The writer of this piece which is partially translated and edited by the Rawlinsview Blog, is Betty la-Fea (Real names cannot be used in Bahrain for fear of state reprisal. I have verified this person’s identity but must hold back some personal details and descriptions of events in order to protect her personal safety. The humorous moniker was her own choice. ) She is a woman in her late twenties a mother of two and a contract worker from a South East Asian country. Betty works in the Gulf far from her family and home culture for economic reasons. She is a Muslim but does not see herself connected to either side of the Sunni/Shia divide that affects Arab culture with such bleak force. She has been living in Bahrain for almost two years and has made social contacts with varied layers of society including meeting US sailors (The Fifth Fleet of the US Navy is stationed in Bahrain), expatriate from many countries, and people from both the indigenous Sunni and Shia populations. I am posting her statement along with an edited version of a post that I made in the early stage of the Bahrain democracy protest movement describing the initial days of the February 14 actions and their aftermath.
Statement of Betty
It started on February 14, 2011. I never imagined that Bahrain would become a blood bath. From the inspiration of freedom in Tunisia and Egypt young people in Bahrain wanted democratization and freedom. They went to Pearl Roundabout for a peaceful demonstration. Several days after that, the government attacked. This was the was the climax which made, not only the youth but also their elders and women, want freedom. The government had tortured people using gunfire and teargas while they slept in tents in the dark.
I saw the injured people who went to Salmaniya Hospital [the large public hospital complex in Manama the capital of Bahrain] through the building where I work. People gathered there, chanting slogans. It was scary for me. From my work desk I could hear their chants. This situation made me afraid. I realized that the government started to cut internet and also my mobile connection. I felt nowhere at that time. I felt insecure.
The government made a bad impression to the world. The Crown Prince gave a speech that he allowed the protesters at Pearl roundabout. Honestly I trusted him, I could see he had soft heart, the situation was normalizing. The protesters wanted to show that they were peaceful. They brought women and children as a symbol of peace. They situation seemed stable although the protesters were still at the Pearl roundabout and anti-government rallies were everywhere. The government side held rallies too. I was trapped in the pro-government rally, the idea was spread amongst the public that the struggle was not between the people and the monarchy but that it was a Sunni and Shia issue. In a way this claim started to become true as the government side rallied in the Al Fateh Mosque which is a Sunni mosque. The protesters had chosen a neutral place like Pearl Roundabout which had been a national symbol and not a sectarian one. So much maneuvering took place to frame this as a Sunni and Shia issue.
I had feeling that there would be big anti-government rally on March 14, 2011 the 1 month anniversary of the start of protests. Here began the real tragedy and blood bath in Bahrain. The government started to protect everything. I could see the military from Saudi come across the causeway martial law was imposed. The incident at the roundabout repeated again, with the military not from Bahrain people could easily be killed.
I was working at that time, and again the injured went to Salmaniya Hospital. I could see that Salmaniya looked like of the place of war, there were check points everywhere. It was dark and I connected with all my friend through internet, I knew their situation. One of my friends who lives in Gudaibiya near Ras Ruman said she heard helicopters fly lower than usual and she said she heard firing, so many people who were my friends said the same thing. It was the 1st time I felt war. In the morning the situation more panicked almost every area all the mobile and internet were cut down, my embassy increased the alert level. Many people were frightened. The situation looked calm after that because everybody was just scared and stayed at home. After several days of this situation, the government demolished the Pearl Roundabout. The symbol of freedom which was there for 29 years gone. but I know the spirit of freedom is still strong in the people.
The food stocks were depleted at the store and also we couldn’t take money at ATM, everything’s empty and what could be bought was very expensive. A curfew also was imposed, The military was everywhere, I could tell that they were paranoid. The racist feeling became bigger and bigger, lots of friendships were broken because of this situation. I have lost friends because of this. I am just an expatriate here and tried to put my mind in the neutral zone, but the racism has started to make me sick.
Martial law has been imposed for 3 months, but it is not yet three months I have seen much business fall off. I went with my friends to one of the hotel in Hoora which is near the curfew area to have a drink and play billiards, the street was quiet. It was the 1st time I went out late after martial law was imposed. When I arrived in the hotel I saw only around 10 people included us. We called to the waitress, my friends knew her and we had light conversation till my friends asked her a sensitive question. He asked about the business there and she said there was no business and he asked again if he the employer gave salary to the employees, she felt hesitant to answer but my friend said that he knew from another friend who is working there doesn’t get pay, finally she felt comfortable with that explanation, she said that it was true and they had not payed her for 2 months, I felt bad when I heard that. I work abroad too like her and I couldn’t imagine if my employer couldn’t give me two months’ salary. She still gave us her best smile and did her best job. I saw the different face of Bahrain from day to night. In the day we can see everything seems normal, traffic, and people everywhere but in the night, It feel like a graveyard. I spoke with a friend who works in one of the big supermarkets in Bahrain. I asked about the business there, he said to me that there is little business and lots of terminations of workers. The supermarket has lost a lot of money. He said from the vegetable and fruit department alone they lost approximately BD 8000. One of my friend who works in a coffee shop also complained that they can’t increase sales. Everything is a disaster for business. Many hotels have given unpaid vacations of up to six months to their employees. They are releasing contract employees to find other jobs. As expatriates we are struggling not to lose our jobs now. I think the government tried to make the situation stable by putting military everywhere but it is a failure because it will make business suffer because people are afraid to go out. People have been fired not only in the private sector; it has happened also in medical, sport, government institutions, education area, in so many sectors.
The government’s reasoning is that it necessary to teach a lesson to the Shia. It is more than lesson it is punishment. Kidnapping have happened at checkpoints and in the Shia villages. A friend called me and said that a tragedy happened to someone close to him. He told me that at one in the morning the police came to his friend and knocked the door down, the mans’ wife started screaming and demanding the reason why the police took her husband. The police said that he was arrested because he was involved to the protests on February 14, 2011 and she could go to the police station to finding him in jail, after I heard the story I couldn’t imagine the feelings of the wife seeing her husband was taken away. The next day she went to police station but shockingly she could not find the files of her husband. after 3 days the wife couldn’t find her husband in any police station Untill now they have not found the husband yet. I heard about the kidnappings like this several times. The situation will not make people who are involved in the democracy movement peace minded. My Shia friend said to me that she plans going to abroad and avoid this country. She just wants to come here for vacation only. Again it makes me surprised that I can’t imagine that the Bahrain citizens don’t want to stay at their own country. For me, it is very sad.
Right now, honestly I can’t see the light in this situation. I don’t know where Bahrain will go, No is from expatriates who comes to Bahrain can enjoy the peace situation. I know that one of the big income sources is from expatriates who want to spend their money over here. How can Bahrain can achieve a positive result if there is not peace in this country.
I am not feeling peaceful either since bad experience happened to my lovely friend. It was Friday and the time for laundry, three of us went to the laundry and two of my friends went to a patients’ house to administer medication, one of them just waited in the car. To kill time she took pictures. After 5 minutes police cars surrounded thei car. They police asked for drivers’ license and ID card and questioned where she worked, she was having difficulty, the police could not speak English. She tried to call her friend to ask for help. She asked the daughter of the patient to come out and explain why my friends were there. Finally the police understood and said that it is only for safety. The laughed at the frightened woman. It was nightmare for my friends, and I was angry when I heard of it. They could laugh and not care about our feelings, I never thought that they made a fun of us. For me it’s shameful. I know Bahrain will be better but they need hard work to relieve all of the bad impact from the racist feeling and also insecure feeling. If there is no respect for each other and ignorance prevails, I am not sure that this beautiful small island will return to the right track.
Bahrain is an island country in the Persian/Arabian Gulf of approximately 1.2 milion people. It is ruled by an absolute monarchy based in the Sunni Arab population which is a small minority in a country that is over 50 percent Shi’ite and 30 percent expatriate and migrant workers mostly from Asia. The Shia population faces discrimination in employment and access to land and services. Struggles between this population and the Monarchy have been present for decades and the monarchy has a history of responding with repressive measures including imprisonment, torture and political murder.
Leading up to February 14 in Bahrain, young activists inspired by the recent events in Egypt and Tunisa called for non-violent and “non- sectarian” street actions for democracy in Bahrain. Under the Slogan “No Suni, No Shia, We are Bahrain” they used a series of Facebook accounts as an effective tool to mobilize their supporters and organize street actions. They also used Facebook and other 21st century electronic communication technologies and websites to reach out to the international Muslim community, 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 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 7 human lives in this initial period due to the brutality displayed by their al Kalifa monarchy and its hired security forces. Following the initial street demonstrations the Bahraini protesters were able to reach their goal of occupying the Pearl Roundabout in the capital city Manama and established a Tahrir square like atmosphere camping and speachifying in calls for the creation of a new and democratic country. On February 17, 2011 This initial emcampment was routed in a 3 am police attack on sleeping protesters many of whom were with with their families and children.
In the ensuing days 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 the Feburary 23 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 400,000 expatriate or migrant 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.
Hospital workers and 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 of February 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 Arab based 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.
Press TV 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. New York Times reporter Nicholas 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.
Seven deaths were reported in the February 14 protests and their aftermath but prior to the Occupation of Saudi forces on March 14.
Following days of mass actions and calls on the part of some of the protest organizations for mass civil disobedience and the overthrow of the Bahrain Monarchy the teetering King Hamad called for support from the Saudi Arabian Government security forces under cover of the Gulf Cooperation Council. By almost all credible accounts the level or repression in Bahrain since the Saudi intervention began has been vicious and punitive relentlessly targeting anyone associated with the democracy movement and the Shia population in general.
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