North Africa, West Asia

Status quo in Bahrain

As the struggle in Bahrain continues, people in the west need to hold their governments accountable for their support of despotic regimes. 

Chrissie Morris Brady
11 March 2014

In February 2011 the Shia majority in Bahrain marched on Pearl Roundabout, Manama, in the hope of change. They were violently crushed by both security forces, employed by the Sunni minority to which the ruling family, Al-Khalifa, belong, and by an influx of Saudi forces. The Al-Khalifas 'import' their security from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other neighbours. Indeed the “naturalization” process there is the highest in the world as the regime seeks to “adjust” demographics.

In the last three years alone, approximately 2250 if not more political prisoners have been incarcerated, many of whom are photographers, journalists and doctors. The security forces use poisonous teargas, which causes lung disease, brain damage, and miscarriages to name a few of the consequences. They also shoot to kill, beat up men with their truncheons and boots, and assault women. Night raids have become the norm, accompanied by kidnappings and the sexual harassment of women. Arrests are rarely followed by charges and torture is rife in detention. Furthermore, medical treatment has been politicized; protesters who are taken to hospitals are regularly arrested and many doctors have left the hospitals.

On this third anniversary there has been dialogue between Al-Khalifa and Al-Wefaq, the main opposition group in Bahrain, as well as smaller oppositional groups. As always, the ruling family has put a gloss over their version and refrain from conveying the truth to NGO's such as Amnesty International or the UN. The US, with a naval base in Bahrain, has remained silent as it is in their interests to ignore the human rights abuses. Indeed, the Fifth Fleet will be there for years to come as America withdraws from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The United Kingdom, of which Bahrain was formerly a protectorate, remains unmoved and silent on all human rights abuses. In fact, the UK has exports over £4 million in arms to Bahrain. The arms trade is regularly used by nations to profit at the expense of ordinary people's basic human rights, let alone, their lives.

Sadly, there is a small minority among the protesters who throw Molotov cocktails, burn tyres and throw stones. This does nothing to help their cause and only labels the protestors 'terrorists', as Al-Khalifa likes to refer to them, as well as ex-pats and most Sunnis. However, a common misconception is that this movement is sectarian, which it is not. The goal is for every Bahraini to be part of a democratic process, where laws are implemented fairly and civil liberties are respected.

How this revolution goes forward depends very much on how both sides proceed. There are westerners who follow closely on twitter, PhD scholars who are studying the process, NGO's who are almost helpless and the people who care about human rights. The latter are not united in their efforts - some retweet whatever seems interesting to them without thinking critically; some are abusive to Al-Khalifa, which is also not helpful; others try to win arguments in 140 characters, while others just seem to rant at the press. NGOs and politicians are equally hampered and few try diplomacy with the Bahraini government whilst simultaneously exposing their abuse.

The United Kingdom needs to stop organizing the Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition; inviting Bahrain and similar states to arms fairs and state occasions. Thiscan only be perceived as approval for despotic behaviour and it is an abuse of UK taxpayers' money.

So what will you do? You can ignore it or you can stand up and be counted. Many of you already do and I thank you.

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