Muslim Bahrain

Kim Kardashian's Bahrain welcome gets messy

By Reem Khalifa, The Associated Press December 1, 2012
MANAMA, Bahrain - Just hours after reality TV star Kim Kardashian gushed about her impressions of Bahrain, riot police fired tear gas to disperse more than 50 hardline Islamic protesters denouncing her presence in the Gulf kingdom.

The clashes took place just before Kardashian opened the Bahrain branch of her Millions of Milkshakes shop.

An Associated Press journalist saw protesters chanting "God is Great" near the shopping complex in Riffa, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the capital Manama. The demonstrators were cleared before Kardashian appeared late Saturday.

Earlier, she posted glowing remarks about Bahrain on her Twitter account, calling it "the prettiest place on earth." It was re-Tweeted by Bahrain's foreign minister.

Kardashian was in Kuwait earlier this week to open another branch of the shop.

Citing Violence, Bahrain Bans All Protests in New Crackdown

Published: October 30, 2012
The New York Times

CAIRO — Citing recent episodes of violence, the government of Bahrain on Tuesday banned all public rallies and demonstrations, a move that drew swift condemnation from human rights groups and opposition activists who said it was intended solely to stifle criticism of the ruling monarchy in the tiny Persian Gulf nation.

In a statement, Bahrain’s interior minister said protests were banned after “repeated violations” by rally organizers, including riots, attacks on property and calls for the overthrow of “leading national figures.” Legal action would be taken against anyone attempting to organize a rally, the statement said.

A government spokesman, Fahad al-Binali, said in an interview that the ban would be temporary and was intended to “calm things down” after the recent deaths of protesters and police officers.

Instead, though, the move seemed likely to inflame the already dangerous standoff involving a protest movement that has been unable to wrest freedoms from a government that opposition activists say is methodically blocking all avenues for dissent. In recent weeks, activists have been prosecuted for postings on social media, and doctors, charged with illegal gathering and other crimes after treating protesters, have been sent to jail.

“They don’t want people to express their opinions, their anger,” said Sayed Hadi al-Mosawi, a member of Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition group. “This will not take the country to stability.”

Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings almost two years ago, Bahrain’s government has struggled to contain the protests, which are focused on the ruling Sunni monarchy’s chokehold on political power and fed by persistent complaints by the island nation’s majority Shiite population of systematic, apartheidlike discrimination.

Backed by powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, Bahrain’s government, its critics charge, has faced little pressure to change. The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy is anchored in Bahrain.

As the crisis has stalled, the standoff has deteriorated into ever more violent, sometimes deadly confrontations. In the last two months, two teenagers have been killed by the security services, and a 19-year-old police officer was killed in what the authorities said was an attack on one of their patrols. Last week, another police officer died of injuries he sustained in April in what the government called a “domestic terrorist attack,” a term frequently used for protests.

In the statement, the interior minister, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, said that rallies would be stopped until the authorities could ensure that “security is maintained.” It was unclear how the ban would change the response by the authorities, since many of the protests are considered illegal by the government and are already met with force.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International said in a statement that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and “must be lifted immediately.”

“Even in the event of sporadic or isolated violence once an assembly is under way, the authorities cannot simply declare a blanket prohibition on all protests,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the group’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

Violence in Mali leads Tuareg refugees to flee the country, coming Islamic law

Published 29 May, 2012

Tuaregs in Mali united with Islamic militants against the Mali government and successfully drove the government out. But they didn't realize they'd be getting a new home under Islamic law. Now, Tuareg civilians are fleeing the violence of the revolution and the newly instituted Islamic law.

Mali is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis.

It’s one of the most serious crises since the landlocked West African country gained independence from France in 1960. Soldiers staged a coup in March but cannot agree on a way forward for the country.

Meanwhile, Mali’s Tuareg rebels have taken control of the north of the country, in alliance with Islamic militants.

Many Tuaregs have taken shelter from the violence in neighboring Burkina Faso. The Sahel reserve stretches from Mali into the Northern tip of Burkina Faso, a land of dry bush, bare trees and patches of sunburnt grass giving way to sand. Shacks made of sticks and a patchwork of drapes and carpets dot the yellow horizon.

Tuaregs fleeing fighting between Tuareg rebels and government forces in north Mali have flocked here by the tens of thousands. They’re among the 300,000 people who have been displaced by the conflict since January, according to the U.S. State Department and the United Nations refugee agency.

Many Tuaregs who fleed to this stretch of Burkina Faso have been here before, and they’ve settled back into what has become a forced second home — once again.

A 69-year old Tuareg says he moved back under the same tree where he spent almost three years in the mid-1990s.

Another Tuareg, Yaya Ag Mohamed, was a kid the last time his family fled violence in north Mali.

“I started elementary school here in Burkina Faso” he said. “Today, I’m a father of two, and here I am again, a refugee once more. We’re pulled back into the same situation, at every stage of life.”

Four Tuareg rebellions have broken out since Mali gained independence 52 years ago. Each time, scores fled the military crackdown against Tuareg fighters and civilians. But in April, Tuareg rebels drove Mali’s authorities out and proclaimed independence for the Azawad, the Tuareg name for Mali’s Northern region.
Tuareg fighters didn’t manage this on their own. They joined forces with a loose coalition of Islamist groups. They shared a common enemy, but not the same long-term goals. Tuaregs fought for a state, Islamists for the imposition of Sharia law.

Idoual Ag Bala, a veterinarian at the refugee camp, calls the Islamists’ attempt to impose a radical form of Islam ‘colonial.’

“What Islam are they going to teach me? I’m already a Muslim, and that’s enough, thanks God!” he said. “We don’t want Sharia law. Our culture is steeped in a moderate and tolerant Islam. Their Islam is an import from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we don’t want it.”

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has thrived in the region in the past few years. Now, the Al Qaeda franchise operates unopposed amidst North Mali’s chaos. New Islamist groups have emerged there as well.

In Gao, North Mali’s most populous city, young people demonstrated against a new ban on watching TV, listening to music or playing video games. Locals say armed groups opened fire on the protesters.

Tuareg refugees say there’s a lot of confusion over where the extremists come from and how many they are. But Idoual, the veterinarian, says what they do know about them is alarming enough to keep refugees from returning home.

“Americans are scared about Islamists. The French are scared about Islamists. Everybody is scared about these groups!” he said. “So why would we, poor African citizens, be any less scared? I’m scared!”

Refugees who’ve just arrived at the camp bring stories that stoke the fears. Mohamed ag In’Tahma crossed over the border last week with 20 relatives and two other families. He says they left their village because of the new rules imposed by Islamists. They brought clothing with them, he says. A burka-like covering for the women, long clothes that cover elbows for the men.

“Men can’t greet women on the street,” he said. “No one dares go out any more. If you’re caught doing something wrong, or wearing something inappropriate, they threaten to beat you if they catch you again.”

Mohamed says Tuareg rebels, who support a secular republic, are starting to speak out against Sharia, but they aren’t strong enough to fight back. He says most locals believe a clash between Islamists and seculars is coming — yet another reason for civilians to flee.

Fatoumata Oylet Aybala, a women’s leader at the refugee camp, says the best way for the international community to help defeat the Islamic militants is to recognize a Tuareg independent state.

“Once our leaders are in charge, once we have a country, a government and allies, then we’ll be able to fight for the traditions and values of the Tuareg people.”
But so far not a single country has recognized the breakaway state, and Mali could soon request help from West African countries to regain control of the lost territory.

Refugees in Burkina Faso know they might be here for a long time. Sitting on a bench in the afternoon heat, a group of young men listen to Tuareg music on a cell phone.

They say at least here they’re safe ...  and they can still indulge in some cherished tribal tunes.

Bahrain's arrests of opponents show unsettling pattern of abuse

Posted on Wed, May. 25, 2011
McClatchy Newspapers

The first sign that Bahrain's security forces were going to detain former Bahraini parliamentarian Jawad Fairooz came at 8:30 p.m. May 2, when about 30 masked men carrying submachine guns broke down the front door of his house.

"What are you doing in my house?" Fairooz's wife screamed as the men, some in military uniforms, flooded into the front hall.

One pointed a submachine gun at her head. "Where is Jawad?" he demanded.

Fairooz, 49, a graduate of the University of Texas-El Paso, had been elected to the Bahraini parliament in 2006 and again in November 2010, but he'd resigned in February to protest police violence against peaceful demonstrators who were demanding democratic reform, Bahrain's response to the "Arab Spring" toppling of dictatorial regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

Now he was about to feel the brutal force of Bahrain's crackdown on the opposition.

Fairooz is one of about a dozen prominent opposition leaders and human rights advocates now behind bars in the island kingdom, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. President Barack Obama referred to them in his speech last week on the Middle East, in which he pointedly told Bahrain that "you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail."

A detailed examination of Bahrain's arrest and treatment of the dissidents shows widespread and systematic abuse that raises questions about whether the country's Sunni Muslim government has crossed a line beyond which it can't restore social peace in the predominantly Shiite Muslim country.

Interviews and email exchanges with relatives of four of the jailed politicians yielded startlingly similar stories of dramatic and humiliating middle-of-the-night raids by 30 to 40 masked gunmen, followed by weeks of beatings and abuse in custody. None of the men has been charged with a crime.

The police often directed anti-Shiite slurs at the distraught families. There were neither warrants nor judicial procedures, and the arrested politicians were held in solitary confinement without access to family or lawyers.

Jawad Fairooz had a simple request for his captors as he descended the stairs to meet them from the upper floor of his well-appointed home. "Can I change my clothes?" he asked. It was out of the question.

His wife lost her composure. "Stop screaming or we'll take your kid," they responded, referring to her 17-year-old son, Amin.

"Where are you taking him?" she asked, referring to her husband. "We're going on a 'picnic,' " was the cynical reply. For how long? She asked. "It depends on how fast he cooperates."

Exactly what happened after his arrest is known only to his captors and to Fairooz, who hasn't been able to communicate with his family. All they know is that he wound up in Bahrain's military hospital at 10 the next morning.

"People who saw him said that he was in bad shape," said a close relative, who couldn't be further identified for his own safety.

On May 18, a military prosecutor questioned Fairooz, according to his attorney, Abdullah al-Shamdawi, but al-Shamdawi was prevented from attending the session and had no contact with Fairooz.

Mattar Ebrahim Mattar, 35, who also resigned in protest from parliament in February, was seized within minutes of Fairooz.

Mattar's family calls it a kidnapping, and that would be an apt description - if it weren't for the government's involvement.

The snatch began with an elaborate setup that involved a woman unknown to Mattar who asked him to pick up an envelope with contents she couldn't describe.

After a rendezvous near a big supermarket, Mattar was driving toward the headquarters of the Wefaq, a Shiite political group, with the woman following, when he looked in the rearview mirror and saw a group of masked men in vehicles near the woman's car.

The masked men overtook him and cut him off. They emerged with submachine guns drawn, surrounded his car and pointed the weapons at his head.

Mattar, who holds a master's degree in artificial intelligence and computer science, told McClatchy Newspapers a few days before his arrest that he knew he might be detained. A bright, highly personable, but low-key leader of Wefaq, his name had come up during the secret military trial of seven Shiites accused of killing two Bahraini policemen in mid-March.

In a videotaped confession that was played during the trial, defendant Ali Isa Saqer said that Mattar had encouraged the protesters to run over police. Saqer's "confession," which later was aired on Bahrain's government-controlled television, was delivered in a flat monotone, and he appeared to be under duress. Saqer died April 9 while in detention, one of four detainees who've died while incarcerated. A video of his corpse at the ritual washing ceremony showed signs of severe beatings. The Bahraini government has acknowledged that he died of torture.

Mattar's family also has had no direct contact with him. But a witness said he'd heard Mattar screaming while being severely beaten during his "interrogation" at the same facility. Mattar was limping, looked weak, was blindfolded and in handcuffs, his clothes covered with sweat and blood, said the witness, who couldn't be identified for his own safety.

One question the witness heard fired at Mattar concerned his relations with the international news media. After three weeks, both elected representatives were transferred to the Al Qareen jail in the south of Bahrain, where other prominent opposition figures are being held, a relative of Fairooz's said.

One of the most distinguished opposition leaders now in detention is a Sunni: Ebrahim Sharif, a 53-year-old politician, former candidate for parliament and businessman who's the secretary-general of Waad, a moderate secular political group that's also known as the National Democratic Action Society.

Around 40 masked security personnel, most in civilian clothes, surrounded Sharif's house at 2 a.m. March 17, as the island-wide crackdown began. Two men in traditional white Bahraini gowns supervised as a pair of young police officers vaulted over the outer wall of the house, one to press the electric garage door opener as the other approached Sharif and pointed a gun at him.

"It's OK. I'm coming," Sharif told him. His wife, Farida Ismail, who's in charge of training for the party, asked the authorities where they were taking him.

"To the City Center mall," was the brusque reply. "You can call there to find out where he is."

It was a full week before he was allowed to contact his wife, and the call was cut seconds after it began. Later the family learned that he'd suffered continuous and severe beatings during the first two weeks he was held, and had lost 45 pounds.

On May 2, Sharif's wife issued a cry for help, saying he'd spent 47 days "in a notorious prison, suffering under brutal and continuous torture." She said he'd been taken to the military hospital twice, but that his family hadn't been allowed to see him.

"We do not know whether he will be able to further tolerate daily beatings and torture and pray he survives this unspeakable treatment," she said.

Between May 8 and May 22, Sharif had four hearings before a military tribunal, but his lawyer was able to attend only one session. He's been charged with conspiring to overthrow the monarchy.

Fairooz, Mattar and Sharif are all known as moderate reformers who advocate a constitutional monarchy with an elected government in place of the royal regime.

In the super-heated atmosphere of Bahrain, however, Hassan Mushaima has been widely painted as a radical. Secretary-general of the Haq party, he favors abolishing the monarchy and establishing a modern parliamentary democracy.

For years, Mushaima had lived in exile in Britain. But when the protests began, he decided to return to his homeland.

Many foreign diplomats think that his return led to a radical turn in the protests, but one thing is certain: Bahrain made a major concession when he returned, releasing all political prisoners. When the crackdown began, however, there was no deference.

Mushaima, 64, who'd undergone cancer treatment in the United States, was arrested the same day as Sharif.

His captors arrived in 10 police vehicles at about 4 a.m. As in the other cases, they wore masks and were armed.

"We have an order to arrest you," one told Mushaima, but he didn't show any papers. Mushaima went without a fight, but the family still doesn't know where he's being held.

He told one member of his family that he'd been subjected to severe abuse. "I couldn't sleep since I was arrested," he said. "I never sleep at night. I hear other people being beaten," the family member quoted him as saying. He, too, has now been charged with plotting to overthrow the monarchy.


Bahrain Charges 23 Activists With Terrorism Tied to Anti-Monarchy Group

By Glen Carey


Sep 6, 2010

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, charged 23 opposition activists with terrorism crimes connected to an international network accused of aiming to subvert the Gulf kingdom’s Sunni Muslim monarchy.

Shiite Muslim activist Ali Abdulemam was among those arrested for “planning and executing a campaign of violence, intimidation and subversion,” the official Bahrain News Agency said yesterday, citing the Interior Ministry. His arrest was “connected solely to evidence of his involvement with senior members of the terrorist network,” the ministry said.

Bahrain has faced riots since authorities began detaining Shiite opposition activists in mid-August. The suspects were described by prosecutors as part of “a sophisticated terrorist network with international support,” the Manama-based news service reported on Sept. 4, without identifying any country.

The island kingdom is a close ally of neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a regional rival of Shiite-ruled Iran. Many among Bahrain’s poor, mostly Shiite communities retain family and cultural ties to Iran, and complain of discrimination by Sunni Muslims, who make up 30 percent of Bahrain’s citizens.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies are also ruled by Sunni royal families. Bahrain is headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahraini prosecutors said the alleged terrorist network consisted of academics, taxi drivers, civil servants, dentists and administrators, and received funds from “international organizations and foreign entities.”

October Elections

Bahraini human-rights groups have described the arrests as a crackdown aimed at suppressing dissent to cement control before October parliamentary elections. The number of arrests reached about 230 as of Aug. 31, Mohammad al-Tajer, a lawyer representing arrested Shiite opposition activist Abduljalil al- Singace, said in a telephone interview.

“The Bahrain government is brutally silencing voices of dissent not only by prohibiting peaceful and legitimate activities related to democratic reform, but also by punishing human rights activists for engaging in these activities.” Bahrain Center for Human Rights said in a Sept. 3 statement on its website.

London-based Amnesty International criticized the arrests in an Aug. 18 statement, saying the activists may be “prisoners of conscience.”