Following the successful ousting of the tyrannical leaders in Tunisia and Egypt I became aware that the Khalifa regime had offered each family in Bahrain 1,000 dinars (approximately $US 2,500) to “reflect HM the King’s keenness to improve citizens’ life” (sic). [You can read an article about it here.] The timing of this unusual gesture left no thinking person in doubt that it was, quite obviously, a bribe designed to prevent any unrest or, as some call it, “hush money”. It also served the purpose of creating yet another potential wedge between the regime and the oppressed population should they refuse such a “generous offer”, which they quite rightly did. I remember being stunned when I learnt this information and was amazed at how such an obvious bribe was even attempted in the first place. To assume that the oppressed families would not immediately recognise the motives of such an outrageous offer was such an insult to their intelligence and highlighted to me exactly how the government viewed the majority of its own citizens: a group of low-intellect people who could simply be paid to shut up.
The brutal Pearl Roundabout clearance of February 17th served to confirm exactly the Khalifa regime’s attitude towards their “opposition”. I had received a small taste three days earlier on the 14th when I saw the small group near Dana Mall teargassed and dispersed but at the time I did not recognise exactly what had happened. On reflection it was quite clear just exactly how the police’s superiors felt about any form of protest: that it needed to be subdued as quickly as possible and therefore any form of criticism (in the form of freedom of speech) of the regime was not to be tolerated. I also heard, for the first time, examples of “hate speech” directed at the protesters from fellow residents at Abraj Al Lulu, which left me rather disgusted. Comments such as, “It’s the only language they understand” (being teargassed and beaten) and “You just can’t talk to these people” (these people!) left me in doubt how regime loyalists felt about the protesters. I had never experienced it during my time in Bahrain but now I knew that there were two distinct groups of people.
One only had to look at the disgraceful events that occurred at the Salmaniya Medical Centre to truly comprehend the level of hatred that bubbled to the surface during the days following the roundabout clearance and how one group of Bahrainis felt about the other. The Salmaniya Medical Centre was the nearest large hospital to the Pearl Roundabout and so the large numbers of injured were ferried there on the 17th February. There was an incredible and seemingly endless arrival of battered and severely injured protesters taken there and the hospital quickly filled with them while their concerned families began arriving and gathering in the forecourt outside. With so many injured protesters the whole area in front of the Accident & Emergency entrance was soon packed with relatives, most of whom stayed to wait for news and to try to visit their injured loved ones. In the subsequent days the Salmaniya Medical Centre became a meeting place and a centre where relatives and protesters could gather, now that the Pearl Roundabout had been taken over by police and the military.
[Incidentally, one of the reasons given by the government for clearing the roundabout was that the gathering of people and the tent city there had blocked traffic, causing a disruption to business in the area. I was very interested to see from my vantage point at Abraj Al Lulu that once the protesters had left the roundabout the security forces replaced them, also completely blocking the streets and not allowing traffic into the area. Apparently this courageous action magically brought the level of business back into the area. The blocking of the traffic by the security forces must have been extremely effective because the whole area is still off-limits to traffic today.]
[Part of the crowds at night at the hospital]
Obviously the government were not happy that a hospital had now become the new centre for protests (speeched were made outside the Accident & Emergency section, as well as chanting, etc) and so the hospital was also eventually cleared by the security personnel in the same heavy-handed way. There was no doubt that the government wanted the staff of the hospital to be made examples of to (a) show that the government did not tolerate protesters gathering anywhere, especially at a hospital and (b) to obviously deter any further gatherings anywhere else. For this the medical staff paid a huge and totally unfair price. In order to punish those who happened to be carrying out their duties at the time (i.e trying to treat injured Bahrainis and saving lives) the medical staff were immediately accused of siding with the protesters and therefore (quite illogically) calling for the downfall of the Khalifa regime. In addition to this, the medical staff were accused of favouring the protesters by treating them and leaving the government loyalist patients at the hospital unattended, which is an insulting accusation to make about the commitment to their profession. For anyone to even remotely believe that a medical professional who has taken the Hippocratic Oath would intentionally ignore any patient at the expense of others simply beggars belief. And yet this is what the government accusations were based on and, even more unbelievably, totally supported by their loyalist followers.
But it didn’t stop there. Not content with their work-related accusations, the government also claimed that the doctors organised the storage of weapons at the hospital (most notably guns, knives and swords) to use to fight against any pro-government attackers. The mental picture of doctors arriving at hospital each day carrying their medical case in one hand and an AK-47 in the other is just to ridiculous to entertain – but the accusations were made and once again believed and supported by the loyalists. Amid all this ludicrousness a video was shown by the loyalists which, according to them, once-and-for-all proved that the Salmaniya Medical Centre was the new base for protester terrorists, vindicating the accusations made early. It shows very blurry footage of a few men of apparently sub-continental appearance being led into the complex with their hands bound behind them. On first viewing it does appear that these seemingly innocent-looking expat workers are being taken into the complex against their will but once again the government and, as always, their band of loyalists twisted the facts to suit their own needs. It turns out that the bound men were plainclothed members of the security forces who had been involved in attacks in one of the villages. They had been apprehended by a group of protesters and restrained. They had been injured in the struggle (obviously only slightly as they were able to walk into the hospital unaided) and then taken there for treatment. Another video was made, this time by the protester group, showing the ID cards of the captured men and that they did indeed work for the Ministry of Interior. If the protesters were so keen to kidnap these men, why take them to a public hospital? Why not keep them in a private residence where their “evil terrorist captors” could do whatever they liked to them? The government milked this information for all it was worth and used it as a major plank in the prosecution of the medical staff.
My wife and I actually visited Salmaniya Medical Centre during the days following the roundabout clearance. I found out on Facebook that there was a shortage of blood at the hospital and I had been a regular blood donor in Australia so I had no hesitation in offering mine. I was very pleased when my wife readily agreed to join me but by the time we found the correct area of the hospital in which to donate we were told that they now had enough. It was another fascinating event for both us of, visiting the hospital on that day. We saw first hand the amount of people there, the large number of women, the obvious feeling of outrage that their loved ones were inside badly injured but still an overwhelming feeling of a civil, dignified and restrained group of people. Yes, they were unhappy but my wife and I moved among them easily and we did not experience any fear. Nor did we see any evidence of weapons.
In the days and months following our visit to Salmaniya Medical Centre more wild accusations about the protesters surfaced and the discrimination between the protesters and the loyalists became more and more apparent to us.
Next blog: More layers of ugliness come to the surface