Stop supporting dictators

As the Bahraini revolution rages on, the world continues to stand on the wrong side of history. For what?

Bahraini dissidents are regularly imprisoned for dissenting opinions, even if they're on social media platforms [AP]
Bahraini dissidents are regularly imprisoned for dissenting opinions, even if they're on social media platforms [AP]

The two year anniversary of the Bahraini revolution has recently passed, and while media coverage has died down, the cumulative rage inside the country has done nothing but soar. Protesters take to the streets every week to demand their right to freedom and self-determination. The geopolitical cards are stacked against them, but politics cannot stand in the way of human will – it can only delay the eventual outcome.

The daily humiliation and indignities the population there suffers at the hands of their own regime is beyond unacceptable. Villages are raided nightly as the government tries to hunt down protest leaders or those who are “inciting hatred against the regime”. A raid, for those who have never experienced it, is absolutely horrific – imagine that without warning your streets are filled with poisonous tear gas that leaks into open windows, you hear screams and people around you are all running for cover. You don’t know who “they” are coming for as “their” criteria for law-breaking is arbitrary at best – you just pray it is not a loved one they’re after. 

The humiliating and inescapable checkpoints set up around the country make it so that anyone with a dissenting opinion from that of the monarchy lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Isrealis have been doing this to Palestinians for years now, but at least they are an occupying force, not fellow countrymen. Men and women are tortured inside the walls of the many jails that now house hundreds of non-violent protesters, some even arrested for tweeting.

Since the start of the revolution, 85 people have been killed and thousands have been arrested. In November 2012, Amnesty International released a scathing report reprimanding Bahrain for ramping up it’s repression against non-violent protesters instead of freeing political prisoners, investigating torture allegations and embarking on other reforms as was recommended in an independently commissioned human rights report. Amnesty went on to say,  “…the groundbreaking report [PDF] has been shelved by the spiralling repression in Bahrain.”

Bahrain revokes citizenships of 31 people

A young man called Ammar (a pseudonym) was thrown off the roof of a three story building, had his head beaten against a wall repeatedly and was then arrested, imprisoned and severely tortured for six months. He missed his high school final exams because he was in jail at the time the tests were administered – he did not graduate. Upon exiting prison he was not allowed to re-enroll to finish school due to his activities in the pro-democracy protests. Ammar’s future is now written for him. His options are limited and his anger has quadrupled. At the age of 18, Ammar is a wanted man; he travels Bahrain in constant fear of checkpoints and has already accepted he will likely be in jail again soon, for he has no plans of sitting out the revolution and he will not stop until their basic demands are met. Ammar is not an exception – his story is one of the thousands that make up the tapestry of resistance in Bahrain. 

Zainab Alkhawaja, more famously known as @angryarabiya, is currently on a hunger strike – she is demanding to see her 3 year-old baby girl. Zainab has been denied visitation rights for refusing to wear her prison uniform. In a letter smuggled out of jail, Zainab tells us, when security guards told her it was “just a uniform” she replied “Would you have told Rosa Parks it was ‘just a seat'”? 

The problem is the world is not on their side. Bahrain is the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is a major centre for operations. In 2002 the nation was officially designated a “major non-Nato ally” putting it in an exclusive group that includes Israel, Japan and Australia. It is not in the US government’s short-term interest to intervene, or even take a stand on Bahrain, especially as the wind of change sweeps through the Middle East leaving no ground quite stable enough to stand on. This, however, does not make it right. In his second inaugural address President Obama said,

We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.

Our conscience should compel us to act on behalf of all those who long for freedom, not just those whose interests align with ours. The past has proven time and again that freedom will win. The revolution in Bahrain will be successful. What side of history does the United States want to be on the day that happens? How much longer will the American people accept the government putting their nation on the wrong side of history?

We need to hold our government accountable for their actions, because unlike the people of Bahrain, we can. We need to tell our government to immediately stop arms sales to Bahrain, bring the human rights violations committed by the Bahraini regime to the attention of the United Nations Security Council and begin a conversation about potential diplomatic and economic sanctions. There is no need for America to become deeply involved in the Bahraini revolution, or any revolution for that matter, but we should probably stop supporting the dictators.

X is a documentary filmmaker who has been working on a film about non-violent resistance through the lens of revolution in Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Egypt for the past two years.

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