David Cameron brushed off calls to condemn the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix today. “Bahrain is not Syria,” he declared. “There is a process of reform underway.”
These words will ring hollow with Maryam Alkhawaja, an activist with the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
Her father Abdulhadi Alkhawaja has been imprisoned by the Bahrain regime and has been on hunger strike for more than ten weeks.
“People are angry,” she told Socialist Worker. “They see right through the empty promises the king keeps making about reform. They know that they’re not true.”
Just as in Syria, the protest movement in Bahrain started by demanding the delivery of promised reforms—only to be met by brutal repression.
“In 2001 the king promised a constitutional monarchy, a real parliament and more representation in government—almost all the same promises he made again this year,” said Maryam. “Then in 2002 he changed the constitution to make himself the head of an authoritarian regime.”
The massacre of democracy protesters at Pearl Roundabout in February last year changed the nature of the movement’s demands, she adds. Protesters who had been calling for constitutional reforms were now calling for the fall of the regime.
“People saw that coming out and asking for reforms meant they would be shot at and killed in the streets. A regime that won’t even let us demand it keeps the promises it made ten years ago isn’t a regime that should stay—it’s a regime that should go.”
The real difference between Bahrain and Syria is that the West backs Bahrain’s brutal dictatorship. John Yates, the disgraced former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is now working as a security advisor to the regime.
“Yates said yesterday that police would use live rounds if necessary,” said Maryam. “I think that says a lot about the role he’s playing.
“Bahrain’s closest allies are the US and Britain. The same countries that are criticising Russia for selling arms to Syria are selling arms to Bahrain.
“Formula 1 is salt in our wounds. They’re sending a message of business as usual in a situation where people are still being killed and beaten on the streets every day. We’ve had more than a hundred protesters arrested in just the last few days.”
Meanwhile the situation is becoming critical for Maryam’s father Abdulhadi, a longstanding democracy activist and thorn in the side of the Bahraini regime.
Maryam told Socialist Worker, “He called my mother today. She said he sounded very weak and had difficulty breathing. We’re running out of time—we could lose him any day now.
“If he gets out my father will be walking proof of the kind of torture that goes on inside Bahrain’s prisons. He was one of the most severe torture cases. And the regime knows that my father is the kind that speaks out.”
Despite everything Maryam remains inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. “I don’t think people are going to stop demanding justice,” she said. “Change will come in Bahrain. But it’s going to be a long and bloody path before we get there.”