alleged complicity in plots to overthrow the government.....

The struggle goes on

For the February 14 movement at large the struggle goes on. With Bahrain's major opposition parties effectively marginalised during the crackdown, the movement became the main focus for popular dissatisfaction with the al-Khalifa dynasty. In recent weeks, as the anniversary of the uprising (reflected in February 14th's name) drew near, activists were again back on the streets demanding change, in some case violently. Last month King Hamad instituted some modest constitutional reforms, but judging from the massive police presence in Manama this week few doubt the matter will be settled any time soon.

As Bahrain's justice minister Khalid bi Ali al-Khalifa told People & Power recently: "Security of people is the main concern. We know exactly that the use of molotovs and blocking of roads will lead to more aggravating circumstances."

But for Sayed Ahmed and other activists, the hope inspired by last year's events still shines brightly. Driving around Manama a few weeks ago he passed the spot where the iconic Pearl Monument used to stand. A focus for protestors, it was demolished during the crackdown.

"Look what they've done to it," he said. "But it will be built again when we win. They can destroy that but not the freedom in our hearts.""

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