Bahrain: Tiny Island, Iron Will

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A Bahraini protester carries a flag with the image of Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, who is revered by Muslims in general, especially Shia Muslims. The wall reads "Down with Hamad". King Hamad has been ruling Bahrain since the death of his father in 1999. (Photo: AFP)

By: Shahira Salloum

Published Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ayat al-Gormazi is a 20-year-old Bahraini full of enthusiasm. “We are a people killing oppression and assassinating misery,” she cried at the Lulu roundabout as she recited her poem about a fictional conversation between the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Satan. It was the second time she read her work at the now destroyed landmark and central hub of the Bahraini revolt.

On February 14, the day the Bahraini uprising broke out, she was outside the country with her family eagerly following the news. As soon as she landed back home five days later, she hurried to the Lulu (Pearl) roundabout.

She would sit shyly in one of the corners and follow the program of events. She did not know anyone from the February 14 youth organizers. Describing those days at the roundabout, she said: “We breathed freedom. For the first time we felt we were free.”

In her first public appearance at the roundabout, she recited a poem as part of the Bahrain Teachers College event — she was a student at the college before being dismissed.

As a result, her name spread on social networking sites and she started receiving tens of threatening and insulting calls daily. She broke down and got in touch with the youth of the uprising; it was a chance to get closer to them. “Frankly I was not afraid of getting killed, but I was afraid of an attack on my honor as I was threatened with rape,” she said.

On March 17, the night of the bloody attack on the Lulu Roundabout, al-Gormezi was planning how to spend her time there. She said they sensed the smell of death everywhere “even the program consisted of prayers and supplications. There was a strange feeling that everyone felt a malicious intent besetting us. The sky was strange and a plane was flying above us at a low altitude.”

Although she had resolved to sleep at the roundabout, al-Gormezi did not, because of her mother’s pleas. She woke up the next day to chants of Allahu Akbar (God is Great) everywhere, and she heard the ominous news about the attack on Lulu.

Her parents were terrified. They asked her to hide but al-Gormezi refused. They told her that they lived through the 1990s and they are aware of this regime’s ability to oppress, but she was not convinced. Al-Gormezi told them she is a woman and will not be touched. But then she acquiesced and was taken to a relative’s home. Less than a week later her home was attacked and her family was threatened and humiliated until they revealed her hiding place.

The police came, arrested her, and put her in prison where she was subjected to the worst kind of torture for three months and 16 days. She says: “I realized from the first moment that I was among people who do not fear God, the policeman would insult me and ask me how many times I experienced sexual pleasure in the roundabout.”

“I was handed over to a Jordanian investigator known for his torture practices.” She says that as soon as she was placed before him he told her that he does not differentiate between men and women, that “he can wipe the floor with her.”

They told her “your father works in the public sector, you and your brothers studied at the expense of the state.” Surprised, she said, “This is not a favor, this is our right.”

Later, a woman who heads the drug section at the department of investigations, took charge of the investigation and the torture, according to al-Gormezi.

At the beginning, she used to slap al-Gormezi violently on the face. In later interrogation sessions, al-Gormezi’s face was electrocuted and she was threatened with cutting her tongue off.

In one torture session, the police officer opened al-Gormezi’s mouth and spit in it, then she brought a toilet bowl brush and inserted it in her mouth. She was forced to make confessions that were broadcast on TV in which she apologized to the al-Khalifa family.

Al-Gormezi said that the international support she received helped her. She pointed out that the regime’s weakness lies in its vulnerability when light is shed on a case of an individual like herself.

Al-Gormezi is now planning for her future. She is thinking about traveling and would like to study law.

According to Bahraini blogger Zainab al-Khawaja, what helped al-Gormezi was the publicity that her case attracted. She said that al-Gormezi’s suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of the Bahraini people, “who continue to scream in the dark but no one wants to hear them.”

Since al-Khawaja is a human rights activist who has worked with many international human rights organizations, the government had initially stayed away from her. Before February 14 she was doing research on non-violent resistance. The day Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was toppled is the day she created her Twitter account under the name “AngryArabiya.”

Her father, husband, and brother in law were all jailed. The last words that her father, Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja, a prominent opposition leader, uttered when he was arrested were, “I cannot breathe” due to the harsh beating he was getting.

After exhausting all means of protest, al-Khawaja began a hunger strike. She sent a letter to US President Barack Obama urging him to stop supporting the Bahraini dictator. On the fifth day of her hunger strike, she started having problems with her speech. She did not want to stop her hunger strike but her infant daughter, Joud, who is two years old now, forced her to.

Al-Khawaja did not tire. She continued with her activism. She insists the revolution is continuing. “There are marches in more than 26 villages that come out every night.” Last month she was arrested and humiliated. She was beaten and dragged on the floor because she refused to end a peaceful sit-in. After human rights organizations demanded her release, the government budged and released her.

It is true the uprising in Bahrain is forgotten and its people are “shouting in the dark,” as the widely viewed al-Jazeera English documentary by that name demonstrated, but the struggle continues. Everyday there are marches and the regime is challenged. The chant, “The people want to topple the regime,” is no longer heard in the media but it blasts in the alleyways of small villages.

Remarkably the village marches are not coordinated, but they seem to come out simultaneously and in an organized fashion. The February 14 youth stand behind these marches. They are not part of any political equation, their voices and their demands are not heard.

The politicians negotiate over reforms but the February 14 youth will not accept anything less than a toppling of the regime. There will not be stability on the island as long as the demands of the real force on the ground are not taken into consideration.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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