Yesterday in Bahrain, hundreds of protesters gathered after Friday prayers in front of the Egyptian embassy in Manama to support Egypt and also to call for reform of Bahrain's own government. The request to protest was rejected by the Interior Ministry on Monday and again later in the week, but the eight political societies organizing the event managed to obtain permission late on Thursday. The request was rejected on the grounds that it is illegal to hold gatherings near diplomatic missions in Bahrain, even though the same groups were allowed to protest a few kilometres from the Tunisian embassy last month. The groups include Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Brotherhood Society, National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad), Islamic Action Society (Amal), Democratic Progressive Tribune, Democratic Gathering Society, National Gathering Society and Islamic Arabic Wasat Society.
Bahrain, which is currently ranked 144 out of 178 countries on Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2010, has also been looking this week at further censorship of social media in the country, particularly of Facebook. The Bureau of Information and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority are working to develop mechanisms that allow for greater government control of the movement of electronic communication sites, which they say could be used by some to "undermine the achievements of the State and the unity of their people, and this requires constant vigilance and awareness in this aspect". There are an estimated 200 thousand Facebook users in Bahrain, and approximately 70 per cent of them are young people.
This censorship has not come quickly enough to forestall a facebook call for revolution of February 14, the anniversary of the day in 2002 when the Emir of Bahrain declared his country a Kingdom and himself a King. From the facebook page:
We have been suffering the ills of corruption and brutal oppression on all levels for far too long established under an irresponsible and unaccountable regime. ... The regime has grown accustomed to creating crisis after crisis under the constructed banner of sectarianism to escape from accountability and to suppress the legitimate rights of the people. They have stolen the nation’s wealth on land and sea beyond all limits. They have not stopped there, they have used the security forces to humiliate and attack citizens and have spread endemic corruption through the state apparatus and crushed our thoughts through censorship and press control. This has lead to widespread anger and frustration among all the people.
... We are asking for a new constitution where every letter is written by the people. We also demanding that a special body is established under the complete authority of the people to hold accountable and to investigate all the violations of economic, political and social policies that have taken place, including the theft of public wealth and political naturalization, in order to reach national agreement and conciliation. ...There is no difference between sunni and shia, rich or poor, between Bahrani, Ajami, Houli or Tribes – we are Bahrain.
On behalf of the Bahraini youth to the sovereign people of Bahrian
The demands made on February 14:
1. A new constitution written by the people
2. The establishment of a new body that has authority to investigate and hold to account economic, political and social violations, including the return of stolen public wealth and reversal of political naturalistion, in order to reach national conciliation
Important next steps:
1. Forming local committees in every area to manage and direct gatherings on the day
2. Choosing a central and busy area that is easy to reach in the capital city
3. Drawing maps to guide protestors
4. Taking precautions to avoid disclosing protest strategies to officials
5. Full use of media and internet tools like facebook, twitter, and webforums
Parts of the statement also appears from Bahraini Youth for Freedom published on BahrainOnline.
Some idea of what the Bahraini people have been subjected to is documented by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Amnesty International. Both document torture, suppression of political opposition and a host of human rights abuses. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented several cases of attacks on children "to spread terror and fear amongst the Bahraini Shiite villages and especially among its children and youth in order to scare them from participating in any protest act".
Despite a horrific human rights record, the US State cables released so far from Manama show a close relationship and mutual respect between Bahrain and the US. In cable 09MANAMA442 the US Ambassador notes "King Hamad of Bahrain was unwavering in his support for United States policies in the Gulf, welcomed any new requests the U.S. may need from Bahrain, voiced strong support for U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and said he was ready to play a positive role toward Israel."
In return, the US Ambassador "noted that the U.S.-Bahraini relationship was very strong and mutually beneficial and affirmed to the King that the U.S. and Bahrain shared a similar vision in the region despite its many challenges."
The King further stated that "U.S. involvement in Afghanistan provided a golden opportunity for the Afghan people to build their country's security forces as well as their education, medical, science and trade programs and ministries. The King added that U.S. efforts should be touted more in the media. He quoted President Eisenhower, saying the "U.S. is soldiering for peace and not waging war" and he understood that the U.S. was not seeking to rule over Afghanistan or Iraq. He is convinced that the U.S. is in both places to help the Afghan and Iraqi people and he was appreciative of our armed forces personnel performing their duties in places so far from home. King Hamad noted some instability in Iraq, but thought overall, Iraq was on a positive slope. ASD Vershbow thanked the King for his comments and said it was important that the world hears his, as well as similar explanations, of U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Other cables show a similar level of cooperation and trust.
According to Abu Ahmad on Twitter as @bahrainboard "main reason 4 revolution is relations with Israeli enemy/cos it will remain enemy as long as it's occupying Palestinian land" and "US act towards #Egypt just like (Master & Slave)/No way..No Way..NO WAY specially after #Jan25".
Image credit: February 14 facebook group.