August 27, 2018 12:00 am
Bahrain is celebrating what is known as “the week of independence”, where several celebrations take place to commemorate the end of the British mandate on 16th August 1971. Yet for Bahrainis, independence isn’t solely about getting rid of the “white man”, especially as the protests calling for regime change that started in 2011 are still taking place.
Bahrain is the smallest Arab state in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. It is situated between the shores of Saudi Arabia and its rival Iran. Its location is an extremely strategic one considering the great oil resources that give this small monarchy influence on the world stage.
Like their cousins to the West, the Saudis, the Bahraini monarchs are keen to impose stability, even if it means imprisoning opposition leaders and activists, persecuting journalists and banning foreign media outlets from entering the country, or lobbying in international conferences and gatherings against their own people. Here the people are the ones who demand regime change. On the 14th February 2011, during the “Arab Spring” uprisings, more than half of the 1.4 million Bahrainis took to the streets to demand democracy and regime change, as well as socio-economic reforms that include giving rights for the country’s Shia majority which make up around 60% of the Muslim population.
The Khalifa monarchy that rules Bahrain nowadays ascended to the throne in 1783 during what was called the “Hakimmiyah” era of rule, where Ahmad bin Mohamad bin Khalifa took control of the oil-rich island. It was then transformed to Emirate rule in 1971 and later became a Kingdom in 2002, all these years being ruled solely by one family – the Khalifas.
Though the current protests (that erupted in 2011) are not the first ones to take place against the monarchy in Bahrain, the people have now taken the fight to the global stage, where several countries and international organisations have condemned the treatment of detainees and oppression of peaceful protests in Bahrain.
The authorities and security personnel, most of whom are non-Bahrainis, with the help of Saudi forces known as “Jazira Shield”, have been brutally detaining activists and journalists like Nabeel Rajab who denounced the Saudi-led war on Yemen on Twitter, imprisoning opposition leaders such as religious cleric Ali Salman, head of al Wifaq organization, which is a prominent opposition front, and imposing a siege on Diraz town for over a year after locals blocked the way as security forces wanted to apprehend the Shia of Bahrain’s “Pope” Sheikh Issa Kassem.
The siege has rendered Diraz lacking in water supplies and food. It went missing from the world map after several internet blackouts were created to ban besieged citizens from communicating with the outside world. Above all, the 81 year old leading Shia cleric’s health deteriorated due to several ailments, while the authorities turned a blind eye to his predicament.
After several negotiations and the involvement of humanitarian parties and international players, Sheikh Kassem was moved to a hospital in London to receive treatment; yet his case is only one of thousands where the Bahraini authorities deny medical attention to those who oppose it, especially those imprisoned in the country.
One recent example is Hasan Moushayme, a leading opposition activist in Bahrain in his 70’s, suffering from diabetes and other illnesses, who has been imprisoned for months without receiving proper medical treatment. His son, Ali, has been on hunger strike for the past three weeks, demanding proper medical treatment for his father and all of the detainees in Bahraini prisons. Ali was attacked by an unknown individual while asleep during a sit-in in front of the Bahraini embassy in London, and has witnessed several attempts to bar him from continuing his strike that also demands granting detainees their legal and humanitarian rights.
Meanwhile, the UK has been granting “legitimacy” to Bahrain’s actions against its citizens by proceeding with security training programs and opening a military base on the Arab island. The UK government has not officially condemned assaults upon activists and journalists that have taken place across Bahrain since the uprising erupted in 2011, but money and foreign policy interest speak louder than human rights violations.
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This post was written by Mohamad Kleit