February 14th in Bahrain: One Year Later
One year ago today, demonstrators across Bahrain held a “Day of Rage” to demand political reforms from their country’s constitutional monarchy.
One year later, after the world watched several dictators flee their positions of power after widespread protests in their countries, a similar, jarring political shift remains elusive in Bahrain.
The uprising on this tiny island nation (population: approx. 1.2 million) has captured my attention unlike most other newsworthy events in my lifetime. I knew very little about Bahrain just a year ago. As massive anti-government protests swept across the Middle East and north Africa at the start of 2011, I carefully watched the media coverage on Bahrain and the U.S. government’s reaction to the unfolding political chaos.
One month into the violence and unrest, a British diplomat made a comment on Bahrain that seemed to reflect the purposefully passive attitude of the U.S. and U.K. - when asked about the unrest, the diplomat said, “It’s a difficult task for the policemen, it’s not something we always get right in Western countries, and accidents happen.”
At the time of Robert Cooper’s statement in mid-March 2011, approximately 20 people had been killed during protests in the country. The causes of death listed by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights mostly include gunshots to the head or chest.
Even more revealing was the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s 500-page report on the year-long unrest [PDF]. While BICI was criticized by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ Nabeel Rajab for their reporting, the commission called out Bahraini security forces and the monarchy for excessive and “indiscriminate force” against citizens.
If we’ve learned anything from the pro-democracy rallies across the world, violence against demonstrators led by government-backed security forces is rarely an accident. We’ve witnessed the systematic destruction of a treasured national landmark. We’ve seen protesters murdered in front of our eyes. We’ve watched a man get shot at point blank range in the face with tear gas. We’ve read about a female poet being beaten across the face with electric cables. And one year ago today, this was the first video I saw from Bahrain: a peaceful demonstration broken up after security forces run towards the group firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Yet, month after month, widespread attention to the political chaos seemed to pass by Bahrain.
Less than one month after protests began, more than 100,000 citizens turned out in the streets to protest. Women carried signs reading,"Revolution: the only solution." It’s hard not to accept the word “revolution” when over 8% of a nation’s population pour into the streets calling for the end to violence and the start of political reforms.
Witnessing our State Department’s endless strategic passivity towards Bahrain never ceases to dishearten even the cynics like me. But we have something to be thankful for. Though the coverage may ebb and flow, mainstream media outlets are talking about Bahrain. Well-known journalists are attempting to get into the country (with little to no success). Documentaries have been made highlighting the ongoing turmoil. Outspoken activists like Zainab AlKhawaja and Nabeel Rajab risk their lives to bring change to their nation.
While I wish I could spend the day posting about developments in Bahrain, I will be out of town away from the web. To keep up with events via Twitter, I’ve created a Bahrain twitter list for the latest updates throughout the day and for what may be many more months of fighting for change. Please stay informed.
Photos: Rick Loomis/LA Times (Feb. 19, 2011); AFP/Getty Images (Feb. 17, 2011); EPA (Feb. 14, 2012); Hasan Jamali/AP (Mar. 18, 2011); Andrea Bruce/NY Times (Feb. 17, 2011); Joseph Eid/ AFP (Feb. 22, 2011); Hassan Ammar/AP (Feb. 18, 2011).