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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Photos from today's rally

Friday, October 29, 2004

Right, here are some photos from the protest. Sorry they are so poor quality. There was very little light, and my camera sucks.


Above you see the goon patrol, armed with tear gas and shotguns, looking like the goonheads they are.


Here you see the goons confronting a demonstrator. Notice how the goons are armed with shields and helmets and shotguns, while the protester is armed with shorts and flip-flops. The head goon that you see in the middle without a helmet is enemy number one. He was a real a-hole. If you happen to see him on the street, please fart on his face repeatedly for me, to get revenge for what he did to us tonight.


Above you see the gang of 10 who were later arrested. I was stuck with them for some two hours because the goons would not let us leave. The goons thought I was a demonstrator with them. Thanks you guys for keeping me entertained during our time together! We shared some good laughs with each other before the trouble started. I hope they are released soon.


I know this next picture is really crappy, but you can just make out all of the other demonstrators in the back on the main highway, and up on the bridge.


This is when the gang of 10 laid down on the ramp blocking traffic from entering the main highway.


This picture is of the goons handcuffing and arresting one of the gang of 10 who were lying on the ground.


This picture is when the remaining protesters decided to sit down and block the main highway after the gang of 10 was arrested. (Sorry for the crappy quality again).

Just after this the goons fired the tear gas and everyone dispersed, and my camera's batteries also decided to die on me. So the end.

Check back tomorrow afternoon sometime for the full story. I'm sure some of the news agencies will have released reports by then, so go and search Yahoo News also. Bed time for me.

Trouble on the highway

Folks, I've just come back from the the car rally demonstration in support of Al-Khawaja that was planned for today. You'll have to wait until tomorrow for my full write-up and pictures, but here is what happened in a nutshell.

If you were driving around anywhere last night you will have seen that the riot police were swarming everywhere around the island. I went to the Shaikh Khalifa flyover which was where the different groups were supposed to meet up, only to find that the cops had blocked one of the ramps where the demonstrators had made their way. The traffic was then reopened, but they forced about 10 of the demonstrators to stay because they were going to be arrested. Clever me, I didn't leave at the right time, and the goons thought I was a demonstrator also and wouldn't let me leave because they wanted to arrest me also. They made us wait for about an hour and a half, during which time other supporters congregated on the other side of the main highway. Then the 10 guys that I was with on the ramp decided that they would lay down on the road to block traffic. The cops came and handcuffed them and took them away. This angered the demonstrators who were on the main highway, so they then seated themselves there blocking the highway also. This really pissed off the goons, so they came and fired many many canisters of tear gas. I must have heard at least 20 canisters exploding, unless that was the sound of rubber bullets I was hearing (but I don't think so). There was far too much confusion for me to see what was happening. But I got a few lungfuls of tear gas, and it was really uncomfortable this time. Obviously the crowd had dispersed by now and confusion ensued. I saw a few pissed off kids responding by throwing rocks, but it wasn't many because there was so much tear gas that no one could come within a good 500m from where the cops were. The helicopters were flying around trying to find all of the kids running away and arresting them. I don't what else happened after this because I had run away and some nice passerby decided to give me lift in his car and take me to where my car was parked.

There was another group of demonstrators making there way to Mina Sulman, passing by the American Embassy. I heard that the cops blocked off the road or something but there was no violence. I don't know the details of what happened there since I was stuck.

After seeing what happened tonight I totally understand why everyone hates the bloody mercenary riot police. I feel quite angry about how unnecessary it all was. If the cops wanted to arrest the people who were blocking the traffic, then fine. But there was no reason to fire 20 canisters of tear gas at peaceful protesters. Let me repeat, until the tear gas was fired all of the demonstrators were perfectly peaceful. They did block traffic but they did not resort to any violence whatsoever. What happened tonight I'm sure will be remembered and romanticized in the future. The kids who saw what happened will grow up to hate the government and the security forces even more. The government really needs to get its act together.

Check back tomorrow for my full write-up.

Plugs

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I thought I'd take the time to plug some random stuff of interest to me (and maybe you).

  • If you are a reader of the GDN then you must check out Les Horton's Naked Truth which has come back alive after a four month hiatus. The latest post gives us the details about how and why Les Horton's cat has been taken hostage by terrorists. Bizarre yet entertaining.

  • If you're having trouble keeping track of all the blogs you visit then check out Bloglines. I've tried out several different desktop and web-based feed aggregators but this one is the most convenient for me.

  • Are you one of those people that goes through so many web articles each day that you can't recall where you read what? You want to bookmark each article you read, but you go through so many its not possible? Well Furl is a great little tool to solve that problem. You don't need to install any software. You just add one bookmark to your browser toolbar and that's it. Very very useful.

  • You probably know about this already because I link to it so often, but if not then check out Bahrain Explorer. I've lived in Bahrain all my life but I still don't know the roads as well I'd like to. It has all of the major shops and offices and other sites of interest listed with point-to-point driving instructions if you need them also.

  • Sepoy over at Chapati Mystery has got an interesting project going. He got his hands on the diary of a subaltern in the British army during its campaign in the Punjab way back in 1848. Sepoy is posting the diary entries as blog entries on the same dates they were written, but 156 years later. Great stuff if you want first-hand history from an average joe of the time. Check it out a subaltern speaks.

  • And well, this site called Parking Spots is way too cool to describe. I hope we might have some contributors from Bahrain sending in their photos some time soon also.

That's all for now.

Bluetooth shisha

So I went to my first "Ramadan tent" of this year a few days ago. I had not been to that tent before so it was quite nice. For those not familiar, during the month of Ramadan many hotels and cafes in Bahrain set up tents outside near their premises to cater for the extra business they generate each night. The tent provides lots of extra seating, and also allows customers to romanticize about their tent-dwelling ancestors. Some of the tents serve a full buffet dinner, and some of them only have snacks and beverages, but they ALL serve shisha no matter what.

A few months back I had a post about shisha culture in Bahrain, and of the technological advances made in our shisha cafes. Specifically, I talked about how in many of the shisha joints on the island the tables have button that can be pressed to call the waiter. The button sends a radio signal to the kitchen, and a man with shisha coal will coming running to your table to refresh your pipe.

Now at the Ramadan tent I went to a few days ago I witnessed the next ridiculous technological advance. When the waitress came to take our order I noticed she did not write it down on a pad of paper. Instead, she scribbled it down on to the PDA she was carrying around using a stylus!! She then went back to the reception and beamed the order in using the infrared port, or bluetooth, or whatever. Ridiculous! I couldn't stop myself from laughing about it the whole evening. I'm amazed that the managers actually invested in all those PDAs for the waiters, because they must have cost a hefty sum. The sad thing is that despite all the radio buttons and bluetooth PDAs, it still took the waitress a bloody half hour for us to get our bill, because she couldn't remember which table number we were sitting at!!

If only the rest of the industries on the island had such a strong belief in technological advancements. Coming up soon: SMS-shishas ?

Protest rally on Thursday

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The details of the car protest rally this Thursday in support of Al-Khawaja have been released. The BCHR website posted something this morning with the directions, but it was a bit confusing. I stole the above map from a thread at the Ahrar al-Bahrain discussion board which makes things much much clearer. Click here to see the full-size image with all of the directions, in Arabic. For those of you who don't understand Arabic, here are the instructions in English:

The rally will commence at 8pm and there will be four different starting points to serve people coming from different parts of the island:

People coming from Points 1, 2 & 4 will meet up at the Shaikh Khalifa Flyover and continue east along Shaikh Isa Highway, going past the American Embassy. They will meet up with the people coming from Point 3 at the junction with the Sitra Causeway. They will then go to Mina Salman and turn left on to Al-Fateh Highway eventually stopping near the Marina Club.

The cars will stay in the rightmost lane of the road only, and they will be bearing posters of Al-Khawaja.

As I mentioned yesterday, our joker MPs don't like the sight of all these protests and demonstrations, and especially slogans against certain individuals (i.e. the Prime Minister) (read the article in today's GDN). In that proud Bahraini tradition of brown-nosing these MPs just want to use this opportunity get into the good books of the rulers and continue their meaningless careers. I don't know how these MPs can criticize the demonstrators given their own records. In my eyes, the demonstrators are finally carrying out their important democratic responsibility of demanding their rights, rather than waiting for scraps to be thrown their way by the rulers. The MPs on the other hand have done absolutely nothing worthwhile for this country despite the fact that they get paid for what they do. They continue on their useless policies of giving away free money, trying to reduce working hours, and segregating the university. Jokers, the lot of them.

Lessons from Lawrence

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Today's GDN says:

Ten MPs plan to call on the parliament today to issue a statement on the need to ban defamatory slogans, pictures and smear campaigns during rallies, said a report in our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej yesterday.

If these ten MPs have their way (which you can never be sure about, since one of the MPs is our local flip-flopper Jassim Al-Saidi) then cartoons like the one above from yesterday's protest, depicting the Prime Minister as a snake, may no longer be shown on placards at future protest rallies. It will be quite a shame if that happens because I see it as a sign that Bahrain is among the freer states in the Arab world (granted we're still going through some teething problems).

And actually, if you look at the cartoon above, the portrait of the Prime Minister is quite flattering for him (if you ignore the snake body). When I saw it, I though it reminded me of Omar Sharif playing Sharif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia, no?

Okay, maybe I just thought that because I watched the movie again on TV a few days ago. And what a fine fine film is Lawrence of Arabia. I don't think any other Western produced movie has portrayed Arabs and the Arab psyche so accurately. If only everyone in the American military were forced to watch the movie prior to its invasion of Iraq, it might have been able to lead a far more successful campaign there. The film is filled with so many insightful and foretelling quotes about Arab politics... here are just a couple:

At one point Lawrence is trying to convince Auda Abu Tayi (played by Anthony Quinn) to revolt against the Turks, "for the Arabs". Auda replies with wit:

The Arabs? The Howeitat, Ajili, Rala, Beni Saha; these I know. I have even heard of the Harith,.. but the Arabs?! What tribe is that?

Later on Auda makes a similar comment to Sharif Ali on the establishment of the United Arab Council in Damascus:

I'll tell thee what, though; being an Arab will be thornier than you suppose, Harith!

The movie aside, the real Lawrence of Arabia was even more aware of the intricacies of the Arab mindset than is portrayed in the movie. In an article in the Arab Bulletin dated 20 August 1917 he provides 27 pieces of advice about dealing with Arabs. Although he states that these should only be applied to the Bedu Arabs of the Hejaz, I believe that much of the advice applies to all Arabs even today. As such, I recommend that this article be made required reading for all potential occupiers of Arab land. In item #15 of the 27, Lawrence advises us:

Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.

Oh, there is so much we still have to learn from this great man.

Yankees suck!

I've been so occupied covering the Al-Khawaja affair lately, that I forgot to say something extremely important:

YANKEES SUCK!

I wish I could have been in Beantown to enjoy it. It certainly would have made up for my disappointment there last year. Anyhows, this is the year that the curse shall end! (And even if it doesn't, it makes no difference coz we've beaten the Yankees, and that's all that matters!)

Irony of freedom in Bahrain

Monday, October 25, 2004

Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja's trial today was adjourned until next Wednesday (November 3rd), and once again the judge refused to release him on bail, or house arrest. However I heard that the judge did allow Al-Khawaja to sit in the courtroom without handcuffs this time.

Outside, there was once again a demonstration by his supporters, numbering about 100 or 120 people I would estimate. This time though the authorities did not allow them to enter even the compound of the Ministry of Justice, so they protested in front of the main gate. After the violence at the court session on Wednesday, I don't think the authorities were being unreasonable in denying them entry. But I'm happy to say that there was no violence or unruly behaviour at today's demonstration. The leaders made very sure that there was a safe distance between the demonstrators and the police. To watch a video of the demonstration (once again with cheesy music added) click here (wmv 2.69MB).

For their part the cops were their regular goony selves, always appearing unsure of what they should be doing at any time. One funny thing (or not) was the Spy vs. Spy scene that was being played out in which we were taking photos of the cops, and they were taking pictures of us at the same time. While I'm quite used to seeing cops bearing guns or batons, it feels quite unnerving seeing them using surveillance weapons on us. While I know there are legitimate reasons for the police to record our faces and actions, I hate that it is being done (but I guess it's only fair since we were doing the same of them!). Maybe it's just my memories of the 90s that makes me feel so uncomfortable about this, when you'd here stories that anyone seen participating in "insurgent activities" would have a black mark on their government files for the rest of their lives. I think what annoys me more though is that it looked like those goons were using pretty nice (and expensive) cameras, whereas I'm still stuck with having to use my bloody toy of a camera.

At one point the protesters repeated their chants calling the police and the trial judge "mojanniseen" (naturalized Bahrainis). I gotta say that I agree with their sentiments, even though I'm a wannabe Bahraini myself. When I first arrived at the scene this morning I went to the entrance and asked the cop at the security post why we weren't allowed in, in Arabic. But the guy had to refer me to someone else because he didn't understand Arabic (yes! this guy spoke less Arabic than even me, which is a feat in itself!). Although I understand their economic backgrounds due to which they are so eager to work as cops (or anything) in Bahrain, I will be glad to see them replaced by Bahrainis loyal to the country, not just to the rulers. But it seems like plans to do that have been put on hold.

A general note on the Al-Khawaja affair. It is quite ironic that inside the courtroom Al-Khawaja's arrest and trial seems to fly in the face of democracy and freedom of expression, yet the scenes that are taking place just outside the courtroom show that Bahrain has possibly more freedom of speech than any other country in the entire Arab world. It's quite bizarre, and I'm not really sure how to reconcile these two contrasting images. In an AP report (via Khaleej Times), Al-Khawaja's wife is quoted as saying:

I am overwhelmed. I think people are not scared anymore and have begun to understand their rights. This is what my husband wanted.

I think she is right that more and more people are beginning to speak out, and this is absolutely unprecedented and was unimaginable (to me at least) just a few weeks ago. I continue to hope that the aftermath of this affair will be a significant step forward in the name of real democracy in Bahrain.

The next demonstration will be a car rally protest this Thursday evening at 8pm. I still have not heard any details of the venue, but I will update this post whenever I find out.


--------

Update (8:14am, 26-Oct-04): I forgot to mention in my post yesterday that Al-Khawaja and his lawyers will be boycotting future court sessions of his trial since he views the trial as being "unconstitutional". (Read the report from Al-Jazeera). It seems a bit odd since I believe it was his lawyers who requested more time to prepare, which is why the trial was adjourned until Nov 3. Anyway, it would seem then that this could lead to the way towards Al-Khawaja being convicted and sentenced in absentia. For some reason I believe that the ruling family will not see this is as the best final outcome given the concerns that the international human rights groups would raise. Let's see what happens

With regards to the car rally protest to take place on Thursday evening, I still haven't been able to find out the exact venue, but a statement released by the BCHR yesterday said that several rallies would start from different points on the island and finally meet up in Manama. They want everyone to tie a blue coloured strip of material to the radio antennae of their cars. I have to hand it to the organizers of all these demonstrations. They are really going all out, and I imagine it requires a decent amoung of effort and money. The cost of all posters of Al-Khawaja's face alone must cost a fair amount, that someone has to foot.

Who succeeds Zayed?

The commenter from Dubai who initially informed me about the rumours that Sheikh Zayed (President of the UAE) is in a coma sent me an article that provides some more information about the rumour, and the ramifications it may have. Here is an excerpt (from Stratfor via TUNEeZINE):

A Persian Gulf-based source told Stratfor late Oct. 14 that unconfirmed reports were circulating of the death - or near death - of United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. The sources said Sheikh Zayed had been taken to a London hospital because of failing health. The source also suggested the president’s entourage could be keeping his death a secret in order to claim the president died Oct. 15 - during the holy month of Ramadan. The consensus from various sources, however, is that the monarch is extremely ill and that discussions pertaining to succession have begun among his family in Abu Dhabi and the rulers of the six other emirates that make up the UAE federation.

Given the Islamic religious culture in the Arabian Peninsula, which calls for a quick burial of the deceased, it is likely Sheikh Zayed clings to life and that rumors of his death began to circulate after his physician intimated the president had very little time to live. Sheikh Zayed’s son, the crown prince of the largest emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, will succeed him as ruler of Abu Dhabi - and is expected to succeed him as UAE president. It is possible, however, that the presidential transition will not go as smoothly as the informal succession plan would suggest. Two of Sheikh Zayed’s other sons, who are half-brothers - or even an outsider - could vie for the presidency. (Continued)

Peaceful protest makes the point

Friday, October 22, 2004

Continuing my coverage of events related to the Al-Khawaja affair, here is my report on the protest march held last night (Thursday) in Manama. (Sorry for taking so long to post this, I've been busy). There was a relatively large turnout; somewhere between 2000 and 2500 demonstrators, including many women, children and old folks. Still though, I was expecting far more people to show up. I suspect that Ramadan probably had something it. The march route started from Ras Rumman mosque and went up Palace Avenue to the junction with King Faisal Highway. From here the marchers hung a left and walked down until the turning for the Prime Minister's office, but they didn't actually go the office. Instead they took a U-turn and marched back to Ras Rumman.

There was, thankfully, no violence or any sort of trouble whatsoever. Before the march started Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, gave specific instructions, repeatedly telling the demostrators to remain peaceful under any circumstances and not to resort to violence at all. The march was very well organized and the demonstrators behaved according to the instructions they were given. The police also did a good job by staying out of sight entirely. I think everyone involved (the protesters, the organizers and the police) can be pleased about themselves for holding this peaceful demonstration and redeeming the damage done to the cause by the hooligans of Wednesday's protest.

The slogans that were on their signboards and that were being chanted demanded the release of Al-Khawaja, and the resignation of the Prime Minister. As I have said before, I fully support the right of the people to express their point of view, however extreme it may be, in a peaceful manner as was done last night. However from a strategic viewpoint I do not think it was wise for the protest organizers to continue insisting on the PM's resignation. In my opinion they should have focused specifically on the violations of human rights, and therefore should be demanding (i) the release of Al-Khawaja, (ii) the annulment of the ban on the BCHR, and (iii) scrapping, or a review, of the archaic Society laws under which the BCHR was banned. I don't think that anyone with a conscience can disagree with those demands. However it is possible for someone (such as myself) to support the cause of human rights, but not be concerned with the political demand for the resignation of the Prime Minister. In my opinion, if we stress that ultimate goal is the implementation of the principles of human rights, then whatever political changes that are necessary (be it the resignation of the PM, or of the King himself) will naturally fall into place. But since it is disputable whether that the PM's resignation is necessarily the only way to secure the implementation of human rights, I think it would be better leave out that demand right now, so as to get as much public support as possible.

Anyhow, I am just extremely relieved to see that the protesters have gone back to their usual ways of peaceful protest.

To see all of my pictures from the event click here. A note about the pictures: I am neither a good photographer, nor is my camera very good, so it wasn't that easy for me to take decent pictures at night time. I was constantly fooling around with the different flash and exposure settings to get the right effect (which is why many of the photos are repeated). Since I was far away from the subject(s), most of the time I opted to turn off the flash and go with the over-exposure, to get better colours. This is why most of the pictures are blurred somewhat since all the people were moving around (as was my hand). However taking overexposed is always fun and interesting because it allows you to also capture the motion of the subjects, rather than capture just a single moment in time.

If you want to see photos by someone else check out the coverage by montadayat.org. To see video of the march click here (wmv 2.95MB) to see the report from Al-Jazeera News, or click here(wmv 1.88MB) for a video edited with 'Braveheart-esque' music playing in the background.

The next event will be a demonstration near Pearl Roundabout on Sunday at 8pm, where they will be screening a video about poverty (I think). Then on Monday there will be a demonstration in front of the Justice Ministry at 9am during the third session of Al-Khawaja's trial. And Thursday evening at 8pm will be a car rally demonstration, but I'm not sure what the venue is.

Finally of course, here are some pictures of activist kids from last night:



Hooligans ruin a legitimate protest

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Right. Here is the full report on the Al-Khawaja trial protest that I promised you. From the start. When I arrived at the public prosecution court Al-Khawaja had already been taken into the courtroom (I was bit late because I was having trouble finding a parking space). There were I would say about 100 protesters in total which consisted of mostly male youths. There were only a handful of women. The crowd wanted to enter the building in which the courtroom was located but were denied entrance by the police. A row of policemen stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the entrance to the building. The leaders (who were mostly community elders) politely pleaded with the cops to let them in but they were politely denied entry. The crowd was growing restless as they chanted slogans in support of Al-Khawaja and against the Prime Minister. "Death to Khalifa (the Prime Minister)" was repeatedly chanted by the youths even though the elders did their best to stop them from saying this. Numerous times I saw the elders approach the youths to scold them quite harshly about saying stuff out of line. I think it is safe to say that the elders did their best to keep the rowdy youths under control, but to no avail. Three or four times a few youths disobeyed the elders and encouraged the crowd to push their way into the building only to be stopped by both the police and the elders.

The youths then began picking on the policemen for being "mojanniseen" (naturalized Bahrainis) and not "real" Bahrainis. (The Bahraini police force is almost entirely made up of mercenaries from Pakistan and Jordan). They also chanted against the judge of the trial who is of Egyptian origin and not a native Bahraini. One of the kids humorously suggested that they should chant in Hindi rather than Arabic so that the policemen would be able to understand what is being said about them. All the while, the cops held their ground not giving away any reactions. Actually they seemed rather aloof to what was going on, often looking quite stupid.

It was obvious from the start that a few of the youths did not come for a peaceful protest but were looking to pick a fight. They were the real troublemakers for they egged on the rest of the crowd. I saw one guy repeatedly whisper to his neighbour telling him to shout "Death to Al-Khalifa", and he did. These hooligans made one more attempt to break the line of cops to get inside the building. One guy managed to slip through and (according to AP) ran into the courtroom shouting "Long live Abdul-Hadi!" and was soon arrested (I believe he was released later in the day).


Photo credit: I don't know, but I got it from here

Outside however a scuffle broke out between the police and the demonstrators in which a few (attempted) blows were exchanged. Out of nowhere sticks and stones were thrown at cops (the kids were obviously waiting for a ruck to stark). The head cop then pulled out an aerosol can of tear gas, sprayed it on the crowd and then ran inside the building with the rest of the cops and locked the dooor.


Photo credit: montadayat.org

The crowd immediately dispersed outside of the compound, but a couple of kids bore the gas for a few extra seconds to continue throwing rocks and sticks at the entrance door tot he building. Where did the sticks come from? There was a short wooden fence demarcating the small garden just outside the bulding entrance. The kids kicked part of the fence apart and used the broken pieces as their ammo. I saw one youth who on his way out of the compound picked up a chair and smashed it against the window of the security post inside the gate. Another kid was looking for ammo so he picked up a cinder block laying outside the compound and smashed it on the ground breaking it into smaller pieces that could be thrown.


Photo credit: montadayat.org

Now what the the extremely intelligent cops did not realize was that while they were spraying the tear gas the entrance to the building was left open and the direction of the wind was blowing towards it. So by the time they were done spraying and had run inside, a significant amount of gas had entered the building and the courtroom itself. I was told that the trial proceedings had to be halted because people were choking, and one of the policemen had to be hospitalized from inhaling the gas.

The protesters had however mostly escaped the effects of the gas by running out of the compound, and within a few minutes the air was clear enough for them to regroup and charge the building entrance again. The hooligans among them were still looking for a fight and were now even angrier than before. Again they armed themselves with sticks and stones but thankfully there were enough sober protesters around to stop them from doing any damage. At this time the cops in full riot gear with shields and helmets came onto the scene to control the situation. The elders managed to calm down the crowd and convinced the riot police to step back to keep from provoking any more anger. The crowd chanted for a while, then Salman Ali (Al Wefaq leader) came out of the courtroom and spoke to the crowd, and then finally they all left the compound.

Now, while I very much support the protests demanding the release of Al-Khawaja, I condemn those hooligans among the supporters for unnecessarily creating trouble. At the previous two (1, 2) demonstrations that I have attended, the crowd was very well behaved obeying all of the order given by the leaders. Those peaceful protests were far more successful (in my opinion at least) in their ability to project themselves as citizens seeking to rectify human rights violations. The demonstration today did exactly the opposite, and it shows why authorities were perfectly justified in refusing entry to the crowd. The rowdy youths among the crowd had no intention from the start of being part of a peaceful protest, but were looking for ways to provoke the cops. They had no respect for anyone; not the authorities, or even their own leaders who did their best to keep them under control. Even when the leaders were giving speeches about the affair, the hooligans would rudely interrupt with chants of "Death to Khalifa". These kids have way too much anger inside them and I seriously recommend that they take up a physical hobby to vent their emotions, rather than wreck perfectly legitimate and important demonstrations, as was done today. I can not stress enough the importance of remaining peaceful and the power of nonviolent resistance.

Having said this, I think the use of tear gas could have been avoided by the security forces, as it was only small scuffle to start out with. The cops need to realize that the use of any force on their part will give the hooligans more reason to reply with further violence. It also adds to the opposition's ability to portray themselves as being victims. A fine example is the video of the moments right after the tear gas was sprayed. Click here to watch the video and notice how it has been edited with "Star Wars"-esque defiant music being played in the background. (Also, see if you can spot me running around in the video!).

Anyhow, the news from inside the courtroom is that Al-Khawaja was refused bail by the judge, and the trial has been adjourned until Monday. The next demonstration is set for tomorrow night (Thursday) at 8pm when they will march from Ras Rumman mosque to the Prime Minister's office. Word on the street is that there will be a very big turnout, and I hope hope hope that there will be enough elders around to keep the youths under control otherwise we could have some real trouble on our hands.

To have a look at the rest of my photos from the event, click here. (Yes I went crazy again taking 97 shots this time, but very few that turned out good). Or see some better photos taken by someone else here. Also, have a look at this photo and see who the credit has been given to :)))

Finally, here is a picture of the damaged garden that was left behind. Poor plants.

Rocks fly at court demonstration

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I've just came back from the demonstration outside Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja's court session today. Things got slightly out of hand this time. The supporters were not allowed to go in to the building. Tempers were raised, pushes turned to shoves, sticks and stones were thrown, and the goons (read "riot police") came out and sprayed the crowd with mace. The crowd dispersed and then came back even angrier than before with sticks and rocks in their hands, but the community elders finally managed to calm them down before any damage was done. Somehow there were no injuries on either side, thankfully (but my eyes, nose and throat are still slightly stinging from that damned mace). Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened inside the courtroom, but I'll try and find out.

That was a summary, and I'll have a full write-up for you later this evening. In the meanwhile have a look at some of the photos I took (more to come later).








Al-Khawaja trial photos

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

While browsing through one of the many Bahraini discussion boards I came across some photos from Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja's court session on Saturday, and the associated demonstration. Click here to have a look (you have to scroll down a bit). Check out all of the security they had. I couldn't find the name of the photographer (please e-mail me if you know), but thanks whoever you are. Next court session is tomorrow morning.


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Update (19-Oct-04): Our anonymous commenter tipped me off to where you can get the full set of pictures to which the one above belongs to, here. I also realized that you can see photos from all of the other previous events at the same site here. Why didn't anyone tell me about this site before?!! But anyhow, thanks for the tip Anon.

It's not so gloomy

More bad coverage for Bahrain. Today's Financial Times has an article headlined "Trial of Bahrain human rights activist overshadows reforms". The opening paragraph reads:

The trial in Bahrain of a prominent rights activist and closure of his organisation has cast a shadow on a political transition held up by the US as a possible model for the Gulf's dynastic autocracies. (Continued)

This certainly won't help foreign investment. My personal opinion is that although it looks like the reforms are being undone, the Al-Khawaja affair is just part of the teething process of this country's young democracy. These different interests had to clash sooner or later and somehow I'm quite confident that in the end both parties will have learned an important lesson about the art of political maneuvering in a (proclaimed) democratic system.

Moreover, it is obvious that the reforms have not all unraveled by taking note of the demonstrations being held in support of al-Khawaja (1, 2, 3) several times a week. The protesters have called the Prime Minister a "dictator", "evil and corrupt", and have demanded his resignation. And they have been doing this quite freely in busy areas without being arrested or being harassed by any goons (at least not that I know of). Just a few years ago this would have been utterly unimaginable.

I know in my last post I said that "things were going backwards", but thinking over it, I don't think that is entirely true. As I've said before, things have changed, and there's no going back whether anyone likes it or not.

Sectarian discrimination to continue

Monday, October 18, 2004

Why are things going backwards in this country?? On June 9 I was happy to post about the report that our Parliament had "approved a draft law aiming to Bahrainise the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry and National Guard and end discrimination among different segments of the population." This decision has however been reversed, as the GDN reports today:

MANAMA: Parliament has withdrawn a proposal to Bahrainise jobs at the BDF, Interior Ministry and National Guard, it was announced last night. A parliament statement said the foreign affairs, defence and public security committee had taken the decision following a request from the unnamed MP who had first submitted the proposal. The statement gave no reason for the decision. The committee has also decided to postpone discussion of a proposal that Bahrainis be given priority when job vacancies arise at the BDF, Interior Ministry and National Guard. (Continued)

The reason why I support the initial draft law is because (i) it might provide a few extra jobs for Bahrainis, (ii) most Bahrainis dislike the overbearing presence of the foreign mercenaries, (iii) it makes sense that the security of the country is in the hands of citizens, not foreigners, and (iv) it is a strong gesture to indicate that the past policy of state discrimination against Shias is no longer acceptable. It is therefore a shame that the ruling regime still does not trust Bahrainis with the safety of their own country, and that it still requires the service of foreign mercenaries. I don't know what led to the withdrawal of the draft law, but I would guess that it be in response to the anti-AlKhalifa sentiments being aroused by the Al-Khawaja affair. I hope the government realizes that this decision will only further anti-government feelings.

Rumour loving Arabs

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Man, ever since I posted that message a few day ago about democracy in Dubai and rumours of Sheikh Zayed being in a coma I have been getting tons of hits from folks in the UAE and around the world who have been googling things like "Zayed coma", or "sheikh zayed dead". Obviously, those rumours have been spreading fast. I have no idea whether there is any truth to this at all, but it goes to show how much Arabs love rumours and conspiracies. One of the stories I have heard is that he is clinically dead and they were waiting until Ramadan to pull the plug since it is a sacred month. I'm a bit sceptical of this whole thing because I imagine it would be quite difficult to cover up something so big. But in the Arab world, you never know.

Anyhow, I do hope that these rumours turn out to be false and that Zayed is in good health.

Admin stuff

Right folks. In the sidebar on the right you should now see a new box headed "Continuous coverage". The links below them lead to pages that have all of my posts related to that subject in order. This should make it easier to keep track of everything that I've posted regarding a particular subject, rather than having to backtrack through a series of links. Right now there are only two subject, but I'll be adding more as it becomes necessary.

Great start to Ramadan

I'm sure by now you must have heard of the bomb attacks in Baghdad on five Iraqi churches this morning. I am disgusted. We're only two days in to Ramadan and this is how my "Muslim brothers" have chosen to greet our Christian neighbours on the arrival of the holy month. When I was growing up, the tradition used to be that during Ramadan everyone would send a dish of food to their neighbours. I liked that better. My deepest condolences and prayers go out to all those affected by this.

Abdul-Hadi pleads not guilty

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I was planning on attending Abdul-Hadi's court session scheduled for this morning, but I wasn't able to make it unfortunately. It seems like I missed some action.

From AP via the Guardian:

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) - A human rights activist who publicly blamed Bahrain's prime minister for economic failures and rights violations pleaded not guilty Saturday to inciting hatred against the government and circulating false information about top officials.

Abdul-Hadi al-Khawajah's hearing was delayed for about 90 minutes when dozens of supporters jamming the courtroom became unruly, shouting "God is great!" and "Live, live Abdul-Hadi!" and waving signs with the activist's picture while they climbed on each other's shoulders to see him.

...

Abduljalil Singace, spokesman for the Shiite-backed Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, warned "the situation will really get out of control" if al-Khawajah is not freed.

"Sentiments are sky high because people feel Abdul-Hadi is unlawfully detained," he said.

The first attempt to begin Saturday's court session was aborted because of the commotion in the courtroom, and al-Khawajah was hustled away from the courthouse. He returned 90 minutes later to find that the crowd outside the courthouse had grown to about 200 supporters shouting slogans against the prime minister.

"Khalifa, lift your hand! The nation doesn't want you!" they shouted.

Police told the crowd to settle down, but did not intervene. They squeezed al-Khawajah through the crowd and, gasping for breath, he was pulled into the courtroom.

Wearing a burgundy suit and handcuffs, al-Khawajah entered his "not guilty" plea during a 10-minute court session.

He did not say anything to supporters or the court but spoke briefly with his wife and daughters before being whisked away. Al-Khawajah's wife, Khadija al-Mousawi, cried as her husband entered and left the courtroom.

"He has done nothing wrong," she said, accompanied by their four daughters.

A defense request to release al-Khawajah on his own recognizance was denied.

Al-Khawajah could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison for inciting hatred and two years for circulating false information, defense lawyer Mohammed Ahmed said.

"My client is innocent," Ahmed said. "We hope he will be released soon."

Al-Khawajah's next court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

What of the detainees?

Friday, October 15, 2004

On September 13 I posted about the four remaining detainees on terrorism charges who were required to stay in custody for a further 30 days. It is now October 15, and well over 30 days have passed since that extension was ordered, but we know nothing about their fate. The detainees have now been in custody for over 90 days in total. Since the Ministry of Information has issued a media blackout on the case, there is no coverage of the case in any of the local papers. We don't know what charges the detainees have been presented with (if any), we don't know what the evidence against them is (except for "curious" data on their computers), and we don't know when and if they will have their day in court. The only information about the case that we have heard recently is that the Commander of the US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain thinks their arrest is a step against terrorism.

I understand that maybe some of the information mayb be too sensitive to be released to the public, so the Ministry of Information deemed it necessary to issue a gag order. But instead of gaining our trust by explaining the reasons for the gag order, the Ministry of Information issued further instructions telling the local media outlets that they are not even allowed to talk about the gag order itself. Memories of the 90s linger in my mind.


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UPDATE (16-Oct-04): A commenter has informed me that the UAE-based Gulf News printed an article about this case yesterday. Here is an excerpt:

Four Bahrainis, detained since July on suspicion that they were planning a series of terrorist attacks in the kingdom, have been formally charged and will be tried in two weeks, one of their lawyers said yesterday.

The four are being charged with "conspiracy to carry out sabotage acts against public properties and government facilities," according to lawyer Abdullah Hashim. They are to go before the High Criminal Court on November 1. (Continued)

(Thanks Anon for the tip)


Keep reporting GDN

Well done to the GDN for their continuous reporting on stories about maid abuse. Apparently, they have been getting some flak from the recruiting agents for their coverage of abuse cases. And really, the government has to start doing something to crack down on this ridiculous practice of locking up unhired maids in offices. The respective embassies also need to put pressure on the government to take some action, because right now they are nowhere to be heard.

Anyways, here is Les Horton's editorial about this issue:

We are a "filthy newspaper" according to one manpower agent who didn't want to talk to us about the plight of one of his maids. He is angry with us it seems for "making things bad" for recruiting agents, many of whom mistreat the women they bring here to work.

The Filipina maid we were inquiring about was Gloria Lipranza, who was rescued earlier this week after jumping from the seventh-floor office of a manpower agency in the Kuwaiti Building, in Manama. She grabbed hold of a balcony railing one floor below and clung there until firemen managed to reach her and pull her to safety.

Now no-one is suggesting that she jumped because she was being mistreated, though the agent himself said she was frightened because she thought she would be sent back home. Gloria, who is partially deaf, had returned to the agency on Monday after refusing to stay with the Bahraini family to whom she had been assigned. She had been in Bahrain for just three months and once back at the agency was apparently afraid that her family in Manila would be angry with her if she was sent home so early. For like so many in her situation, Gloria will not have left her family for the sunshine of Bahrain, but because even the little a housemaid earns here can ease the poverty back home.

Once back at the agency, she had nowhere to go and spent Monday night sleeping in the office. This is common practice amongst agents in Bahrain. They ship women in, then leave them sleeping in cramped offices, without proper bedding, bathroom or kitchen facilities, while they place them with employers. However decent the agent may be, it is unacceptable that people should be treated in this way, particularly as many are locked in those offices overnight - unable to go out at will, or to escape in the event of a fire.

We are not, as a newspaper, trying to make things bad for anybody. But we are trying to highlight the flaws of a trade that is flouting basic human rights.

Ramadan Kareem

Ah. The holy month of Ramadan is upon us, so Ramadan Kareem to you all! For anyone who doesn't know what that is, it is the month in which many Muslims around the world will fast everyday from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex.

The onset of Ramadan every year always manages to raise a controversy around the Muslim world in the debate over which day it will actually start on. The Islamic calendar is based on lunar months, so the start of Ramadan is identified by the sighting of the new moon. The debate is usually between the modernists and the traditionalists, where the former want to use tools of astronomy to determine when the new month has started, and the latter insist on going by sight alone. You can read the GDN's report about this debate taking place in Bahrain here. On this one I think I have to side with the scientists. The traditionalists were trying to sight the new moon yesterday (October 13th), but the scientists were trying to tell them that the new moon will not be born until tonight, the 14th, and that if it was sighted on the 13th that would have actually been the last moon of the month... not the new moon of Ramadan (confusing isn't it?). Moreover, the astronomers tell us that the new moon will not become visible in Bahrain until tomorrow evening (the 15th)... so the first day of fasting should actually be on Saturday (see moonsighting.com for details). But the traditionalists said they're having none of it, and have announced the first day of fasting for Friday. Although it isn't really worth it to waste precious time arguing over which day Ramadan should start, I do think this debate captures the juncture at which the Muslim world stands. When figures of traditional Islamic religious authority refuse to address the role of modern science, it illustrates well why Islam is perceived to outsiders as being out of touch with reality. (Of course, the same can be argued of modern science, but I'll save that debate for another day).

Another fun story that always comes up this time of the (Islamic) year in Bahrain is about government employees demanding shorter working hours during Ramadan because they are fasting. The front page of yesterday's GDN had a headline: MPs want a five-hour Ramadan working day (cut down from the current six hours). Adel al Maawada, president of Al Asala who submitted the proposal, had this to say about work efficiency concerns:

Shaikh Al Maawada said that the change wouldn't affect employees' output, since it would be temporary.

"The work pace decreases by itself in Ramadan and I think that five hours is reasonable," he said.

While everyone else in the country is talking about poverty and under-efficiency, I'm just not sure how something like this can seriously be proposed. And to me, this represents all that is wrong with our understanding of Ramadan today. We are so obsessed with carrying out the ritual observances that we overlook the deeper meaning of it all. I would like to believe that someday Muslims will think of Ramadan as a time where we should be working even harder during office hours so as to further help the growth our societies. I'd like to someday see the government take back the laws that reduce working hours during Ramadan, and the ban on eating in public.

Ramadan really is a beautiful month though. It is a time where we stop and take a look at ourselves to study who we really are are. During the rest of the year we are driven by our lusts, our carnal desires, our moods, and Ego... but for one month in the year we make an effort to reclaim control of our Self. As I see it, the fasting of Ramadan can be split into three levels. (1) Physical fasting is the absolute bare minimum necessary to be able to say that you have fasted. Although it is difficult to refrain from eating for several hours, it's certainly do-able for most people.

(2) The next level up is to control your words and actions. This entails refraining from insults, backbiting and the sort. If someone at work says something mean then you will try to hold back from replying with something equally mean. If while driving to work someone else cuts in line by driving on the pavement, then you will refrain from honking your horn or giving him/her the finger. In essence it means controlling the way you display some of your emotions. This is considerably more difficult, but still something that you should be able to manage on most days, for at least the daylight hours hopefully.

(3) The real and complete fast (in my opinion) is if you can (in addition to the previous two levels) manage to control the way you feel in reaction to things that happen to you. If someone at work says something mean, then not only will refrain saying something mean back, but your heart will not desire to say something mean. In the same way, you will not hold any ill feelings towards the asshole driver that just cut in line from the pavement. At this stage your mind is so overwhelmed with love for the Divine that you are unconcerned with the petty things that happen in your everyday life. Rather than harbour ill will towards those meanies, your heart will want to do whatever it can to help those people, simply because they are the creation of the Divine. This final stage is really quite difficult to achieve (for me at least). It seems almost absurd to try and control your thoughts and emotions. If any of you have ever tried some form of meditation, you'll know how difficult it is to bring your mind to rest and concentrate on just one thing. But this is even more difficult than isolated meditation because you can't spend the whole month sitting alone, away from the rest of the world. You have to go about your daily business and interact with other people, all the while maintaining this extremely composed state of mind. Maybe this ideal is impossible to achieve for most of us, but I think it is possible to take steps towards it.

Oops, sorry, this is a long post... time to stop rambling and step off my minbar methinks. I'm sure I'll have lots more things to say about Ramadan over the next 30 days or so. But let me take this opportunity to invite the non-Muslim readers to try fasting for a day (or more if you're up to it!). It is a very rewarding experience, so take a shot and let us know how it goes. Ramadan kareem to you all again!