On August 14, the Kingdom of Bahrain celebrates the anniversary of its independence from Britain in 1971. This date, however, also marks two and a half years since the beginning of massive protests in February 2011. Many Bahrainis still do not feel free, as they are forced to fight for human rights and democracy against their own ruling elite, who have labeled them terrorists. Peaceful demonstrations held in Bahrain Wednesday were called Bahrain Tamarod (Bahrain Rebellion), and were first announced on July 4 of this year and advertised through social media.
A preemptive crackdown in Bahrain against planned Tamarod protests grew into a series of controversial events in which both the government and the opposition accused each other of inciting hatred inside the country and conducting subversive activities. Pressure has been building up as the government tightened anti-terrorism legislation to prevent protests. The National Assembly issued directives that could easily target any protesters who authorities simply claim are terrorists, such as revoking the citizenship of protesters or their fathers if the protester is underage, and banning all sit-ins and gatherings . Besides, several people were arrested in the run-up to the demonstration and the acting president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Maryam Al-Khawaja, was prevented from entering the country. Although the UN voiced its concerns over such measures, they are still in place and will probably be used in trials against those who were detained on Wednesday.
The opposition points out that the August 14 demonstrations were always meant to be peaceful. But still many shopkeepers decided to close their businesses voluntarily, and many streets in towns were blocked by the police. At the same time the Ministry of Communications is making an effort to show that nothing at all is happening in Bahrain by excessively posting on its official Instagram account pictures of the prime minister visiting a local mall and videos of peaceful streets of Manama, the capital.
But there is a different side to these protests, which I discovered while following the news from Bahrain. There are citizens who support the government in its crackdown against the Shia opposition. I had a chance to talk with several ordinary Bahrainis who resent the protests. All of them asked me not to give links to their profiles on Facebook and Twitter and all of them were afraid that using their names publicly would cause a violent backlash from the protesters. As I am writing this article some of those accounts on Twitter have been suspended. I'm left wondering whether those Bahrainis I spoke to were real people or, as the opposition claims, they were accounts made by the authorities to balance anti-governmental rhetoric in social media. Indeed, the government has a record of setting up fake accounts to instigate tensions and then blame the opposition for it.
The data provided by the Bahraini opposition states that over 60 towns and villages participated in peaceful protests with approximately 500 to 1000 participants in each. Pro-governmental sources, however, claim that protests were sporadic and poorly attended.
The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights kept track of events in the towns of Bahrain, and documented 18 arrests and dozens of injuries. This probably means that although it was successful in encouraging people to demand equal rights for everyone, the opposition, has failed to turn the protests into a mass movement that would force the government to change its policies. Bahrain Tamarod was scarcely covered in the world media, especially because of the events taking place in Egypt on the same day, and this means that the government has achieved its goal: It contained protests within the country and will be able to deal with them quickly and violently, with limited criticism from the world community.