Who’s Leading the Bahraini Revolution?
When discussing the crisis in Bahrain, many tend to point to certain political groups as if they represent the whole scene: leftists which are considered incapable of having an impact, Wefaq which are seen as the voice of Shia majority, and the Sunnis who are all included under whatever the ruling family stands for. This is at least how the political map appears to be in Bahrain after the February 14 uprising.
Historically, the tools used within the political struggle in Bahrain shifted from leftist labor organizations to Shia Islamists in the 80’s and this remained the case until the rise of human rights activists like Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja.
Khawaja, sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the regime last year, was the one to introduce the rhetoric of human rights not only to Bahrain but to the whole Gulf region by establishing the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and later the Gulf Center for Human Rights. He stood not only with his Shia community but with prisoners of conscience in the Gulf, migrant workers, and Gulf nationals in Guantanamo.
During the Bahraini uprising, what Khawaja has established played a crucial role. His daughters Maryam (in exile) and Zainab (jailed), as well as activist Nabeel Rajab (recently sentenced to three years in jail for illegal protesting), and many others made thousands of Bahrainis aware of the need to speak under the umbrella of human rights and to use citizen journalism as the means to document violations committed systematically by the regime. This approach keeps generating the needed pressure despite the stubborn foolishness that comes in reaction from the regime.
So beside Wefaq being the major representative of Bahrain’s oppressed Shia, these human rights defenders were able to become a second leading power in the Bahraini street. Rajab was calling constantly for protests, especially in the capital, and has given brave speeches challenging the regime and pushing the people to speak up and head to the capital instead of protesting in their villages. There is also one more player that keeps being forgotten when the Bahraini opposition are spoken about and that is definitely the youth of February 14.
Months ago, acts of vandalism happened around Bahrain and the movement (although several groups try to use the same name) has made those acts public under their name. Vandalism, whether one agrees on it as a form of resistance or not, was introduced as another form of rejection of the regime’s acts. The camp of human rights activists condemn those acts and keep discussing whether burning tires on the highways and using Molotov are acceptable forms of protest. Yet, for the February 14 movement, according to their constant statements through social media, vandalism is a way to intimidate the regime, make statements, and remind the people of their martyrs and prisoners.
Lately, the regime has struck a blow to the movement by using certain software to reveal the identity of some anonymous activists and access the information they have. It is not known if these activists belong to the movement, but many believe so. This shows that the regime has clearly identified who it considers its enemies to be. Media and western governments keep addressing Wefaq (who have recently appointed former MP Matar Matar in Washington DC to be their representative there) when there is a major player like the Feb14 movement that remains anonymous and never gets addressed or invited to the table, perhaps so as not to empower its image publicly.
Wefaq is an established political bloc that many Shia found themselves siding with after the revolution despite any criticisms they had, simply because there is a clash taking place and one needs to pick a side. However, the human rights activists make the biggest impact when it comes to spreading information about the violations. On the ground, the February 14 movement is still in the game with one card; through unrest, the exhausted regime with its devastated economy won’t last much longer on Saudi money and will eventually have to compromise.