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During the holy month of Ramadan, life usually slows down in the Middle East. The main focus is on observing the month of fasting and fulfilling religious obligations.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the scene across the Middle East has changed dramatically. Ramadan is no longer a month where wars, protests and feuds disappear; instead, it has become a month where people have used its significance to get their message across to regimes ruling body. On August 3, the Pakistani public took to streets to protest against killings in Myanamar.
Since the commemoration of Ramadan on July 19, over 25 demonstrations against the 200 year old ruling dynasty of Alkhalifah have taken place in Bahrain. These demonstrations come amidst the official warnings that any protests and public rallies will be considered illegal. On July 31, 2012, frustrated protestors took to streets in Bahrain and in the neighboring country of Saudi Arabia.
On Monday, clashes broke out between security forces and protestors in the village of Sitra. According to Agence France Presse, “wounded demonstrators are afraid to go to hospital for treatment because they are afraid that they will be arrested.” On Thursday, August 2, the security forces clashed with protestors in the village of Dair and Bani Jamarah.
Since last year, the human rights situation has further deteriorated in Bahrain. Last year, Saudi Arabia deployed more than 1,000 troops to Bahrain to help Alkhalifah government to quell anti-government uprisings in country’s capital city of Manama. Subsequently, there were over 50 fatalities, more were injured and many were incarcerated for their participation.
It was later revealed in a special report in November 2011 that security forces used torture and excessive force against those that were arrested during the assiduous crackdown on public demonstrations. The Bahrainis held the ruling King Hamad bin Isa Khalifa liable for scenes of carnage on streets, civil unrest and mass arrests.
Aljazzera International stated that ‘Forty people, including the daughter of a leading opposition activist, have been arrested hours after security forces used tear gas and birdshot to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding political reforms in Bahrain.’ Press Tv further reported that Bahraini authorities arrested opposition party al-Wefaq’s female member, Ahlam al-Khuzai, at the airport on Friday as she was travelling to Tunisia to attend a conference organized by Amnesty International.
One of the focal point of mass protests is calling an end to discriminatory measures used by the ruling monarchy towards the country’s 70 percent of marginalized Shiite population. Following the popular Arab Spring revolt across the Gulf region, Bahrainis too took to streets in mid-February 2011, demanding a transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and to new socio economical and political reforms.
However, like any other Arab country, the problems of Bahrain could be traced back to 1975, when Sheikh Isa dissolved the national assembly, thus marking an end to country’s short lived constitutionalism and rendering democratic reforms. In the 1990s, a popular uprising and a demand to restore the 1973 constitution threatened the ruling seat of Alkhalifa family.
In 1992, the United Nations Human Rights Council placed Bahrain on a list of monitoring for its use of torture and force against opposition members. In 1999, Sheikh Hamad ascended the Alkhalifa throne and introduced new reforms to avoid repeat of 1990s mass political unrests by making promises to take country towards new reforms, democracy and constitutionalism.
On the surface Bahrain appears to be a model country in the Arab world and is signatory to eight human rights treaties from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1990) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (2006) to the Arab Charter on Human Rights (2008). In contrast, the country has failed to abide by most of these treaties. In December 2011, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton lauded Bahrain on being a ‘model partner’ for not only the United States but also for other countries.
According to Amnesty International “The Bahraini government’s response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry has proved inadequate as human rights violations continue.” However, the failure of the ruling body to live up to its promises has resulted in mass uprising, liberalized autocracy and suppression of human rights activists and opposition figures.
The West has come under much scrutiny in the media and with human rights organizations for maintaining its silence over Bahrain’s violation of human rights, its restriction on freedom of expression and right to assembly. Patrick Cockburn said in The Independent: “While Barack Obama and David Cameron vigorously oppose the atrocities against protesters in Syria, they handle Bahrain with kid gloves.”
The scene on the streets of Bahrain does not show any signs of dwindling down. A lesson should be learned from the ousting of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Taking to the streets in the sweltering heat of July and August without food or drink indicates that Bahraini people have not given up their struggle for justice.
Image Courtesy of malyousif