Part 4: Back to Bahrain and goodbye

I arrived back in Bahrain on the 2nd of April after what should have been a pleasant stay in Bangkok with my wife. I found it difficult to relax with my thoughts focused on what would happen to the protesters at Pearl Roundabout after the King had asked for help, requesting the use of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) troops to obviously control the situation with force. The GCC was set up to defend against external threats but was now being deployed against Bahrain’s own unarmed civilians, and the roundabout was cleared again while I was away.

While I was in Bangkok I learnt that the wonderful Pearl Monument had been demolished. I found this very difficult to understand but it only confirmed the Khalifa regime’s determination to remove all traces of the peaceful protests that had occurred there. State television said the area needed to be ‘cleansed’ and the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, said the demolition was “a removal of a bad memory”.

 

 

I felt a huge sense of loss when I drove my car towards Abraj Al Lulu and found there was no Lulu anymore. I had been told that when the monument was contructed in 1982 (for the 3rd summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council held in Bahrain) it was the tallest structure in the country at the time. It had since been dwarfed by several nearby apartment buildings but it was no less significant or impressive. Now it was gone.

The Polytechnic started up again following the break due to the “social unrest” and there was another full meeting of staff. We learnt that the Polytechnic, formerly under the guidance of the Economic Development Board was now to be a part of the Ministry of Education. A “deputy CEO” had been appointed from the Ministry, Dr Mohammed Ebrahim Al Aseeri (who was not present at the meeting), whose role was to liaise with the Minister in Arabic so that the Minister could answer questions about the Polytechnic in parliament. In stark contrast to his statement of neutrality in February, John Scott then announced that the Polytechnic was now part of the government and that we should be seen to support the government. “Like hell I will”, I said to myself. One of my colleagues summed up the situation perfectly when he said, “He’s been nobbled”. [Verb: Try to influence or thwart (someone or something) by underhanded or unfair methods: “an attempt to nobble the jury”.] Finally, John informed us that all staff and students would be “investigated” for participation in any of the recent demonstrations just as soon as the investigations had been completed at the University of Bahrain.

I resumed my teaching at the Polytechnic, devoting my time to squeezing my English course into the time that remained in the semester. My students had been given the option of morning or afternoon classes and had used this opportunity to form themselves mainly into a morning pro-government group and an afternoon pro-democracy group. Now the tables had been turned and my morning class was upbeat and smiling, whereas my afternoon class was quiet but determined. I still tried (as always) to teach without any favouritism or discrimination but the overwhelming arrogance of my morning class made it quite difficult for me. The students did not seem interested, some arriving very late, some not even bringing paper or pen, some simply operating their mobile phones for the duration of the lesson. I never mentioned what had happened outside the Polytechnic to them but I feel that many of the students were aware of my feelings and had simply dismissed me. I now feel that some of them were struggling as much as I was with their own inner conflict of appearing to support the government but secretly questioning what had taken place.

In May the investigations started as promised and the mood of the Polytechnic was difficult to explain. We learnt that Bahraini staff had been identified from photographs as having attended protests and were singled out for investigation. One of the non-teaching staff was arrested and severely beaten but was able to resume work. I have since learnt that Facebook pages were expressly set up displaying photographs taken at demonstrations, asking for pro-government supporters to identify the circled faces so that they could be identified, traced and arrested. One of my former students told me his terrifying story: he was called to the administration building at the Polytechnic and he, with five other students, was taken to the nearby military building where they were all put in a room. They stayed in there all night and were interrogated the next morning. My student was very fortunate as he had been confused with another young man with a similar name and was allowed to leave. Three of the youths (students from the University of Bahrain) were handcuffed, hoods were placed over their heads and they were taken away on a bus, never to be seen again.

I was finding it more and more difficult coping at this time but I tried not to think to much about what might happen to me, which was not easy. I tried to be positive and reassured myself that I had not taken part in any protests and therefore was safe. My videos from February had been dealt with by the “security staff” at my apartment and so I felt safe about them. I know I had made comments to my “friends” on Facebook but they were not critical of the ruling family or the government, simply trying to correct wrong and misleading information. I did not know what the future held at the Polytechnic for me and I did not know if I could continue working for a government that resorted to unlawful arrests, torture and now identification from social networking.

Students had now started to be expelled, including one from my afternoon class. Again, my morning class were as happy as usual, totally unaffected by what was now happening at the Polytechnic and in Bahrain. Understandably, my afternoon class was very upset and worried and I tried to give them as much leeway as I could to cope with everything. Some of my afternoon students came from villages that were now being raided by police, arresting suspects and damaging property. They bravely came to class, passing through checkpoints and still continued to work hard. I found their courage very inspiring.

With every passing day that I was at the Polytechnic I was expecting to be asked to appear at an interview with the investigating committee that had been set up by the deputy CEO. And with every passing day that I wasn’t asked I felt that maybe I had flown under their radar and escaped detection. It was a stressful time and I can remember being on edge and not being able to sleep well at home. Sure enough, I received a text message on my mobile phone while I was in class asking me to visit the Director of Human Resources in the CEO’s office.

The meeting was direct and to the point. The Ministry of Education knew all about me, knew all about my videos and my comments on Facebook. It turns out that my “friends” had kept copies of my comments and these were presented to me, although none of them could seriously be used to show that I had been critical of the government in any way. I knew that my number was up and there was nothing I could do. To his credit, John Scott had insisted that I not front the other investigative committee as I was the only expat under investigation. I told him that I did not hold him responsible for what was taking place in any way, for which he thanked me. It was also obvious that the Ministry wanted me out immediately (as had happened to the students) but John said he would try to see if he could arrange for me to finish up later. I appreciated this as I needed to assess my students before their classes finished in four weeks. We later agreed that I could finish on 30th June, which would also give me time to sell my car and arrange to pack and send all our belongings to Thailand. I was asked to please stop making any comments at all on Facebook, to which I agreed. I did not want the Polytechnic or anyone from management to get into trouble by anything I did because they had all treated me so well in the past.

I remember walking back to my office with very mixed thoughts. I had been sacked from my job, not because of my teaching ability or for any normal disciplinary reason, but because I had taken videos and made comments on Facebook. I now had to think of my future after June 30th, look for a new job somewhere and tell my wife that we had to leave our beautiful apartment and the life we enjoyed together in Bahrain. On the other hand, I felt a huge sense of relief that I had been freed from having to work for the Bahraini government and that I would no longer have any association with them whatsoever.

I would like to take this opportunity to mention the expat staff who remain at the Polytechnic and my feelings towards them. I do not want anyone to assume that I look at them differently simply because they continue to work there. Their reasons for being there are private and to be respected and if there is anything I have learnt from my experiences this year in Bahrain it is that personal feelings and decisions should be respected. I am still good friends with many of them.

In the weeks following my dismissal I still monitored Facebook, mainly to try to keep track of the students that had been expelled as I was appalled to learn that many outstanding young Bahrainis and student leaders of the Polytechnic had been ordered to leave. It was during this time that several comments appeared criticising John Scott for being personally responsible for the expulsions and for going back on his word of the Polytechnic being neutral. I felt I could not allow this to happen as I knew John’s authority had been diminished by the intervention of the Ministry and that he truly had the students’ best interests at heart at all times. So I posted what I thought was an innocent comment: “I will tell you more about this after June 30th”. Bad move, Tony.

The next morning, June 14th, I was called to the HR Director’s office (John Scott was on leave) and told that my Facebook post had been brought to the Minister of Education’s attention (no doubt by one of my Facebook “friends”) and that he was “up in arms about it”. I know that he would have been more upset with the Polytechnic for not controlling me but nevertheless he demanded that I leave immediately. This meant I could not assess my students but thankfully that was done later by two very capable tutors. So I packed up my belongings, copied all my files from my Polytechnic laptop to my external hard drive and gave the laptop back. The Polytechnic had already booked flights to Thailand for my wife and I for July 1st and I was asked if I wanted them to change the tickets.

[My letter of termination of contract – click to enlarge ]

I didn’t want to cause a fuss and I felt the extra two weeks would give us more time to pack, sell the car, say our goodbyes and leave. The HR staff I was with at the time all looked at each other nervously and I was advised to think seriously about leaving the country as soon as possible. I didn’t like the sound of that. Was I that much of a threat to the government? It was unnerving but it showed me just how paranoid those in the government had become and how determined they were to eradicate all opposition to their practices.

My wife and I flew out from Bahrain on June 23rd. We frantically managed to send all our possessions safely to Thailand and I managed to sell my car (with the wonderful assistance of my former student, the one who was arrested) but at least we had possessions and my car had not been smashed up, as was happening in many villages at the time. On the Etihad flight I had time to reflect on my three years in Bahrain, what I had experienced and what I had achieved. I also wondered what would happen to the amazing country and the brave people I was leaving behind.

Next blog: My thoughts on Bahrain during my time there.

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17 comments on “Part 4: Back to Bahrain and goodbye
  1. Michael Steiner says:

    Several thoughts, Tony. Let me start with the bad:
    * Regardless of which country you’re in, you–as a faculty member–do not befriend your current students on Facebook, Twitter and similar public services, period. Forget politics; it just LOOKS bad and could be used against you (accusations of favoritism by a disgruntled student, say). A Facebook profile is still regarded as a private, personal contact interface, and current students should not have access to it, any more than they should have your private telephone number.
    * If you have any sense, you do NOT post anything in a public forum that could in any way, at anytime, through anyone, come to bite you in the ass. Even before 2/14 Bahrain was a polarized country (which I’m surprised you didn’t learn within weeks of arriving there, especially seeing as you lived near Burhama and Sanabis). To make ANY kind of comment on the Pearl Square situation to people about whose loyalties you were not absolutely sure was extremely imprudent.
    * Bahrain is a police state. All G.C.C. states are. The freedoms taken for granted in Australia are all curtailed to a greater or lesser extent in the entire bloc. Bahrain has a long history of sectarian unrest, and it has a well developed security apparatus. I am, again, surprised you were seemingly unaware of that.

    Having said all the above, I thank you for your account of the events. What the Khalife regime did and is doing is utterly reprehensible and often simply subhuman. All those people want is to be free to elect those who affect their lives; that is not any sort of crime. They should look at Kuwait where the Sunnis and Shias live without any problems or discrimination; the Sabahs are obviously doing it right.

    The pro-democracy protestors should take heart from the fact that there is not a single oppressive regime that survived indefinitely. They can get the entire Saudi army there, they can hire as many Pakistani and Syrian mercenaries, they can import as many Jordanian and Yemeni Sunnis as they like; ultimately, if you do not have the support of the people, you are going to fall.

    Shalom,
    Michael

    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for reading my blog and thanks for your comments, I do appreciate them. I once shared your view about communicating with students off campus but I found Facebook an ideal medium for not only passing on important information but also allowing my students to practice their English skills. At the Polytechnic there were many tutors who gave their mobile numbers to their students and there were never any problems. It was not a question of befriending them so much (we were already friendly in class) but just as a convenient means of communication. I neglected to mention that a group of my students even created a “Tony Mitchell” Facebook group where we could chat and discuss English topics, again with no problems.
      The comments I posted in Facebook were worded in a way that I hoped would not bite my bottom later but it was simply my contradictory position that caused problems. Besides, as I said, my videos had singled me out beforehand. In hindsight, sure, I should have kept my trap shut but I couldn’t stand the rubbish that was being spread. I don’t regret any of it, by the way.
      You are quite right about Bahrain being a police state and I must admit that I did not think it was THAT bad, even after having lived there for two and a half years when all the trouble kicked off. I guess I was fooled into thinking that Bahrain was more civilised than it really is. I know better now!
      The Khalifa regime in Bahrain only has the support of 30% of its people so I hope to see it fail soon!
      cheers,
      Tony

      • Jan Ryan says:

        Hi
        I worked with Tony and my immediate response was the same: no corresponding with the students. This was so ingrained that I almost didn’t listen to the niggling little voice that told me something was wrong with my reaction. I actually looked up the constitution and the UNESCO resolutions and realised that the Bahrain government was completely ignoring the commitments they made to free speech.
        Sorry – but there comes a point when a teacher has to take sides. I’m pretty sure the wrongful dismissal of students was it. Look what happens when no-one says anything. I waited to resign before speaking up but I now think that if all of us had spoken up things might have turned out quite differently for the students – and Bahrain.
        Onya Tony!

  2. Michael Steiner says:

    Hey Tony and thanks for the reply.

    I didn’t realize it was an “official,” rather than your private page on Facebook, but still… Facebook is convenient, I agree, but I don’t think it has reached that level of acceptability as a medium of communication with students. I’d keep my communication limited to the official telephone and university email system. A word to the wise, s’all…

    Frankly, I DON’T think you should’ve kept your mouth shut. Though I was no longer in Bahrain when it started going down, I know I definitely would have spoken out even if I had still been there. You have nothing to regret; if anything, I admire your moderation, because I would have let it rip in the classroom and outside, and to hell with the repercussions.

    I’ll never forget the video showing Khalifa’s mercenary thugs opening fire with live ammo at unarmed protestors marching to Lulu. (You mention that day in Part II, if I remember correctly.) They were chanting “Salmiya, salmiya!” and waving Bahraini flags… – obviously all terrorists and Iranian agents *groan* That video changed everything for me. I didn’t care what the “ruling” family did after that point; they all have to go.

    Anyway, thanks again for your compelling account, and I join you in hoping the majority of the people of Bahrain see a better future soon.

    All the best,
    Michael

  3. LizardoBah says:

    Thank U Dr. Tony for being such a brave man, I work with an American firm in Bahrain and understands how difficult it is to raise your voice when u an expat.

  4. ABDUL AZIZ says:

    Thank you , people of BAHRAIN will not forget how brave man you are and your wife , please keep telling the world about your story and we really in BAHRAIN need your support.

  5. Ahmed says:

    Dr. Tony

    Saying thank you would not be enough, I am really out of words for what you faced to raise an important part of our revolution tragedy. Which harmed you personally and that is what we call it humanity unlike some other expats that got themselves on Bahrain TV telling lies to all the world about what was happening and still happening in Bahrain. I am as a Bahraini promise you once we rule our country in a democratic way I will make sure to invite you back to Bahrain and to make sure you work here in our country and between your second family.

    Dr. Tony am not sure how long I will be alive in this country specially that I have been shot several time, but since am still alive here I would like proudly to say thank you for you humanity thank you for being a good honest man who could not sell himself, and thanks for your sacrifice for us we will never forget this.

    • Ahmed, your comment is moving. Your country is suffering and those who lie are burying their heads in the sand. Denial cannot help. All the lies are harming Bahrain. Sitting here in the UK, I feel helpless and frustrated. I tweet, I write emails to Tear Gas firms, politicians and Amnesty. Yesterday 15th Dec was a terrible day; Zainab Al-khawaja was arrested, abused and shortly after that another young martyr gave his life. I am not surprised the regime ignored BICI. I hope UN act soon to bring what you deserve; self determination, democracy and all your rights.

  6. caterisparibus says:

    Thank you for a very well-written account, Tony.
    Many years ago I spent a good part of my life in Bahrain and my fondness for the people and country have not deserted me.
    I have been deeply saddened to see how the events there played out and are still playing out. Sad for the people there who are only seeking a voice. No one should be shot and/or tortured for that.
    Insh’allah the lies will end, the truth will prevail, and people will be free some day to live in peace. We can only hope.
    I hope things are working out for you in Thailand – despite the awful flooding this year.
    Best regards,

    • Many thanks caterisparibus and I’m glad you liked reading my humble posts. I am very optimistic that true democracy will be a part of Bahrain soon and the majority of the people will no longer be living in fear and persecution.
      The floods here in Thailand are slowly evaporating but the damage will take a lot longer to repair. The Thai people will continue to smile and get on with their lives, don’t worry.
      cheers,
      Tony

  7. Dark Magician says:

    wish i could openly express my feeling to you kind sir and wish i knew u in person but all i could say is that i would have been in ur evening badge and say ‘Thank You & God Bless’ -_-

  8. Rox says:

    Mr.Tony, your words have brought me to tears, and I only wish more people would speak up about this matter and not be afraid of what could happen to them. I hope the people that read your blog are encouraged by seeing how the Bahraini youth are facing this regime, holding their country’s flag, chanting on the streets and ready to die for their people’s freedom.

    These people deserve the support of the people who already possess their freedom of expression. I thank you for your courage, humanity, compassion and the respect you have shown us. You may not believe this, but you are seen as a hero in our eyes as it only takes a true man to stand up for another country’s people and sacrificing your personal interest for it. Words cannot express how I feel about the stand you took for us.
    Don’t give up on us, because we are not giving up!!

    I pray for the day we meet again.

    • Hello Rox,
      There is NO WAY I will ever be giving up on Bahrain and the peaceful protesters, don’t you worry about that!
      Thanks so much for your support but please don’t think of me as a hero – I’m just a normal guy who witnessed something very wrong and had to do something about it, that’s all.
      As I’ve told others, we’ll meet up again at Lulu Plaza for the huge Democracy Party – soon!

    • Rox, Tony’s words are being spread on Twitter; the world KNOWS the truth. One day, eventually, king Hamad, the PM and the torturers in the regime will stand trial, hopefully at ICC.

  9. Hussain Lover says:

    Thank you too much from one the 3 students that been arrested that day ….

  10. I like the valuable information you provide
    in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I will learn lots of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

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