On 14 February 2011, thousands of Bahraini citizens joined together in order to peacefully challenge deeply-rooted political and societal issues. On the heels of similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt, young Bahrainis used social media to unite protesters across the country in an uprising that would come to embody the political climate for years to come. While the protesters remained peaceful in their actions and resolute in their aims, security force responses were aggressive and severe. One protester was killed, while dozens of others were injured.
On the eve of the 5th anniversary, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain asked several activists to reflect on the events that have shaped the current political climate in Bahrain. Their words are indicative of the harmonious future they aim to achieve and the peaceful methods through which they intend to achieve it.
What does 14 February Represent?
14 February is the day when all Bahraini people agreed on the same demands. It is a special day, not only in Bahrain but compared to all other revolutions, because it was and will remain peaceful.
It’s a quantum leap for Bahrain. Following 14 February 2011, a more mindful generation emerged. In the past, only those who studied law and read the constitution learnt what their rights are. However, after 2011 revolution, everybody knows their rights and fights for them.
14 February was a great day not only in Bahrain’s history but in the Gulf region, as well. All Bahrainis gathered in one place, having one goal, which was to protest against injustice and corruption. It was a beautiful day, we were one hand: Sunni and Shia. Everybody desired change. The thing that was the most impressive for all, including the regime, was the peacefulness of the revolution and diversity of participants. I believe Bahraini people proved that they’re civilized, peaceful, and creative in expressing their views, despite all the injustice and corruption. We take pride in this as Bahrainis. When security forces pulled out, young Bahrainis took upon themselves responsibility for the traffic and place. We didn’t hear or see any accidents or traffic jams.
On the other hand, it was the day that we breathed freedom. We understood the value and meaning of free expression without fear or restrictions. 14 February gave us the chance to dream of the day when this freedom will be our daily reality. The situation today is complex, however, the memories of that day renew our steadfastness every year, and remind us that after the great price we paid in blood, we cannot ever retreat.
It was the happiest day of my life. I’m extremely happy that I was part of this historic day which will be taught in history books to our children and grandchildren. 14 February was the beginning of a peaceful, civilized, popular revolution and the start of this generation’s path to freedom.
People had been dissenting for years, but they and their families were under constant attack. Protests were only in certain areas by some families and figures. Following the events of 14 February, the security crackdown and the hateful sectarian discrimination, an awareness erupted among Bahrainis. Unintentionally, the government created a deep awareness and sense of curiosity among youths. In short, this day is a changing point in our lives and in Bahrain’s history.
I confess that I didn’t think people would go to the Pearl Roundabout. Although, I was a political prisoner in 2007 because I participated in peaceful protests against injustice with opposition figures of Bahrain 13, I wasn’t one of those who were in the Pearl Roundabout on the first day. It made me happy seeing the number of people from different age groups, and education, economic, and social backgrounds. What I liked the most was that everybody was present there and contributed with what they could. We completed each other, without any pressure or being forced. I’m proud of this historic day and proud of the Bahraini people who were seen for their true and authentic selves on 14 February.
14 February represents renewal of our revolution, until victory. We sacrificed and suffered a lot for we dared to demand freedom – one of our basic rights as humans. The price was our freedoms, blood, and possessions. If we go back to that day, I don’t think anyone will hesitate to make the same sacrifices all over again. We give our soul and blood to our precious homeland, so the coming generations will live a better life, and injustice and oppression will not be passed through generations to come. The awareness that 14 February helped spread is very important. Many people didn’t care for these things, however, after the falling of martyrs and collective punishment by the authorities, people started seeing the real situation in Bahrain and began to seriously want and need change. This would have never happened if not for 14 February 2011.
It represents the memories of the Pearl Roundabout, both happy and sad days, as well as the martyrdom of youth because of our demands and peaceful gathering. It symbolized days I will never forget – days that were like a beautiful dream. I don’t know if we’ll ever live days like those again, but I hope my children and grandchildren do. [On those days] people felt safe – felt their voices’ value and strength.
It’s a day of love and loyalty. We renew our vows of commitment to continue our path despite all difficulties. On 14 February, we remember how we were united at one of Bahrain’s landmarks and spent a nice time together. Everybody there expressed themselves in a civilized manner. I remember going there with my Sunni friends and brothers and spent a lovely time, until the crackdown on protesters. Then, the authorities started its awful campaign of sectarian division. For me this date is the beginning.
What happened on 14 February 2011? / How do you remember it?
We went out in protests to demand democracy and rights. At the beginning, we did not expect to reach the Pearl Roundabout, which was our target. It wasn’t easy. However, after the martyrdom of several protesters, people became more determined to continue what they started. “Blood stirs wills.”
Tragic! No one imagined that it would escalate to killing or that we would wake up to sounds of weapons and crying. We lost the feeling of safety and security in our own homes. Thanks to modern technology, our voices and the injustice we were subjected to are known to the world.
I remember 14 February 2011, with a mixture of pain, happiness, and pride. Pain for the lives that were lost and for the violence used by the authorities, which surprised everybody because they were dealing with peaceful protesters. Happiness and pride for the strength, heroism, and peacefulness of all those that gathered in the “Dignity Roundabout.” We felt the importance and value of freedom, which no amount of money could ever buy.
We went to the roundabout with our families – children, youth, elderly, female, and male. It was a civilized gathering to express our protest of injustice and demand democracy. We became more determined following the killing of several protesters by security forces and after the first crackdown. The barrier of fear was broken by the authorities’ violence and use of force against protesters. Although we knew what an oppressive government we had, we honestly hadn’t expected the oppression and violence we experienced.
We gathered and expressed our opinions and feelings strongly. Everybody was there. It was great. No word can describe it. However, the government betrayed its people. It attacked and killed them, despite the Crown Prince’s promises on national television that peaceful protesters will not be harmed. Then, a campaign of mass and brute arrest was launched. Many youths are still in prison. Others were sacked from their jobs and recruitment became sectarian. Countless families suffered.
I remember extreme happiness. The ambience was beautiful in the Roundabout. These days were indeed the happiest of days. We’ll work to have that back. We won’t get tired and won’t stop peacefully protesting. Freedom is a legitimate right and we won’t give it up, even if we are detained and tortured. I don’t think there is a greater suffering than what we’ve already gone through at the hands of this government and its reckless and violent policies. They made a joke of themselves by creating stories and fabrications about discovering terrorist cells. It’s sad that people are tortured due to this government’s lies. This is also proof of their weakness and cowardice, which will not stop us from taking to streets and demanding our rights peacefully.
Massacre of humanity. I cannot forget the voices of screaming children and women who were being chased and fired at with tear gas by security forces. It was scarier than any horror movie I’ve ever watched, especially the numbers and images of victims. I will never forget that day and that’s what makes me not believe in quitting or even the possibility of it. It was then followed by a national security period which exhausted us – young men and women were targeted. There were more than 4,000 political prisoners, many of them were deprived of pursuing their studies, lives, and jobs. It was heartbreaking.
I remember those days with content – content for the peacefulness of the movement and cooperation between all: doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, students, artists and even athletes. I’m proud of my compatriots and their love for this homeland.
Where are we after 5 years?
I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to our demands. However, our movement will continue. We have sacrificed too much to end it now. People who revolt, sacrifice, and demand their rights, no matter how long it takes, will eventually succeed.
We’re far away [from our goals]. The changes are backward not forward. The money spent by the government on weapons and security forces has worsened the already bad economic situation. It is scary.
After five years, we’re still fighting with much patience, despite the detention of our sons. It only made us stronger and more determined to continue and not compromise, whatever happens. We’ve paid a big price and still are paying. We cannot forget our sacrifices, go back to before 14 February and accept humiliation and degradation.
Many of our youths are either detained, wanted, or were fired from their jobs. There is an ugly and sad sectarianism in this country – in recruitment, between people, when applying for university, and in scholarship distribution. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two Islamic sects in the country changed because of the government’s “divide and conquer” policy.
However, after the massive naturalization, spending millions from the country’s budget on arms, and with the economic changes that the government did not prepare for, I believe the situation will change. The worsening of the economic situation in the country and the increase in prices will make more people revolt.
We’re more determined than ever. We’re in the middle of our path to freedom. It looks dark but we’re positive that there is a light at the end for us all. We only have to be patient, perseverant, and hold on to our principles and legitimate demands, as well as unity to pursue and achieve this.
We’re in a very difficult and rough period, which requires much patience and sacrifices in order to work and achieve our goals. The tears of mothers, wives, and children will not go to waste. We will continue going forward regardless of how bumpy and difficult the path is, and will certainly see light after this darkness.
The authorities’ violence has escalated. This is seen in the latest attack on prisoners in Jau Prison and how they are humiliated and tortured. Also, the authorities’ announcements of discovering terrorist cells are increasing day by day – it is just unreasonable that there are this many terrorist cells in a country this size! The authorities continue playing games and fooling people, however, Bahrainis have become more mindful. Due to the regime’s use of unjustified force, a young generation was born that has better awareness, due to the pain and loss experienced during this revolution and especially the horrible days of national safety that followed.
What are you doing on 14 February 2016?
Our village is usually under siege on that day. We’re not allowed to leave our houses. However, we will try, whenever possible, to take to the streets and peacefully protest.
I will probably not go to work because of the security presence in our areas. We’re not safe, not even at our homes. We follow the news, fearing for more martyrs.
We’ll certainly take to streets, participate in events, and try in every way possible to express our viewpoints and protest. We’re not afraid of security measures that have been deployed since the beginning of the month. We, women and men, will definitely go on peaceful protests.
We will participate with anything we can. We’ll certainly not stand still and do nothing. I will encourage my family, sons and brothers, to participate in protests. I won’t allow them to sit at home [to] kill the revolution and leave their brothers and sisters alone.
This year our slogan is “February’s Determination.” We’ll be part of it with all power. I’m personally ready to pay any price for my country, even if it’s my life. I’m not afraid of detention or torture. I tried it before, it only made me stronger, steadfast, and determined. I’m not better than those who were killed for this cause or the hundreds who languish in prisons. I will protest even if I’m by myself. I will never keep silent at all costs.
Our area will be under total security siege, however, we will participate in any way possible on 14 February. Our message is that we will continue, with no fear of imprisonment, being fired from our jobs, or even torture. We’re making our history and fate ourselves and we will do that peacefully until the end.
I’ll take to the streets with my sons. We cannot sit still at home while our families and loved ones are buried alive in prisons, paying the price for demanding our freedoms. We will not forget, fear, or be silent. The era of fear has ended because of their violence and dictatorship.
We will try every way possible to express our protests. We still remember what happened. We will certainly continue protesting or at least trying. I have no doubt that “February’s Determination” this year will be strong and send the message that we’re determined and that we will build out future and earn our freedom. We’re ready to pay whatever it takes!
What do you hope for?
I hope the Government of Bahrain will recognize the political chaos. It should work on finding solutions for the current situation. The government should be flexible because its intransigence would not lead us anywhere.
The government should open its doors for serious dialogue and meet its people’s demands.
Freedom, Pride, and Dignity.
I’m hoping for my sons’ freedom and a better future for them. My sons and family suffered a lot. We took this perilous path but God willing, we will pass all obstacles and succeed.
Freedom and dignity. This was a revolution for a dignified life and remains to be. We’ll continue this path, although, we’re fully aware of how dangerous it is. We’re not afraid because we know that people who reject injustice and demand freedom and democracy are ready to stand in the face of oppression. However, this will never be achieved if we stayed at our homes and kept silent.
I hope for a democratic country that respects its people, their decisions and demands, and allows them to freely exercise expression without fear. A country in which no one has a privilege because of his family or family name, but for their education, work, and knowledge. I want my family to breathe in freedom. I want to see my brothers and friends free and out of prison, where they should be. I don’t want injustice in my children’s future.
I hope for the release of all prisoners, especially political leaders, human rights activists, and children; and to live in the freedom and love that we have never had. I hope we could find a solution for political naturalization. We’re in an economic crisis, the solution for which, I believe, is to put an end to the random political naturalization which has not only negatively affected our economy but also education, social life, and criminality in Bahrain.
A State of dignity, democracy and freedom [where] humans are valued and live with love and harmony. We don’t want our children to fear someone or something. God gave us dignity and pride and we will not give them up ever.