Abdulnabi Alekry writes:
The 14 February marked the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter, which is considered to be the blueprint of the Bahraini reform project. In 2001, the charter was accepted almost unanimously by eligible voters, with the aim of leading to a constitutional monarchy.
This chapter in Bahrain’s history was supposed to end decades of authoritarian rule, emergency law and repression of political activists. The results are mixed – but the main outcome is superficial democracy. The state wanted to use this year’s anniversary to create a pompous spectacle to legitimise the ruling family. Organised public rallies and parties, as well as glossy newspaper ads and posters, were pervasive.
It is a twist of history that this display of regime power coincided with widespread protests and dramatic changes across the Arab world. In Bahrain, arrests of several hundred political dissidents and human rights activists have been taking place since August 2010. The state used all of its means to portray those that tried to topple the regime as dangerous elements, especially the so-called group of 25 Shia dissidents. It wanted to tell the existing opposition that you are “either with the state or against it”. In addition, the regime successfully foiled the fate of many leftist candidates in the parliamentary elections of October 2010. But to a wide spectrum of Bahraini society these widespread arrests only served as evidence of the authoritarian nature of the state.
So while the local political atmosphere was very tense and there had been many demonstrations in the past, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have totally altered the Arab political sphere. Bahraini online activists saw that the time was ripe and emulated the Tunisian and Egyptian example, calling for a “revolution in Bahrain” on 14 February on social networking sites such as Facebook. This day has a symbolic value for Bahrainis as many think they were deceived by the promises of the regime and so the organisers, emboldened by Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, made the most of this moment. While many were sceptical about its success, several thousand demonstrators turned out. The leftwing al-Wa’ad party openly supported the demonstrations and the Shia alliance al-Wifaq endorsed it, but the majority of the demonstrators were young Bahrainis without political affiliations.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports:
The army took control of this city on Thursday, except at the main hospital, where thousands of people gathered screaming, crying, collapsing in grief, just hours after the police opened fired with birdshot, rubber bullets and tear gas on pro-democracy demonstrators camped in Pearl Square.
As the army asserted control of the streets with tanks and heavily armed soldiers, the once peaceful protesters were transformed into a mob of angry mourners chanting slogans like “death to the king,” while the opposition withdrew from the Parliament and demanded that the government step down.
But for those who were in Pearl Square in the early morning hours, when the police opened fired without warning on thousands who were sleeping there, it was a day of shock and disbelief. Many of the hundreds taken to the hospital were wounded by shotgun blasts, doctors said, their bodies speckled with pellets or bruised by rubber bullets or police clubs.
In the morning, there were three bodies already stretched out on metal tables in the morgue at Salmaniya Medical Complex: Ali Mansour Ahmed Khudair, 53, dead, with 91 pellets pulled from his chest and side; Isa Abd Hassan, 55, dead, his head split in half; Mahmoud Makki Abutaki, 22, dead, 200 pellets of birdshot pulled from his chest and arms.
Doctors said that at least two others had died and that several patients were in critical condition with serious wounds. Muhammad al-Maskati, of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said that he had received at least 20 calls from frantic parents searching for young children lost in the chaos of the attack.