Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bahrain By-Elections Extravaganza

Over the course of the week of September 18 Bahrain’s social networks, and especially Twitter, were bustling with activity as the Feb14 Youth announce their plan to return to what was once GCC Roundabout otherwise known as Lulu Roundabout or Martyrs Square.  For the first time since the February/ March crisis, I saw Bahrain’s loyalists unite in an effort to prevent yet another occupation of Bahrain’s financial district and counter all the moves made by Feb14.
#Tawkalkarama – Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Earlier in the week, the Feb14 youth announced what they described to be a peaceful form of protest called Dignity Belt which called for all protesters to drive around the most highly used main roads leading to the financial district of Bahrain until the roads are completely frozen with traffic congestion.  The aim of this move was to prevent people from reaching their workplace, prevent customers from reaching businesses and ultimately cause major financial damage to the economy.  It was their belief that this move will push businesses to exert pressure on the government to step down and at the same time it was their first move towards returning to their Lulu shrine…
However, the night before the event, Bahrain loyalists stepped up and filled Twitter with calls to counter the event and ensure that businesses do open.  Counter measures included leaving home at 6 in the morning to reach offices before 7am which was the proposed kickoff time for Dignity Belt.  The #Tawkalkarama hash tag was filled with our tweets and morale was high and excitement levels peaked on Wednesday morning when people actually did wake up bright and early and tweets about reaching work went viral while traffic reports on Twitter and Bahrain Television showed just a little more than usual traffic save for the bit of congestion around half way through the event on Shaikh Khalifa highway leading into Manama caused by the extra precautionary measures taken by the traffic police to ensure the inner roads of Manama are not infiltrated by saboteurs.
By 10am everybody was already busy at work while tweets from the opposition were spreading pictures of what appeared to be traffic but in reality could be normal congestion during the morning rush hour of a typical Bahraini weekday.  Associated Press released an article stating that Dignity Belt has reduced Bahrain traffic to a “crawl” which might have had some credibility to the average idiot had they not released this article on SEPTEMBER 20TH!!  MSNBC and Al Jazeera then took the same article and posted it on their sites and that was about all the coverage they got in their favor.  CNN on the other hand in an unprecedented move called the event a complete failure.
Little victories were claimed that day by the Feb14 Youth. That bit of congestion on that one highway and the heightened security were claimed to be their triumphs over the regime that day. The fact that they caused panic among their fellow Bahrainis was another. One can see that these triumphs were petty and foolish considering the malicious intent towards the other inhabitants of this island.
Thursday, 22nd September 2011
The victory experienced by Bahrain’s loyalists on Wednesday has created high levels of participation on the social networks and the counter tweets on the opposition hashtags have reached their highest levels. Increased participation on the opposition's hash tags in an effort to be heard have began bearing fruit and that alone has caused many people to stay home and monitor and participate on all channels.
The Stream hosted Al Wefaq former MP Mattar Mattar and opposite him Dr. Saqer Al Khalifa, Media Attache to the Bahraini Embassy in the United States.  Everyone was tweeting their hearts out to the show asking questions and posting comments and supporting their preferred guest.  Another triumph was recorded there when Mattar Mattar found himself no match to Dr. Saqer who communicated with extreme clarity and sense while Mattar mumbled his way through the interview.
#lulureturn – Friday, 23rd September 2011
It was the day everyone was dreading; a day of the first real threat that protesters would go back to the site of GCC roundabout.  The determination on the #lulureturn hash tag was a telling sign that they mean business.  Calls for all to “die for Bahrain” meant they were determined enough to defy the security forces and get killed doing it.
Most of us were worried that in the middle of all the anticipated confusion and the presumed defiance of authorities that police would have to use force to turn back the protesters.  In our worst fears, there would be thousands charging towards the police and that victims may fall and we’d all go back to square one.
Starting from Thursday and throughout Friday morning we have done all we can to counter the opposition tweets on the #lulureturn hash tag and at the same time anticipating the announcement of zero hour when they would all “crawl” towards the site of Al Farooq junction.
At about 4pm, I received a call from my friend telling me that protests have broken out at the City Center Mall where she was just finishing lunch with her family. She described the scene to be around 200 people marching at the ground floor of the mall when others afraid of violence breaking out went upstairs for safety.  She took a few pictures for me to post on Twitter and as she tried to take a video of what was going on downstairs she got nudged by a man who turned out to be part of a group who were motioning to the protesters downstairs and directing their movements.
Later on there were reports of some of the protesters attacking Al Arabiya journalist, Mohammed Al Arab who was there with his crew to film a documentary about the elections in Bahrain when they were surprised by a group of men attacking them and stealing their camera which to this day has not yet been recovered.
My friend reported a mad panic among people on the top floor who were shocked that their day out was interrupted by these protests and terrified that violence might break out. Mothers and children were screaming, some even fainted and some of the children were separated from their families amidst all the commotion.
Eventually the top floor filled up with patriotic Bahrainis and loyal GCC citizens who frequent Bahrain on weekends. They gathered at the rail and in their rage while hearing calls for the fall of HRH the King they found themselves chanting “the People want Khalifa Bin Salman!” at the top of their lungs drowning the noise coming from below.  What a proud moment that must have been for them knowing that there was indeed something that they could do to retaliate without resorting to violent clashes and thus making their stance loud and clear.
Moments later anti riots police arrived and quickly dispersed the crowd arresting a number of men and women. Those that got away had their faces plastered all over national TV and almost immediately afterwards faces were identified and their names were circulating all over Twitter and Blackberry Messenger.
Meanwhile attempts to reach Al Farooq junction were futile and all diversion tactics were completely useless.  Protests were again confined to the villages and security forces did a great job keeping people away from the Seef/ Manama area.  Road blocks became necessary in order to ensure a tight perimeter around the area which cause some traffic jams.
As I commented on Friday’s incident I was shocked to see people actually defending the blatant act of terrorizing families and disturbing their weekend and possibly traumatizing their children.  I got tweets telling me, “good now you know how it feels to be us” and “how could the police arrest women who were protesting peacefully??” and even worse ones like “how could they enjoy themselves knowing there are children with nothing to eat because their father got sacked??” Apparently, we all deserve to be miserable because they are unable to understand the concept of actions and consequences.
Victories claimed that day: excess traffic.
#BHelection – Saturday, September 24, 2011
New threats to “crawl” towards “Lulu” were observed on Twitter. More determination and will seemed to be filling the #lulureturn hash tag but the numbers seemed to be diminishing. On the other hand, the #BHelection hash tag was witnessing a tug of war of tweets some sending their recipients on guilt trips should they go to the polling stations and many others encouraging constituents to vote.
To proactively counter efforts to reach “lulu” roadblocks were set up by the police to prevent the people from the most troublesome areas from attempting to reach Al Farooq junction. Much traffic was caused on this day all for the purpose of keeping people safe and polling stations free of vandals.
A new hash tag used by the opposition called #Safroha (meaning “make it zero” in reference to the elections turnout percentage) inspired by the very hate inspiring speech of Ali Salman on Thursday.  Calls to boycott the elections have started long ago but were intensified this weekend. Constant reminders that the blood of the martyrs is on their shoulders if they voted or that they will be a black mark in the history books if they disobeyed the order.  Al Wefaq went as far as circulating a Fatwa by Iraqi cleric Al Ghoraifi forbidding them from voting.
At the same time, live coverage on TV showed a lot of foot traffic at the polling stations especially at the mall and airport and eye witnesses on Twitter were reporting a strong turnout.  The news came towards the end of the day that the turnout was around 51% as Ali Salman of Al Wefaq claims no more than 15% and the elation of the loyalists could not be contained; they could finally see the fruits of their labor and hope has been restored that Bahrain will come out of this safer and stronger than ever.
Victories claimed that day: more traffic congestion.
The events that unfolded starting from the 21st until the 24th of September were a clear strategy from Al Wefaq to hinder the democratic process in Bahrain and prevent people from voting on Saturday. Masked by the pretense of Feb 14 Youth, these acts of desperation stemming from the fact that the world has started to see through the movement and understand that it is not the majority of Bahrain who are opposed to the government; that this hyped up, over exaggerated, sectarian so-called revolution is nothing more than an attempt to gain power through stepping all over everyone else’s freedoms including that of their own followers.
The events of this weekend have unfortunately increased the divide in Bahrain… As people were just resuming their lives and rebuilding relations with their fellow Bahrainis what was now proved to be a small minority of people have gone and broken all the bridges that have been built over the past period since February 14.  Encroaching upon other people’s freedoms, trying to pull Bahrain back towards an ugly cold civil war and causing distress and anxiety are not characteristics of a peaceful political reform movement.
On the other hand, many have started to find the right path and have broken away from this destructive minority.  People went to vote and most did not succumb to the calls for the return to “Lulu” and the democratic process was determined to continue to thrive and grow in Bahrain with or without Al Wefaq and their puppets.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How 1 Bahrain Became 7

It's been a while since I've written anything, partly because I've been busy at work and unable to find the time or inspiration to write anything meaningful and partly because what I've been hearing, reading and seeing (sometimes even smelling) has just exacerbated the stress and writer's block I've been having lately.

Daily riots and demonstrations have become business as usual in Bahrain and I can't help but think, "when were they ever NOT?" We have always had the occasional burning tire or the frequent demonstration until it was recently called "the land of the million marches". But recently it has reach ridiculous proportions. Those constant promises of returning to the promised land and consequently ruining every possible happy occasion you can think of have raised the hate guage to maximum levels and hostilities have increased exponentially on social media. And the trouble is it is no longer just two groups of people fighting to impose their views on one another but each of these groups now has several groups within themselves...

So many categories of people have arisen with each side representing a new school of thought (sarcastically speaking) with their initial affiliation still intact.

1. The hard-core loyalists: these are the people who would give their left eye for the ruling family and primarily the Prime Minister. To them the government is always right even when it's not. They abhor the opposition of all kinds and with no exceptions.

2. The conditional loyalists: They are hard-core loyalists until the government does any positive move towards bringing tensions down that might have the smell of leaning towards pleasing the opposition however minuscule it may be... And then they turn to sarcasm and condemnation and will criticize the government till their heart's content.

3. The loyalist opposition: they have pledged full allegiance to the Government but if they see an opportunity for improvement they will voice it out even if it goes against what the government's wishes. They are often called the positive opposition because they believe in keeping and reforming the existing system rather than the toppling calls of some other categories. They attempt to make sense of the government's moves possibly for their own peace of mind but mostly to calm down the previous group and to prove good will to the world.

4. The reformists: they try not to cloud their purpose with any sort of loyalty but rather focus on political and social reforms whoever they may serve. They believe that they have the best interests of Bahrain in mind and as a result manage to anger both sides of the spectrum even though they don't intend to. They also refer to themselves as "moderates".

5. The moderate opposition: they are a confused bunch; while they vehemently support the Feb14 movement which calls for the fall of the "regime" they have been seen to oppose some of their practices but some think they only do so to appear moderate. They never praise anything good that comes out of the government and they hardly ever comment on the illegal actions of the destructive opposition and even defend them at times. But they're moderates by self proclamation so let's leave it at that.

6. The negative opposition: this is where most of the opposition societies and human rights activists fall. They are the puppet masters behind the movement and have launched a full-fledged cold war against the government with the sole aim of seeing it removed from power. Their war is made up mostly of negative publicity and economic destruction and they will lie through their teeth to achieve their objective.

7. The destructive opposition: this is the rogue group thought at first to be the small fraction that has hijacked the original protests and caused all the violence at the beginning. But now we see that it is a disease that has spread throughout the opposition villages causing daily destruction and violence against property, civilians and police. They often come out at night masked and hardly clothed. They burn tires and blow up gas cylinders and throw bricks at policemen. They graffiti property and burn schools and run over policemen with their cars. These people have completely lost their sense of purpose and have taken the streets as their home and have become immune to tear gas.

So with this 7-point scale If each person in Bahrain assesses him/herself according to their "school of thought" what will the demographics of this conflict look like? What if instead of Sunni/Shia statistics, we could fall under one of these categories and see who "wins" the numbers game? Obviously the answer is NOBODY.

Loyalists have turned against each other and have lost sight of the big picture. Where the ultimate objective of the loyalists or "pro-govs" as we are often called was to restore confidence and stability to Bahrain and basically bring it back to the peaceful and quiet island it always was, the groupings have obstructed their visions and different groups started having different objectives. The focus has completely been lost and instead of all of us pulling into the same direction, we started pulling in different directions and as a result weakening our position in the eyes of the world.

All the while, and even though the opposition has also broken up into different categories, they are still aligned in their goals. They still know what they want and they are using each others strengths to achieve it. Their messages to the world have been consistent and they have never lost sight of the ends they have been trying to reach however much they may disagree with the means.

Dear categories 1 to 3 and even 4: our cause is a good one. We are the non-violent peaceful parties, we keep our neighborhoods clean and our walls free of graffiti and our tires on our cars instead of burning in the middle of some road. We never hit anyone with Molotov cocktails or bricks and we certainly didn't lay down any metal rods and spikes and spilled oil on roads to cause harm to others. We did not lie or distort facts or kill each other to prove our point. We didn't plot for coup attempts for decades and we did not commit 1000 legal and social violations like stop teaching our kids or leave our patients to go out to protest or turn our schools into political arenas and we certainly didn't set out to cause major material harm to Bahrain's economy.

It's time to realign and refocus and be more consistent. It is time for people all over the world to remember the newly awakened Giant and the force behind the number. The Gathering Of National Unity is more than just Sh. Abdullatif Al Mahmood or a name registered now as a political society. It is what brought us together and put our voices out there in the first place and the spirit is what needs to be kept alive.

And I pray for the day when 1 to 7 become ONE...