This article was published in the first weeks of the February 14, uprising in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab is currently in prison.
February 23, 2011
The following link is a text version of an interview with Nabeel Rajab
I have been in steady contact with the person interviewed here. He is in Bahrain and is amongst the central leadership of the protest movement there.
It was Nabeel who requested that the international community demand postponement of the Formula-1 Race, scheduled in Bahrain until all political and youth prisoners were released. The race was canceled yesterday February 21 about 4 days after the international campaign was launched on various social media sites. The monarchy claims to be ready to release a list of names of prisoners to be released. I am not sure as of yet whether a list has actually been released to the protest movement or the Center for Human Rights.
It was also Nabeel who sent out instructions for the entire population to photograph and reach out to all media outlets and to all available international reporters in Bahrain at the time.
The protesters reached out to Nicholas Kristof the liberal New York Times reporter. This was an excellent move on their part. Kristof, it must be said, acted courageously and stood up to the task of trumpeting their cause to the US media, tweeting and posting on social media sites, posting video on the New York Times Web site and writing very forcefully in condemning the soft position toward the Monarchy taken by the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. Kristof explicitly expressed his moral outrage at the situation and in unambiguous terms called for an immediate stop to the massacre of the civillian protesters. The Obama administration never explicitly called for the murders to stop, though the major bourgeois papers both the Times and the Washington Post claim that it was pressure from the Obama adminstration, the US Department of Defense and the US State Department that convinced the Bahrain monarchy to withdraw its security forces from the Pearl Roundabout.
This effective outreach to international media afforded the Barhaini activists a great deal of favorable international press coverage, including on ABC, CNN and the New York Times and ensured that the violence and intimidation being committed against them was well documented. Al Jazeera, which had been the center of bourgeois news reporting and a media catalyst during the protests which overthrew the dictatorial Egyptian military leader Hosni Mubarak, backed away from intense coverage of the events in Bahrain and was markedly slow to report developments, despite having reporters in the field there at the time. Al Jazeera is ‘hosted’ by the monarchy in nearby Quatar.
Individual activists as well as the leadership of the street actions and allied individual activists used a series of Facebook accounts as an effective tool to mobilize their supporters and conduct their own operations. Facebook and other 21st century electronic communication technologies and websites were also used to reach out to liberal political activists, left-wing and socialist organizations, and a surprising spectrum of individuals from around the world to support their cause. The primary Facebook profile which called for the actions on the 14th of February to take place and initially publicized their demands had over 14,000 followers, another profile with similar content had over 10,000 registered followers. Over 10,000 Facebook users had signed a petition to stop the violence against the Bahraini protesters by the evening of the 18th of February.
The Bahraini activists tactical decisions seemed to take well into account the reality that they had no useful armed strategy given the overwhelming available firepower that they face sandwiched as they are between the US imperial navy and the heavily armed Saudi Monarchy. Their actions were therefore taken with priority given to unity and political impact as well as with the object to mobilize the greatest possible number of the ranks of their population and to demonstrate their ability to mobilize their own forces.
The combination of remarkable courage, implacability and discipline under live fire of the mostly Shia working class and youth mobilizations and their sophisticated and open minded internationalist public relations campaign gave the Bahraini national-democratic movement a wedge into US and international public opinion sufficient to force the US Rulers to push the Monarchy and the Saudis to back off, it temporarily neutralized the armed power of the Bahrain Monarchy and its Saudi backers, who are in turn backed by the US government, and are in the ever present shadow of the command center of the US 5th naval fleet. The organization of the aggressive street actions has proven to be a model of unarmed non-violent, democratic coordinated mass action and physical self defense. Unfortunately its victories were won at the cost of at least 9 human lives due to the inhuman brutality displayed by their oppressors.
Their well executed actions won the these fighters the political space to mobilize somewhere between a quarter and a half of their entire population in today’s demonstration in which estimates range between 100,000 and 300,000 people. Many photographs posted appear to be much larger than marches I have seen estimated at 100,000. I accept the 200,000 number as a fair and conservative estimate.
There are over 200,000 contract workers in Bahrain and nearly all of the security forces are hired by contract from outside of the country. There is interaction between youth in the local working class populations both Shia and Sunni with the large number of international temporary workers and military personnel in the country. Contract workers staff much of the hospitals and are even hired to work in chain coffee shops which serve US sailors, medical staff and the local business community. Young contract workers in a number of cases posted messages of support for the street demonstrations on Facebook and other social media websites. In some cases these young people, who understandably were in a weak position to participate directly in the street actions, provided aid to the demonstrators by assisting in the dissemination of information to the activists on the street and also to the dissemination of information to the community of international activists who were supporting the street actions.
Contract hospital workers and foreign born medical staff in some cases risked their lives and faced assaults by security forces in their efforts to aid wounded Bahraini protesters. At one point, during the intense struggle which occurred directly after the protesters were routed from the Pearl Roundabout it seemed that the security forces were prepared to storm the hospital which housed the majority of the over 250 people who had suffered serious and in some cases fatal injury from close range fire of tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and on the second night of the massacre direct lethal live fire from snipers and helicopters. The protesters retreated from their rout at the Pearl Roundabout on the night of the 17th and rallied to defend their wounded and medical personnel at the Hospital. They occupied the parking lot of the hospital all night on the evening of he 17th and the morning of the 18th of February. There they prayed for their wounded, mourned their martyrs and stiffened their resolve to redouble their efforts in the day to come.
In the later hours of the afternoon of the 18th of February protesters determined to reoccupy the Pearl Roundabout faced extremely violent and murderous actions on the part of the security forces which defend the minority Sunni Monarchy and its interests. Protesters were shot down in the streets with metal bullets by snipers and from Helicopter fire. By this time international outrage had grown in scale and the iron resolve of the protesters had been tested without being broken.
On the following morning the 19th of February, protesters advancing upon the Roundabout were met with initial light and halfhearted fire of teargas and rubber bullets as the security forces retreated humiliated by international outrage at their disgraceful actions. As the protesters reached the Pearl Roudabout for the third time they were joined by many thousands in joyous celebration of what they had accomplished.
Industrial workers especially in the aluminum industry and the national trades union federation has been drawn into the struggle and planned to participate in strikes on Monday before the monarchy called a two day holiday for the entire country temporarily neutralizing the impact of strikes.
The involvement of women appears have been quite significant and consistent through all levels and layers of participants in this struggle. Kristof also commented on this. Nearly all of the filmed media coverage of the protests showed the involvement of women from the initial protest at the Pearl Roundabout to the protesters who gathered around and defended the hospital to the mass demonstrations which occurred yesterday. Most of the Bahraini correspondents with whom I worked were female and so was the Indonesian hospital worker whom I interviewed on each of the two nights during which the protesters were confronted with violence.
Many women were shown on major news outlets speaking of their cause to the press and assisting the struggle various ways.
PressTV an Iranian outlet claimed that the Bahrain security operation which commanded the massacre of in some cases sleeping protesters at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital City of at 3:am on the 16th of February was directly supported by 1000 Saudi troops and that tanks crossed the Saudi border in the hours preceding the demonstration that day. Kristof echoed the claim of Saudi officers participating in this attack and individual activists with whom I was in contact also reported a variety of incidents which involved Saudi marked vehicles and officers in Saudi uniforms involved in the attack. A contract hospital worker from Indonesia whom I interviewed additionally reported rumors of Saudi vehicles being used to detain captive protesters and more gruesomely to disappear wounded or deceased protesters. I have not seen any mention of Saudi participation in major bourgeois press coverage. Television footage of Saudi tanks in Bahrain released by Press TV can not be verified as to time of their occurrence.
Press coverage reported between 7 and 9 deaths from the protests. At the end of the two nights protests which were met with police massacres over 60 people including some children were reported missing to the Bahrain Center For Human Rights. I am not sure how many of these, if any, have been found or returned to their families since that time. Verified reports of detention of political activists and in some cases children as young as 10 years old have been reported by many parties including today’s New York Times article which reported that the US military was aware of human rights abuses that have occurred there.
Over the next few days I intend to review all of the information that I have assembled and produce a detailed day by day account of events in Bahrain with sourced references and a timeline. Anyone who would like to assist me in this effort is welcome to post comments here or notes on my rawlins view facebook page.