TRIGGER WARNING: violence
(14 February 2015)
For the fourth year in a row, Bahraini activists have engaged in enormous protests while the West celebrates Valentine’s Day.
In the early days of the 2011 uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, colloquially (yet problematically) known as the “Arab Spring,” Bahrainis rose up against their US-backed absolute monarchy. 14 February 2011, on which their rebellion began, is now referred to as يوم الغضب (Yawm al-Ghadb, or “the Day of Rage”). In the 2015 protests against the regime, activists tested out a creative new strategy: using huge stuffed animals as barricades to slow down the violently repressive riot police.
The Twitter account of prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab—who was sentenced to six months in prison on 20 January for insulting the government on Twitter, in what Amnesty International called a “blow to freedom of expression”—referred to the date as “Bahrain revolution day.”
Bahraini photojournalist Mazen Mahdi appears to have taken some of the widely disseminated photos. He says the teddy bear is “quickly becoming mascot of this year Feb14 protests.”
The opposition in Bahrain largely consists of liberal, leftist, and Shia Islamist groups. The 2015 Day of Rage protests were enormous. Bahraini journalist Reem Khalifa writes (my translation) “#14February… The day Bahrain will never forget… #Bahrain”
Rajab told Middle East Eye “Almost each and every Shiite family has one or two prisoners or someone who has been shot, injured or killed. So the gap is deeper, the wound is deeper than two or three years ago. And Bahrain is going towards more repression. For the first time since the independence of the country [in 1971], we have a law in Manama saying that no peaceful protests are allowed altogether.”
Amira Al Hussaini published an excellent account of the protests in Global Voices. She writes:
For the past four years, Bahrainis have been marking Valentine’s Day with massive protests, which are faced with a brutal clampdown by the regime. This year is no different, except that protesters, in keeping with the spirit of Valentine’s, took with them stuffed teddy bears to face off with the riot police.
On February 14, 2011, Bahrainis joined the bandwagon of protesters across the Arab world and staged anti-regime protests, which ushered a new era of widespread human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests of thousands of Bahrainis and the killing of protesters and bystanders, including women and children.
This year protesters marked the anniversary with a three-day strike, in which businesses in villages and protest areas shut down.
According to Bahrain Mirror, an opposition online publication in Arabic, the teddy bear has become a “political icon” used by the protesters for “political satire.”
Activists and human rights advocates took to Twitter to post more pictures.
The government responded with a draconian clampdown.
Rajab’s Twitter account, and others, also posted photos of some of the horrendous injuries in these police attacks. (TRIGGER WARNING: violence)