August 14th, 2013 is expected to be a significant date in Bahrain. The opposition is planning a day of mass protest and civil disobedience under the banner "Bahrain Tamarrod" (Rebellion). Meanwhile, the government is implementing harsh new security measures and partaking in a preemptive crackdown. This page offers a brief background to the current situation in Bahrain and brief guide to August 14th in the form of an FAQ.
Bahrain has been in a state of crisis since early 2011. A popular and peaceful uprising began in February that year. Bahraini citizens demonstrated for full democratic rights, alongside demands for greater socio-economic justice, respect for human rights, land reform and an end to public sector corruption and state-sanctioned discrimination in employment. These demands were ultimately met with a brutal government crackdown. Following a declaration of Martial Law, dozens of citizens were killed and hundreds were arrested, tortured and sentenced before military courts, including doctors who had treated injured protesters. As well as this, opposition places of worship were destroyed, thousands of workers were sacked and state controlled media was used to incite sectarian hatred.
Responding to international pressure, the Bahrain government established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The BICI report was published in November 2011. It documented gross human rights violations, including the systematic use of torture, and found that security forces operated under a “culture of impunity”. The Bahrain government pledged to follow the recommendations of the report and reform itself accordingly. However, rather than reform, further repression has followed. Torture persists, leading human rights defenders and leaders remain behind bars and there has been scant accountability for the heinous crimes committed in 2011, let alone subsequently. In spite of this, protests demanding democracy, self-determination and human rights have continued on a daily basis.
For more on the background to the current crisis, see this recent briefing, or the reports cited at the bottom of the page.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the Bahrain Tamarrod movement?
Inspired by the scale and momentum of the Tamarrod movement in Egypt, activists began discussing the idea of a similar campaign in Bahrain. Several Twitter accounts were created to spread the idea. On July 4th, a new Facebook page posted a statement in both Arabic and English calling for mass action on August 14th and the building of an inclusive movement in the weeks before. It read in part:
The 14th of August is a day for all Bahraini’s. It is the day of independence from being a protectorate and from exploitation by the British. This independence will remain incomplete if the people are not the basis of governance and do not have the right to self-determination.
Take each other by the hand, village to village, city to city, Sunni’s and Shia’s; with all factions of this country; beat as one heart on the 14th of August and say “NO”. The future of this country and it’s children depend on your courage; raise your voices because if you lose your voice; you lose your children’s rights to a country that respects and guarantees their rights and dignity. Let us prove that the people of Bahrain are steadfast in their struggle, fixated on their principles, and continuing on the path to freedom and dignity.
The statement was spread on social media and the basic idea gained support across opposition societies and groups, inclusive of both reformist and radical perspectives. However, there was some confusion over the ownership of the Facebook page (which ceased posting on July 7th) and the different Twitter accounts advancing similar messages. Groups began organising at a grassroots level over the following days and weeks, with no singular group having ownership of the idea. Whilst there are different strategies and aspirations for Bahrain Tamarrod, the seed for mass action on August 14th has been firmly sown throughout the opposition.
2. Why August 14th?
Bahrain gained its independence from Britain on August 14th, 1971. Whilst the vast majority of countries celebrate their Independence Day, the Bahrain government and its ruling family do not. Instead, they celebrate "National Day" on December 16th, which is when the current Kings father took the throne in 1961. King Hamad recently said that his father responded to the news of British withdrawal by saying: "Why? No one asked you to go!"
August 14th has thus long been a day of opposition protest to renew demands for genuine independence and self-determination.
3. How has the government responded?
As Bahrain Tamarrod gained momentum, the government began to voice its disapproval. On July 14th, following the weekly Cabinet meeting, the Government's Official Spokesperson Sameera Rajab said, "There will be legal action against those who participate in the so-called ‘Tamarrod’ [Rebellion] movement." This signaled the start of a pre-emptive crackdown.
On July 17th, a car bomb was set off in Riffa, in the car park of a Sunni mosque, near royal palaces. There were no injuries. The attack, caused by the explosion of a gas cylinder, was broadly condemned by all sides. A splinter group called Al Ashtar Brigades claimed responsibility, although some opposition figures accused the government of being responsible. The incident resulted in calls by government supporters for tougher methods against the opposition. These calls came alongside a renewed crackdown by security forces. In the five days following the explosion, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) documented "60 cases of illegal arrests, 140 shotgun injuries, and over 150 house raids". BCHR also raised concern that "the authorities are using the incident to incite and promote sectarian hatred and violence". In the same period, it documented 5 instances where Shi'a "mosques and places of worship were attacked and vandalized".
On July 25th, Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Dhahrani, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, wrote to King Hamad requesting that the National Assembly be recalled to hold an extraordinary session "to discuss toughening penalties [...] with respect to protection of the Community against terrorist acts". The request was granted and the session was held on Sunday, July 28th. The National Assembly made a series of recommendations relating to national security. The recommendations were quickly condemned by local and international NGOs as violating human rights and giving legal cover to further repression. The BBC wrote: “The recommendations if implemented in full would effectively return the country to a state of martial law.” (See separate entry for more on the recommendations.)
On July 29th, King Hamad wrote to the Prime Minister, his uncle who has held the post for over 40 years. The King reportedly called for “essential speedy implementation of these recommendations”. The Prime Minister then directed “all ministries and concerned departments” start working on their implementation. He then chaired an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet, who claimed that the recommendations would “inaugurate a new era of security, stability and safety in Bahrain.” The recommendations then began to be implemented rapidly (see separate entry) leading the UN Human Rights Council to voice its concern. Increased house raids and arrests also followed, with citizen journalists particularly targeted. The lawyer of one blogger and media fixer was himself arrested, after tweeting that he had seen marks of torture on his client. On August 7th, the King issued a new decree banning demonstrations in the capital Manama and introducing penalties for parents of children who participate in protests.
Recent human rights reports on Bahrain
Human Rights Watch (June 2013): “Interfere, Restrict, Control”: Restraints on Freedom of Association in Bahrain
REDRESS & IRCTV (April 2013): Bahrain: Fundamental reform or torture without end?
Amnesty International (February 2013): Freedom Has a Price: Two Years After Bahrain's Uprising
US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Country Report for Human Rights Practices in 2012 (Bahrain)
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: 2012 International Religious Freedom Report (Bahrain)