When tanks, bulldozers, U.S.-supplied Cobra attack helicopters and Bahrain’s trigger-happy security forces violently evicted peaceful protestors from Manama’s Pearl Roundabout last week, little time was wasted demolishing the 300-foot monument at its center.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency reported the circle needed a “face life” to “boost the flow of traffic.” The country’s foreign minister said, “We did it to remove a bad memory.”
We assume he also includes the memory of pro-democracy demonstrators who made the roundabout and monument the heart of their struggle for the last six weeks.
Now, a new symbol of their movement has taken its place.
It is first important to emphasize the protests’ non-violent nature. There were no troop defections to provide the people with weapons, as in Libya. This is Bahrain, where 90 percent employed in the 20,000-man strong National Security Agency are Jordanian, Yemeni, Pakistani or other foreign nationals. They are given expedited citizenship to alter the island’s demographics in favor of the minority Sunni population (who the al-Khalifa family regards as their natural constituency).
Sympathy with the plight of fellow countrymen, as when the Egyptian army refused to fire on those gathered in Tahrir Square, is non-existent in Bahrain, by definition.
The mainly Shia protestors have repeatedly stressed their purely political demands. They have not challenged the al-Khalifa regime with armed insurrection or coup. Instead, Bahrainis have called for an end to the policy of sectarian discrimination; fair and proportional representation in the executive branch, legislature, judiciary and security sector (from which the 70 percent Shia population are excluded); and equity in housing, healthcare and jobs.
The monarchy’s ferocious response reflects the threat they felt—not from the red-herring of Iranian hegemony—but from the end of absolute power.
After the second attack at Pearl Roundabout, a place that has seen no greater heartache or injustice has become the new face of resistance. In uprising’s early days, Fadel al-Matrouk was gunned down outside it while preparing to join the funeral procession of the revolt’s first martyr, Ali Mushaima.
It is the besieged Salmaniya Hospital, now under complete military control. Tanks block the emergency room entrance, masked gunmen patrol outside and checkpoints surround it. Ambulance drivers are prevented from transporting the injured, doctors and nurses targeted, and staff unable to leave or return for fear of their safety. All are accused of abetting anti-government fervor by simply performing their medical duty. Harrowing tales from personnel and patients alike have become commonplace.
From Time’s “Crackdown: Why Bahrain’s Military Has Taken Over a Hospital,” March 17:
It was supposed to be a routine trip from Sitra, a poor Shi’ite neighborhood here in Bahrain. On Tuesday an ambulance loaded with two paramedics, a doctor and critical patients was on its way to Salmaniya Medical Center, the island-nation’s largest hospital, when it was stopped by a group of 20 government soldiers. According to one of the paramedics, all passengers were ordered out of the car, the injured thrown onto the street. The paramedic was forced to kneel on all fours while they took turns kicking his head from side to side. The female doctor was commanded to strip, “so that we all may see your body.” When she refused, they beat her.
The AP reports on March 20:
It was just after midnight when armed men in military uniforms came to the hospital bed of Ali Mansour Abdel-Karim Nasser, who was injured by pellets fired during a clash with riot police. He said what came next was worse: he was bound, beaten and mocked in the hallway of Bahrain’s main state-run hospital.
“They came with guns and they said, ‘What’s wrong with you, why are you here?’ I told them I was shot and I showed them my legs,” said Nasser, whose legs and abdomen were peppered with wounds from pellets shot during a protest in a village on Sitra island on Tuesday.
“They cursed at me, ripped out the IV, pushed me off the bed and started kicking me.” Nasser said the six soldiers — whose faces were covered with black ski masks — pulled him to the hallway and tied his hands behind the back. He said at least 12 other patients were abused in a similar way.
Accounts by medical staff of last week’s raids confirm that the injured were prohibited from getting to the medical center and ambulances prohibited from leaving. Scores of the wounded have been removed and relocated elsewhere, and surgeons hauled off during operations. Drs. Ali al-Ikri, Mahmood Asghar, and Bassem and Ghassan Dhaif remain missing.
Although anecdotal, overwhelming corroborating testimony from eyewitnesses and treating physicians removes all doubt that egregious violations of international law, specifically articles of the 4th Geneva Convention pertaining to the protection of civilian hospitals, occurred. Human Rights Watch decried the detention of civil rights workers and physicians who spoke out against the abuse of civilians.
Patient, emergency and operating rooms in Salmaniya Hospital bear witness to the regime’s attack on the defenseless, weak and dispossessed. Their right to safety, security and dignity has been grossly violated. The indefatigable will of those working inside its encircled walls is mirrored by the will of residents in encircled villages, like Sitra.
The former Pearl Monument had a stone jewel at its apex, honoring Bahrain’s heritage in pearl cultivation. It was held up by six swooping arches of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries; the same countries who are now sending in troops to oppress the Bahraini people. In many ways, the monument’s destruction was fitting.
Bruised and battered Bahrainis will one day—and make no mistake, that day will come—erect a monument in tribute to the success of their long struggle and all those who fell during it. Its form might be unknown, what it will represent is not: freedom.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.