“The People Want to Overthrow the Regime!”
That was the chant that was continuously repeated throughout today. Just like the Tunisians and the Egyptians before them, Bahrainis today took to the streets in their tens of thousands to bid farewell to a fallen comrade. Gunned down in cold blood by a riot policeman for doing nothing other than joining his compatriots in demanding the reformation of the governing establishment and to amend the constitution in order for it to be more binding and fair on both the ruler and the ruled.
The chants and slogans were different yesterday; however, then, the general cries were to urge reforms. That changed when Ali Mushaimi fell. The blood of a martyr is precious, and it provides the catalyst on which people from all walks of life converge. Knowing what the Ministry of Information did was incendiary, they immediately withdrew almost all the riot police from the intersections they’ve been occupying for a year or more, thus acknowledging the provocation their sight engenders, and presumably so that people can mourn the loss of Mr. Mushaimi with dignity and without the presence of any further provocation in such a charged atmosphere. Driving to the mortuary this morning and not noticing any police presence, I was relieved and thought that finally someone evaluated the situation correctly, but that’s not to last.
Arriving at the Salmaniya Medical Complex – the main health facility in the island and in which the mortuary is located, I noticed three police jeeps with some ten or so riot police milling about just opposite one of the entrances of the hospital nearest to the mortuary. I paid them no heed as I thought that they must’ve been there as a token force and they won’t dare do anything when the funeral cortege passes by in an hour or so. I carried on and went in to the mortuary and joined the several hundred mourners already present there, with a lot more pouring in as time went by. The atmosphere, though tense, remained peaceful with occasional political and religious chants. Once the body was brought out, the crowd galvanised and started moving in an orderly and peaceful fashion to the main exit. The plan was to bury Ali Abdulhadi Mushaimi in the nearby village of Jiddhaffs’ cemetery, just a few kilometers away.
But as we arrived at the gate to exit – and I was almost at the front of the mourners – the tear gas was fired at us and live bird-shot too was fired into the crowd, the latter was the ammunition whcih was used to kill Ali Mushaimi, the person we were carrying to his final resting place. I didn’t know it at the time, but another martyr was mowed down not more than ten meters ahead of me. Fadhel Almatrouk now joins the pantheon of fallen Bahraini martyrs. I suspect that he won’t be the last. The people of Bahrain have paid dear with their lives over decades fighting for their rights and will continue to do so until their rightful demands are met.
Unable to breath and faced with an inordinate use of force against unarmed civilians, the cortège driver decided to drive away from that exit and attempt to get out another exit on the other side of the hospital. People were scrambling about trying to protect themselves and show respect to the deceased at the same time; however, even that was not to be. The so called security forces encircled the protestors between the original exit and the one at the far end and started shooting tear gas at us inside the hospital grounds. Some protestors out of anger and frustration started lobbing stones at the police, but when I shouted at them to keep it peaceful with another phrase taken from our brothers in Tunisia and Egypt (سلميه سلميه) others took up the cry and prevented demonstrators from resorting to violence.
The tear gas was choking us. With eyes streaming and lungs on fire, we sped off after the cortege to continue to be faced by the riot police and their liberal use of tear gas. The avenues and lanes around the hospital were saturated with people walking away in the direction of the chosen grave yard, but coughing and trying to cope as much as possible with the poisonous atmosphere. People, though, were stopping and helping each other. Some producing tissues to help wipe away eyes and others sharing their water or offering a helping hand when needed. The atmosphere, though charged, was still determined. We are going to do good by the fallen martyr.
I decided to go retrieve my car and rejoin the protest in Jiddhaffs. My knee was killing me and walking that distance unfortunately isn’t an option. I drove over and parked about a kilometer or so away from the venue. There were hundreds of cars parked along the street. I walked into some friends going in the same direction, Wa’ad’s Ebrahim Sharim amongst them and carried on to the main Jiddhaffs intersection where the cemetery is. Thousands were already awaiting the arrival of the funeral by the time we arrived. That number swelled to more than ten thousand by the time the funeral arrived.
Several international journalists were in attendance, from Reuters to the New York Times – both of which interviewed me along with several people in the crowd. Wa’ad’s Ebrahim Sharif and MPs from the main Al-Wefaq political party were in attendance and they too were interviewed by probably all journalists present. The common denominator to most of the answers were the need for real reform of the government, the constitution, addressing corruption and attending to the people’s needs.
By the time the body was interred, people streamed out of the area in the direction of the capital Manama, specifically to the Pearl Roundabout, a main landmark celebrating the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council, but now rechristened by the protestors as “Bahrain’s Tahrir Roundabout” with people camping there under make-shift tents complete with their blankets and necessities fully intending to stay until their demands are met. From the latest pictures I’ve seen, there must be considerably more than ten thousand.
The government and the ruling elites have done themselves a disfavour by the ham-fisted way they’ve handled the situation – again. I know the King and the Minister of Interior appeared on the local television this afternoon offering their condolences to the families of the martyrs, but that’s hardly enough to satiate the demands of their citizens. I don’t think that any sane citizen now will just accept these appeasements. The atmosphere is now different from what I remember it when the Bandargate fiasco exploded. Then, hardly a soul protested, now with the inspiration of Tunisia and Egypt, they will not stop and they should not stop until basic demands are met: respect for human rights, better political and economic rights and proper freedoms of the press, expression and personal freedoms along with a representative government and parliament rather than the sham we currently have.
I do hope they continue. I fully support them in their quest for justice and a better way of life. It’s high time this has happened and I’m proud to have taken part of protests today and in paying my respects to both Ali and Fadhel, two names which should be etched in the Bahraini psyche for ever as their sacrifice should never be squandered.
One more thing: throughout today I have not heard even a single sectarian chant. They were passionate and serious to be sure, but none were sectarian. The issue the demonstrators have are with the government and the ruling family, not each other. I have also seen Bahrainis from all walks of life, from all political spectrums and certainly from different sects taking part in the procession and funeral cortège side by side today without any of them pointing a finger of blame on the other. They were very much united
in spirit and demands, which are:
14 February Statement
In the name of freedom and the people
“It was a dream, then a thought, then a possibility, then it became a reality not a dream”
We, the Bahraini youth, from all the different sects and ideologies, call the people to unify their position in demanding their rightsWe, the Bahraini youth, from all different sects and backgrounds, call the people to unify their position and demand their rights. We call on Bahrainis to take to the streets on Monday 14 February in a peaceful and orderly manner. The time of waiting has ended, and the time of action is now. If we do not demand our rights by our own hands then no one will grant them to us. We have witnessed our brothers in Tunisia and Egypt carry the banner of freedom and justice. For what is the value of life without freedom? And how will we have our dignity without justice? Change will not come without sacrifice, so let us sacrifice for the sake of our future and the future of our people.
We have been suffering the ills of unmitigated corruption and brutal oppression for far too long, established under an irresponsible and unaccountable regime. The grievances may diverge but the cause is one. The regime has grown accustomed to creating crisis after crisis under the constructed banner of sectarianism, escaping accountability and suppressing the legitimate rights of the people. The plunder of the nation’s wealth has reached unprecedented proportions, including the expropriation of public land and sea. They have used foreign security forces to humiliate and attack citizens, and endemic corruption has seeped throughout the state’s institutions. Our thoughts and voices have been controlled through censorship and press control, while political naturalisation to change the population of the country has reached unprecedented levels. Anger and frustration is boiling amongst us all.
It is time for us to unify, and for the nation, the entire people of this land, to take control of its destiny. For we either awaken and live, or die and be forgotten. We are demanding a new constitution, where every letter is written by the people. Furthermore, we demand that a special body, fully mandated by the people, is established with the purpose of investigating and holding to account violations in the economic, political and social spheres. These include the theft of public wealth, political naturalisation, human rights and security transgressions, as well as institutional corruption. The aim is to reach national agreement and conciliation. These are the demands of the people, and these are the rights of the people. They are based on universal human values and principles of equality and justice, and the rulers must heed to these demands.
To all freedom-seeking people of Bahrain, now is the time for change, and now is the time to unite. Let us make February 14 a day of glory in the history of Bahrain – the day where all the Bahraini people emerged, in all their colours and from all its towns and cities: from Manama to Muharraq, from the northern villages to the the central governate, from Sitra to the southern governate. Our demands and aims are constructive, our means are peaceful, and they are not stained with the sectarianism and division that the regime has sown over the years. There is no difference between Sunni and Shia, rich or poor, between Bahrani, Ajami, Houli or members of tribes – we are all Bahrain. We all sacrifice ourselves for this beloved land. Let us be proud that we emerged on this day to demand our right to a dignified life that embodies our legitimate rights, and to create a state that represents our aspirations and dreams.
Yes to unity, yes to change, yes to human dignity, yes to our demands and rights!
On behalf of the Bahraini youth to the sovereign people of Bahrain.
The demands made on February 14:
A new constitution written by the people
Important next steps:
Forming local committees in every area to manage and direct gatherings on the day
Choosing a central and busy area that is easy to reach in the capital
Drawing maps to guide protestors
Taking precautions to avoid disclosing protest tactics to officials
Full use of media and internet tools such facebook, twitter and web forums
The establishment of a body that has a full popular mandate to investigate and hold to account economic, political and social violations, including:
-Stolen public wealth
-arbitrary arrests, torture and other oppressive security measures
-Institutional and economic corruption
God save Bahrain.