Protests across Bahrain that began on February 14 have rocked the US-backed Khalifa royal family, mobilising hundreds of thousands of people against the regime's repressive rule.
As part of the struggle for democracy, protesters have also opposed policies by the regime, which is dominated by the Sunni Muslim minority, that discriminate against the Shia Muslim majority.
Since March 15, the pro-democracy movement has faced brutal repression from the Bahrain government and occupying troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Green Left Weekly's Ash Pemberton spoke to a Bahraini pro-democracy activist and member of the left-wing Wa'ad party who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
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What made so many Bahrainis come out and protest?
First, let me give you some background about the pro-democracy movement. In December 1994, Bahraini people marched in protests calling for restoration of the constitution (the first constitution, which was issued by an elected constituent assembly after independence from Britain), reactivation of the elected parliament (shut down in 1975) and abolition of State Security Law.
The crisis continued until 1999, when about 40 people, including children, where killed by the police force ― either in protests or ain custody because of severe torture ― and thousands where arrested.
In 1999, the Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa died and his son Shaikh Hamad (now king) took over as emir. To end the crisis, Shaikh Hamad launched what is called a "political reform project". This is based on converting Bahrain from a state to a constitutional monarchy.
As part of this project, all political prisoners where released.
But instead of going forward with a real reform, the king announced a new constitution in 2002, which placed almost all authorities under his dominance. This caused disappointment and severe depression for most people, political groups and civil society organisations. As a result, opposition parties boycotted the first parliamentary elections in 2002.
There has been no real political or social reform. People have continued to suffer from social and sectarian discrimination, and financial and administrative corruption across all levels and sectors.
Prime Minister Khalifa Bin Salman, the uncle of the king, is seen being primarily responsible for the corruption and other problems the country is suffering from. He has remained in his position for 39 years (since 1973).
These accumulated grievances, and the victory of the “people's revolutions” in Tunisia and Egypt, encouraged Bahrainis to come out and protest. More than half the population, both Sunni and Shia, have taken part.
I have taken part in many protests and the gathering (sit-in) at the Lulu Roundabout (Pearle Roundabout). All the protests were large, involving tens and hundreds of thousands and were very peaceful, civilised and “green” (maintaining a clean environment). While the protesters march, there is a cleaning team, from the protesters, who collect the empty water cans.
There was no single sabotage or destroy of any of the public or private properties. On the contrary, the protesters themselves where protecting property for fear they would be attacked by infiltrators.
All demands are purely national (of interest to all the people of Bahrain, Shias and Sunnis alike): calling for democracy, a real constitutional monarchy, an elected government, a new Constitution written by the people through their real representatives and equitable distribution of the nation's wealth.
After the crackdown in March, there were reports of mass arrests and torture. Can you describe what happened during the crackdown, especially in Shia neighbourhoods? What role have the Saudi and UAE troops played in the repression?
The military and police forces attacked protesters at the Lulu Roundabout in the early morning of March 16 and suppressed and removed the protesters. Five protesters were killed and hundreds others injured. The regime launched an unprecedented campaign of repression and revenge.
After this, they started by arresting political leaders, activists and medical staff, then hundreds of other people. Houses are raided, usually at midnight and in the early morning, by large numbers of soldiers and police (usually 40 to 50 people).
They broke down the doors and frightened all family members. In some cases, they even broke into the bedroom where a husband and wife were sleeping, pointing guns.
They then would start beating the target person and torture him or her in front of family members. In many cases, it was reported that the family members were also beaten.
They also destroyed the contents of the house and took computers and mobile phone of the target person. Then they would take them to an unknown place. Of course, they do not show any court orders.
They set up check points in almost all Shia villages entrances and on streets. These check points are traps for citizens. They stop cars and check the ID of the driver and passengers. If they recognise you are Shiite they start humiliating you and search your car and your mobile.
They check the mobile for photos and SMS. If they find any photos or messages indicating support for the pro-democracy movement, then they beat and insult you. They will steal any money you have and your mobile phone, if it is a BlackBerry or advanced model, other wise they break it.
If you are lucky, they let you go.
The regime also launched a campaign against many health centres, schools and other government organisations where most of the Shia staff and students were investigated and abused. Doctors, nurses, teachers and students have been arrested.
The Saudi and UAE troops were involved in all these acts. The Saudi troops where significantly involved in the destruction of Shia mosques and worship houses, because these troops are Wahhabist (an extremist version of Sunni Islam strong in Saudi Arabia).
What possibilities for action are there for the pro-democracy movement now? How badly has it been hurt by the crackdown? Do you have any predictions about what will happen next?
The pro-democracy movement has been badly hurt by the crackdown; more than a thousand people, mostly Shiites, were arrested. These include political leaders, human rights activists, professionals, doctors, nurses, teachers, journalists, students and workers.
Some of them were released, but large number are still in prison. All were abused and many of them were, and are still being, brutally tortured. Those including political leaders (such as Ebrahim Sharif, secretary general of Wa'ad party, human rights activists (such as Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, former secretary general of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights), medical professionals and ordinary people.
Four people have died in custody due to severe torture.
So far, about 2000 people have been were fired from their jobs (including myself). Hundreds were suspended and many others got their property confiscated or destroyed by the regime for taking part in the protest.
Two hundred college and university students have been expelled.
However, the people do not intend to surrender. People are still protesting here and there, though in smaller numbers due to the brutal repression and the widespread presence of the Bahraini and Saudi army and police forces.
With the steadfastness of the people and the continuation of peaceful protests, the regime will face increasing political and economical pressure. Business is suffering, and many offshore banks and foreign companies have either left or are thinking of leaving Bahrain.
Many human rights organisations around the world have issued statements condemning the regime of Bahrain. There also has been many calls from the international community for the Bahraini authority to respect basic human rights, stop the suppression of the peaceful demonstrations and start political dialogue with the opposition.
US President Barack Obama, in his recent speech about the Arab world, called on the regime in Bahrain to respect the rights of the Bahraini people and enter into dialogue with the political opposition.
I believe the regime can't continue to ignore all these developments and will eventually enter into a political process with the people. Of course, the regime will try to limit the outcome the political process, but it will face the insistence of the people for their just demands.