Closed Kingdom

“There are no two ways about it, the regime has waged war on its own people”


Closed Kingdom
by Soraya Esfahani

As night falls in villages around Bahrain’s capital Manama, candlelight flickers in the dusty streets. Small groups of locals hold peaceful protests. There is an air of fear given what has taken place. Sometimes, the vigils are targeted by police, dispersed with tear gas. But worse, the night time also brings security force raids where people are ripped out of their beds and dragged away in front of screaming wives and children.

This is Bahrain since the Government imposed Martial Law on March 15. A month prior, hundreds of Bahrainis set up camp at Pearl Roundabout in Manama. They were mostly Shia youth, inspired by events in Egypt and Tunisia, who had had enough of unemployment and perceived discrimination by their Sunni rulers. Riding a wave of optimism and hope, tens of thousands more were swept out into the street to join the pro reform demonstrations. What they wanted was a constitutional monarchy, a real one. Instead, the demonstrations were brutally suppressed, 31 people were killed and many more wounded.

It’s now May. Peal Roundabout is no more, destroyed in the final assault by Bahrain’s forces to push protesters from the iconic site as if that would also destroy the hope and optimism of those it attracted.

Since that time, four men have been condemned to death for allegedly running over a policeman during the protests. Many more activists have been charged and are awaiting trial. Bahrain’s Centre for Human Rights says more than 800 people have been arrested. The fear of what happens when someone is arrested is real. It’s not just a fear of arrest, doctored evidence and a show trial. It’s fear of the unknown, of torture, of death. Human Rights Watch says four detainees have died in detention since April 2. The Bahrain Defence Force Hospital says one died of ‘hypovolimic shock,’ which is caused by excessive blood loss. Another died of ‘kidney failure’ and another two died of a pre existing condition, ‘sickle cell anaemia.’

Human Rights Watch, like a handful of other rights organisations, has had a presence in Bahrain since violence erupted. It has been investigating alleged abuses. The US based organisation doesn’t buy the official line about deaths in detention, "Four detainee deaths in nine days is a crime, not a coincidence," said Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director. "The government tells families of detainees nothing about their whereabouts or well-being while they are alive or about the circumstances of their deaths."

Maryam Al Khawaja, a human rights activist, says the deaths are clear evidence torture is taking place. Her own father, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, a prominent human rights activist, and two other family members are detained. The family says Abdulhadi was beaten, choked and arrested on April 9. It took two weeks before they received any news of his fate. Finally, he called, saying he was going to stand trial in a military court the next morning. No one was allowed into proceedings, not even lawyers. “We had no idea if he was going to stand trial, if he already had… we didn’t even know what the charges are,” Maryam says from New York. Her father has since been charged with anti regime activities and put on trial with 20 others. Since the arrests began, she has been unable to return home, fearing a similar fate.

There are few activists and protesters still willing to talk openly about what is happening. On the phone, their voices are hushed, they say little. We’re being monitored, they’re listening. On Facebook and email, depending on how you’ve come to their attention, they say the situation is slightly better but only slightly. Many of those who screamed the loudest on February 17 are silent. Eerily so. Some have been forced to contain their views - arbitrarily detained, beaten and released to live in fear.

People too afraid to speak over the phone will meet face to face as the next best option. But even that presents challenges. Taxis draw attention in the villages. One man who won’t share his name, says in a whisper over the phone, ‘Security forces can spot outsiders heading into the villages. Private cars are safer, but even then, who’s safe really?’

Checkpoints have been set up. Residents say they are humiliating and offensive. It’s forced some residents to cease going out into the street, lest they are stopped. Another man, an amateur photographer, is in constant fear of arrest. His tone has changed since February when he openly challenged the government. His brother was arrested praying at a mosque on April 14 he says and his neighbour was dragged away days later. He has heard nothing about either man since: “They gave us no reason, we don’t know where he is and if we ask, no one tells us. We’re not allowed to ask.”

Being in the wrong place and the wrong time is enough to be arrested, “In the morning it’s okay, but after 3 pm if the police see us out in Shia areas, near the shops or houses, sometimes they shoot at us with tear gas or arrest us.” He finishes, “they’ve gone mad.”

In the past few weeks, since arrests have intensified, he has left his camera at home rather than be caught and accused of working against the Government. Or even working as a spy, part of a so called ‘external threat,’ which Bahrain officials have used constantly to justify the crackdown and the continuing presence of Saudi Arabian troops in the country. The threat, according to the Government, is Iran. Protesters reject the suggestion they were backed by Iran or foreign group two months ago. And they reject it still.

Women detained

“Look around you, at all the women, we feel safe. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have come here with our children,” said one young woman, as she sat in Pearl roundabout on February 19. The protests brought thousands of them onto the street. Dozens are now in prison. BCHR says at least three are pregnant.

One of the youngest detainees is 20 year old Ayat Hassan Yousef Qurmezi, a poet. Her family has not heard from her since she was arrested. They say she is being held in a prison with common criminals and drug dealers.

The arrested cover a wide section of society; activists, athletes, journalists, nurses, doctors and a large number of teachers and students. Hundreds went on strike during the unrest. Reports surface daily of threats, intimidation and abuse in schools, at the hands of security forces.

One account released by human rights campaigners details the harrowing experience at a girls school in Hamad Town two weeks ago. “Police stormed the school without any prior notice... they went to my cousin`s class at 12 pm; they had two girls names... one of them was my cousin,” says the statement.

It’s alleged female police officers took the girls, aged 16 and 17, out of class, into another room to interrogate them, accusing them of anti government activities. Inside, teachers and other students were lined against a wall. The students were ordered to repeatedly slap their teacher in the face, when they refused, the police officers did it for them. They were then taken to the police station.

“A female and then two men... videotaped them and afterwards started calling them names; branded them whores and prostitutes,” says the statement.

It continues, “The police brought a thick plastic hose and lashed and beat the girls on different parts of their bodies (legs, arms, stomach, chest, etc..). My cousin`s head was smashed against the station cell wall several times until she bled; her nose bled, forehead and cheeks were all bleeding from the hard continuous smashing... Now my cousin`s body is all bruised... but worse, she is now psychologically traumatized, mentally withdrawn and too scared to go back to school... for fear of repeated assault.” Furthermore, reports this week that security forces are threatening school girls with rape has unnerved many.

Nabeel Rajab, head of Bahrain’s Centre for Human Rights, who himself was arrested, beaten and released, says there are fears for all detainees, particularly female detainees, “we have not yet seen widespread rape used in prison under this King, we saw a lot of it in the 1990’s, under the previous King... but the problem is the security institute, people working there are from different countries. They’re not afraid of being sued or taken to court. It’s a very worrying situation.”

At least 34 detainees are nurses and doctors from the country’s largest hospital, Salmaniya.

Physicians for Human Rights, a US based watchdog alleges “systematic and targeted attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protesters.”

The deputy director of PHR, Richard Sollow, says “unfortunately, these incidents aren’t isolated. They seem to be part of a systematic attack on doctors in Bahrain.”

Bahrain’s Government rejects the allegations, arguing many doctors and nurses failed in their duties and impeded patients from getting medical help during the unrest. Government supporters go further, saying these medical professionals ought to be arrested for politicising the hospital and allowing it to become a rallying point for anti government protesters. They even accuse nurses and doctors of refusing to treat Sunni patients.

Receiving medical help in Bahrain is now too dangerous if you have wounds or the tell tale signs of anti riot fire. Free medical advice is now being offered on the internet, through Skype.

Changing Society

Unable to produce reform, the state of fear is pushing moderate Shia Bahraini’s away from political parties like the secular Waad or the Shia al Wefaq and towards more extreme groups, such as the banned Shia party Al Haq.

“Wefaq lost popularity and legitimacy with the Shia, they see it as too willing to compromise with the regime, to accept. Now people are looking elsewhere for options and al Haq is the most obvious choice,” says Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre.

Rajab agrees the turmoil is causing a shift, “it won’t take long to see extremism born, because we’ve been peaceful and yet we are losing our lives. While the whole world was silent, kids were detained and killed in the street. Peaceful means are not functioning.”

The call throughout Bahrain’s protest movement was ‘No Shia, no Sunni, only Bahraini.’ They were adamant reform would help all. The Island’s Shia’s majority complained they were prevented access to high ranking posts and discriminated against in Government jobs. They were also angry about the Government’s policy of recruiting foreign nationals, from mostly Sunni countries to serve in the police force and military, while they remained unemployed. Their anger was not directed at their Sunni country men, but at the Government. Aside from arrest, many Shia activists are now subject to death threats, intimidation and barrages of vile abuse. An unknown number of Shia mosques have been destroyed too, apparently symbols of the enemy.

“There is no hope for reform in the system, so they have to look outside the system. There is serious polarization now, the Shia and Sunni are at opposite ends of the debate,” says Hamid.

The consequence, one man says, is a torn society. Others are more optimistic about the fate of the Island kingdom.

“It’s been a dark time in Bahrain, but with time I think it will be back to normal. There is a bit of tension between Sunni and Shia, but the majority are living with peace between them,” says Mohammed Janahi a radio DJ, who fully supports the Monarchy. His father is Sunni, his mother is Shia.

Janahi says everybody supported reform, but the movement was hijacked by people with hidden agendas.

“The King and the Crown Prince tried to politically solve the issue and offered unconditional dialogue to the so called pro-reformists and even released prisoners... so what happened after that? Did the opposition accept the dialogue? No, they didn’t, they changed all the reform slogans to death chants against the leadership, slogans of hate and sectarianism .”

Janahi says the voices of people like him were drowned out, replaced by more radical ones, “We were part of the National Unity gathering, we demanded reform but not like they did, we said yes to dialogue, but not to an Islamic Republic.” And that is what many Sunni Bahrainis fear the Shia really want.


Bahraini’s have been looking for moral support from the international community. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton has condemned the crackdown on numerous occasions, including during a meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad in Abu Dhabi in April. Ashton told reporters, "We discussed the importance of meaningful dialogue, meeting the aspirations of the people of Bahrain and... the respect of human rights.”

There are mixed messages out of Britain - the Crown Prince was invited to the Royal Wedding, but uninvited. All the while, British Foreign Secretary William Hague raised red flags over the Government’s crackdown “...there continue to be many credible reports of human rights abuses. The arrests of opposition figures, the reports of deaths in custody, allegations of torture and the denial of medical treatment, are extremely troubling.”

But the signal out of Washington has infuriated activists. The Obama administration, while sending out the occasional message of ‘concern’ for the situation there, has been virtually silent, particularly as arrests and allegations of torture intensified.

“The US’s reaction has been very disappointing. The US doesn’t want to see the regime fall, it doesn’t support full democracy in Bahrain, because that would mean Bahrain would have a Shia Prime Minister, who would probably open up ties with Iran. Not because the Shia are pro Iran, but in terms of development and interest, that’s what countries do,” says Hamid.

The US’s interests in Bahrain are well known, it’s home to the US Naval Fifth fleet, part of a tool to counter Iran’s regional influence. It receives millions of dollars in US funding each year to buy military hardware and services. It’s a key post for Saudi Arabia too.

“US officials talk of Iranian meddling, but there is much more meddling happening and that is Saudi meddling,” says Hamid.

Rajab and others like him, say human rights abuses will continue as long as the US continues to support the government, “The US has proven to be an obstacle, they are complicit. Bahrain’s Government doesn’t need to change as long as its allies continue to support it.”

And where is all this heading? Neither analysts nor activists see a solution as long as reform is not instituted quickly.

“There are no two ways about it, the regime has waged war on its own people,” says Hamid, “it’s a temporary solution to quell the protests but it does not address the grievances of the Shia. Ultimately, this policy is unsustainable.”


Recently by Soraya EsfahaniCommentsDate
I was just deported from Bahrain
Apr 29, 2011
more from Soraya Esfahani

dear Azadeh: I just received

by vildemose on

dear Azadeh: I just received your email. Sorry for being late in responding. I just lost a friend of mine to Cancer couple of days ago. I'm still in shock and devestated. It all happened so quickly. I will try to contact you when I'm more lucid...thank your for your patience.


Vildemose: observed, not object

by Bavafa on

And you can say the same thing if you like, but facts will not support it. If you check, you will see that I have CONSISTANTLY supported ALL uprising in Middle East and condemned ALL dictatorship.

All you needed to do is to read my post here.

Sorry for my unsolicited observation. Will keep them to myself from now on.


Edit: PS. And I did note its relevancy by expressing my appreciation for spreading all news about uprising in ME.

Azadeh Azad


by Azadeh Azad on

Did you receive my missive? Email me please.



Bavafa: I could say the

by vildemose on

Bavafa: I could say the exact same thing about you since you're objecting to my little news item, which might be a bit off topic but  certainly relevant.



Vildemose Jaan: Just an observation

by Bavafa on

while spreading of all news regarding the uprising in ME is appreciate it and I have found them useful, posting news about Syria in an article that is about Bahrain will only reinforces the impression of partiality and bias.

Unless of course you mean to condemn one uprising against one dictator and support another uprising against another dictator.




by vildemose on

Iran 2050

IRI is in power because of us

by Iran 2050 on

IRI is only powerful because us, the Iranian people, allow it to be powerful. We, the Iranian people, have abandoned our brave students who are the only force fighting the regime right now.


If we only spend 1% of the time we spend talking about this BS Aryan chauvinism about Koroush and Dariush and the alleged “past glory”, if we spend that much only thinking about Iran’s future, and not the troubled past, and do something, anything, to help our brave students fight and overthrow this regime, we wouldn’t be in this shape.


The ones who are in Iran want to get out and the ones who are here 1- refuse to admit things are bad in Iran (Soraya Ulrich, NIAC, Trita Parsi, Reza Aslan, and others…) 2- spend all their time thinking and talking about the Aryan crap because they feel a sense of lost identity and thus they believe that hanging on to an outdated, racist, Iran-destroying mentality will give them that identity.


Bottom line, no one cares about Iran’s future, all we talk about is Iran’s past. A past that if anything, is the root cause of what we go through now. Monarchy, religious fanatism (Both Zardushti and Shite), thug mentality…all the negative things that we have inherited from our past and yet for some reason cherish it!



I wonder

by MRX1 on

why doesn't powerfull IRI (at leat that's what islamist says every day) with it's massive Pasdars and Basiji' army(100000+ ?) send troops to Bahrain  and help these people? all the parades, all the misiles from North kora and china, what are they good for....

Iran 2050

This is all IRI propaganda

by Iran 2050 on

The notion that the government of Bahrain has waged war is B.S. of course, the IRI regime targets anywhere with the shite population to try to interfere and establish a proxy state.

Granted, Bahrain is not a model for democracy. But please take a trip to Bahrain and see for yourself whether a country that has established such a high quality of life for its people, ALL its people, can ever wage war on its people. Only regimes such IRI are waging war on its people , regimes that have built a sub human quality of life for its citizen and is engaged in mafia like policies internally and externally to hang on to power.

Are there people in Bahrain that don’t want monarchy? Absolutely. Is the recent uprising an example of those people wanting their freedom? Absolutely NOT. We all saw the images and videos of Shite clerics leading the protests. We all saw how some of these people, unacceptably, hold anti Arab slogans (typical racist Iranians!). When did shite cleric called for democracy? These are IRI-supported and inspired thugs who want to establish an IRI type Bahrain. That’s all. Nothing to do with freedom or democracy.

Ahmed from Bahrain


by Ahmed from Bahrain on

You are trying to kill the baby in the cot. Thank you Mehradad and greta article Soraya.

It seems that we can not determine our own future just because we are Muslims and Shiite at that without being branded by the mark of the beast.

Let me remind you that most of those who protest in Bahrain are young and are fairly educated. They see the progress in the world and they want some of it. When I was a yound lad (am now 64) I used to say my father accepted this sort of dictatorship, I sure can't tolerate it and do not expect my children to accept it."

The writing has always been on the wall. Not many seem to pay heed to it without branding us to be IRI lovers, et al. Truth is US 5th Fleet is stationed in Bahrain and they do support the local rulers and they do look after their own interests as every man and his dog in Washington has repeated said. So, who pays heed? Or do we have to suffer on account of being who we are? and accept that we will never be the masters of our own destiny.

Perhaps you are afraid to give us a chance and think the master (USA) knows best and we have to put up with their chosen stooges.

All of them hide behind nice words but the killing goes on.

Next time around violence will be used. The writing is on the wall.


Ahmed from Bahrain


AMIR1973 Agree with you 90%

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

Yes Shahs period was a golden era, but what you forget is that IRI was brought by USA and Shah was betrayed, with a goal of sending Iran backwards and creating tyranny.


This link covers it well.

The USA wants fundamentalism for Iran and will not change that policy, they have been keeping it in place for 32 years by force.

As for your comment about Shah being a US Puppet or Dictator, nothing can be furthur from the truth, which is why they removed support from him and replaced him.  Using titles iike dictator to move irans ignorant elite.


Amri jaan:

by Bavafa on

You are correct about our common goal/wish to support the aspiration of people in the Middle East and I think it would be a shame if we ALLOW the goons such as those named by you here to affect us to withhold our support or worse, turn against such freedom in Middle East since the more free and democratic country in Middle East the more encouraged Iranians will be to follow suit and push for freedom in their own land.

They all deserve our support and our support for freedom and democracy will be the biggest 'to-dahani' to those dictators in Tehran, Riyadh and Damascus.



Dear Mehrdad,

by AMIR1973 on

I think we both support the aspirations of people in the Mideast for greater freedom and democracy. However, when I see an uprising that has the very vocal and enthusiastic support of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah, and Muqtada as-Sadr (Bahrain has become their favorite rebellion and they talk about it nonstop on their official media) -- I become very suspicious that this uprising is meant to lead to a free, democratic society or something even worse than they have now. Sometimes, one gets rid of a dictator (like Moh'd Reza Pahlavi or Czar Nicholas II) and gets something 100 times worse (like the IRI or the USSR). 


Amir Agha:

by Bavafa on

The US history and its involvement/influence in other countries is filled with diverse examples, some to produce successful and prospers democracies and some to the exact opposite, one that they orchestrated the removing of democratic governments.

But we are not discussing past US history here.

"but the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are the way they are because they are a reflection of their own societies and cultures"

The said above could and does apply to Iran and most if not all other nations. What is being argued here, by me, is that much like in Iran, people in other Arab nations are striving for freedom and better system/regime. We can not possibly be supporting the freedom in Iran and Syria but turn a blind eye to the same aspiration by Bahraini and Saudis. It is also argued and I believe that supporting democracies in all ME nations, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabi will only help to bring such freedom to Iran faster and result in the demise of IRI.




by AMIR1973 on

South Korea and Taiwan are two among many countries that were once ruled by "American friendly dictators" (to use your phrase). They are now highly industrialized countries with high standards of living in terms of health, wealth and education, very strong and productive economies, and parliamentary democracies with considerable civil and human rights. Compare South Korea, Taiwan, West Germany, and Argentina to North Korea, Communist China, East Germany, and Cuba -- and I think you can see the difference in outcomes. Is there a decent government in the world which is anti-U.S.?


I support neither Saudi Arabia nor Bahrain nor any of the governments in the Mideast, but the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are the way they are because they are a reflection of their own societies and cultures, i.e. extremely conservatively Islamic and politically repressive -- the U.S. did not make them this way. In contrast, in our own Iran the period of the "U.S. puppet" Shah was a Golden Age compared to what came before (Qajars) and after (IRI). By the way, compare the 31 killed in Bahrain to the far, far, far larger number of people killed in Libya and Syria (not to mention the even greater numbers killed by the IRI and Sudanese regimes since they have come to power). And finally, the only reason there was not more bloodshed by the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries was because of the U.S. influence. If not for the U.S. influence, they would have done what Qaddafi and Assad are doing now. Regards.


Amir1973: Do I understand your position and logic correctly

by Bavafa on

That since the anti-American policy in the said countries have been a failure in different degrees and magnitudes, then we ought to support the American friendly dictators around the world?

And by that notion, would you wish for governments such as in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for the future of Iran since they have earned your support?



Mrs. Esfahani: Do you the

by vildemose on

Mrs. Esfahani: Do you feel that  the Islamic Republic of Iran has waged war against its own citizens also???


Same rhetoric as "anti-imperialist" talk of '79

by AMIR1973 on

US support to the criminal regime in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is as deplorable...


Anti-U.S. "revolutionaries" who spout this sort of rhetoric have created some of the freest, most prosperous and most democratic societies in the world, for example the IRI, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Cuba, USSR, China, North Korea, etc. You get rid of the "U.S. puppet" Shah and in its place you get a dictatorship that executes 100 Iranians for every 1 that the Shah executed. I guess all the Bahrainis need are their own version of Ali Shariati, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Mostafa Chamran, Bani Sadr, Ebrahim Yazdi, and the rest of the bloodthirsty, anti-U.S. "intellectuals". It seems that the lessons of 1979 will never be learned by some...


Bahraini aspiration for freedom and democracy

by Bavafa on

Is the same as Iranians, Syrians, Egyptian, Saudis and all other groups and folks around the world and as such it ought to be recognized and supported just the same.

To mock, ridicule and discount their fight for democracy in their own land is to betray Iranians fight for democracy and freedom.

Don't let your discontent/hate for IRI to distort your judgment regarding freedom and democracy around the world.

Those who support dictatorial regime in ME bare the same responsibility in the crimes that is committed against the people in those countries. US support to the criminal regime in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is as deplorable as the IRI support to the Syrian dictatorial regime or the IRI crimes against its own people.



Emam Khomeini called for "very basic rights" too

by AMIR1973 on

Please go back and read the declarations of Emam Khomeini and the other "revolutionaries" when Emam-e aziz was living in Neauphle-le-Chateau stating that the post-revolutionary government would be a democracy, which would respect equal rights for women and would deliver the oil money to the people's door. "Revolutionaries" who have the backing of the ruthless terrorists of the IRI, Hezbollah, and goons like Muqtada as-Sadr of Iraq are trying to overthrow a pro-U.S. monarchy. Sound familiar? Any Iranian who was alive in 1979 has already seen this movie and would not want to see a repeat of it in Bahrain.

Soraya Esfahani

Bahrain Support

by Soraya Esfahani on

@amir1973 Just because Iran and Hezb. support the uprising and are shedding 'crocodile tears' as you say... should not tarnish nor detract from the protest movement. They are Bahraini, and identify themselves as such. Not Iranian or anything else. Until their own Government started shooting them and letting Saudi's come in to help, they were calling for very basic rights. Surely they have more in common with average Iranians living in Iran, than with Iran's leadership or proxy groups.


No, Vildemose jaan

by AMIR1973 on

The article is about Bahrain, the favorite topic of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and Hezbollah's al-Manar TV. The same Bahrain that Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah, and other Islamist goons are spilling crocodile tears over. The same Bahrain that Basiji rapists attack the Saudi embassy over and carry the flag of in Tehran's Azadi stadium. It is this uprising that we presumably are supposed to support. After all, with supporters like these the Bahraini uprising can only have reform, democracy and liberty as its goals....


For a minute there , I

by vildemose on

For a minute there , I thought you were talking about IRI...