seminar at LSE on Bahrain Monday evening‏

IMG_9507We saw what Bu Azizi did. There is frustration inside most Arab youth who do not see future. Citizens have no rights, no freedom of expression. We live in a region where hope is lost, human beings become frustrated and may rise against the established oppressive order. When we started we never thought we would have the largest revolution in the country. I was there on 14th Feb. At that night we thought it would not be achievable. There were many troops and police units. Peaceful protester was shot dead. The grave yard sparked the revolution. People suddenly gave up fear and shouted: Down with the monarchy. They felt nothing could stop them. The march would fulfi their democratic dream. The feeling of unity made them march forward. One of the achievements was the march to the Pearl Roundabout. They felt they could change the situation and form the government. Three nights after being at the Roundabout people felt they should not leave that spot. It was the Bahraini version of TAhrir Square. AT 3 am the police began to crackdown on the protesters. Kids were crying with their mothers. There were only few hundreds at that moment. Police used shotguns. Four people were killed. I was shot in my forehead. I witnessed many people injured. I went to Salmaniya Hospital. I saw a person covered with birds shots. I aske him: How do you feel? He said my body is weak but my spirit is high. I thought if you had someone like this young man then there will be victory. How much more damange can you do to these people?

That chapter did not last long. On 15th March Saudi troops came to Bahrian and the Roundabout was demolished. They used the sectarian card to demolish the people’s unity. Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout became an icon so they crushed it. But why did they demolish Shia mosques? Sectarianism is their weapon. USA, UK continue to send arms to Bahrain. The reality is this. IN politics you can be on one of two sides; either with the oppressors or with the pro-democracy activists.

Alaa Shehabi

The past few y ears have changed our lives. WE look back with joy but with pain. Four basic tributes:

First is for Lord Avebury. For his son to come here tonight is something to inspire. This is in UK where the British establishment is working against us. Lord Avebury is someone whose house was open to everyone. We mourn our loss as a movement for losing him. He died on 14th February which is the day of Bahrain’s revolution. There have been at least 150 protests in the past three days.

Second Tribute is to university students. WE did not have MENA society, but only Arabic and Islamic societies. We never had a political society. Students in the Arab world have been politicised. Politics came to us at early age in the Gulf. Anxiety is there. Students used to come here to study and go back for a guaranteed job. Now they come and tend to stay to gain experience.

Third tribute; to a few jorunalists who were arrested in Bahrain. Four Americans were detained. An Italian guy was tortured to death in Egypt. IN 2012 I was arrested with three white journalists. We see these kinds of incidents repeated.

Forth tribute is to revisit the spirit of that moment in 2011 where there was great feelings. It seemed the end of Arab dictatorships. Nobody knew what would happen. You did not expect foreign troops entering your country. WE thought our demands were clear; elected parliament and prime minister. This did not merit foreign troops. IN Syria, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain. It was an attempt to end this moment at any price. That moment was coming of age. It was the use of violence to end these dreams.

Why does Bahrain matter? WE scream, we shout. WE have been doing this for a long time. When we saw the counter revolution on 14th March, it was a sign of what would happen to Egypt and Yemen. It was a lead indicator of what would happen elsewhere.

This small island was an indicator. The opposition did not chose to become violent. There is a chance to change. It is above and beyond you.

It is important that we re=assess our personal roles and fight for change and for those who are in jails. We have to struggle to achieve the goals. It could be the grave yard but it could also be re-birth.

Ali Abdul Emam

Another tribute to Lord Avebury whom I met for the first time in Bahrain.

Five years after the Revolution, there are questions to be asked:

The first is: What is the problem that pushed people to go the streets? Why did they insist on staying at the Pearl Roundabout. I was in jail at that time and had no news of what was happening. WE heard that the Tunisian revolution had succeeded in toppling Ben Ali and so on.

What made people of different backgrounds come to the streets and congregate at Pearl Roundabout.

We have about 4000 prisoners and hundreds in exile. Every night we see images of prtests. Why do people still go out to the streets?

WE should look back to see what was happening at the time? People were demanding political change. There was lack of good government; no power-sharing or wealth-sharing. The tribal rulers were holding everything.

The West does not talk of political reforms, only human rights. They ask government of B/ahrian to respect people’s rights. No one is asking: Why can’t Bahrainis chose their PM? Even the media does not want to talk about political change. My citizenship was revoked last year. Media outlets wanted only to talk about my human rights not political rights. This is the project that is being played by the PR companies and western government.

Human Rights have become toys that can be exchanged between the regimes and opposition.

In the past three years the main focus has been on human rights. It serves interest of media. If we solve human rights will Bahrain become good country?

Even if you solve HR the problem will persist. People do not feel the government is protecting them. We need to emphasise on the political regime that must be changed. There is Manama document that calls for election of government.

We need to re-direct the debate on Bahrain and emphasise the need for political change. If that is sorted out we will not have that much HR violations.

Toby Mathiessen

In 2011 people were hopeful of change on global level. Five years on we have to admit we all failed. Young people in ME and Europe and America failed. Bahrain is crucial example of a country connected to the global politics. When you have two thirds of population protesting you have to wonder why. Why also other uprisings failed. Interest of great powers are so important and powerful. Social media has changed from a tool of mobilisation into a tool of repression. Everything we do and say is under surveillance. We all need to be depressed.

Five years ago on this day I arrived in Bahrain. The mood there changed my life too. I went to other countries but I think the spirit in Bahrain was more inspiring. Few hours after I left Pearl Roundabout was attacked. It was inspiring moment. Looking back on it and realising where Bahrain is and what it represents we could have known that it would not be so easy. It is telling that you are in London and others somewhere else and you want to change things. It is right for you to change the mood in this country. History of Bahraini British relations go to the heart of British empire. Bahrain was on the route to India and it had to be secured. When oil was discovered it needed to be protected. Political change is more off balance than in other parts of ME.

I am writing a book on the fifties and sixties. Bahrain has the same demands and political movement. They wanted One man one vote system. In other countries this is reasonable demand but not in Bahrain. This is an old story and there is little desire to change that.

Opposition is sometimes naïve. Bahrain is close to SA. In 1981 GCC was founded as a counter alliance against Iranian Revolution. Pearl Roundabout was great choice. SA does not want any change in Bahrain. At the same time SA and Bahrain share oil fields. Even if political change happens and Bahrain decouples from SA, then there will be problem

The changing nature of the global market. Oil prices are low. We do not know where Gulf countries invest their money. There are big changes in the way and leading to economic crisis in the world. GCC countries will make taxes and cuts. Bahrain is model of the future of the Rentier state. The regime does not aim at buying off everyone. What it did is to buy off elites and some groups and sunni families. The other citizens are not benefiting and are excluded from the country’s wealth. This is what has been happening in past few years.

The spirit of 2011 could be uplifting but now SA is going to intervene in Syria.

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