Up to four civilians are reported to have been killed in Bahrain in the past two days, making January one of the most deadly months since March 2011. In addition to this, 41 policemen were injured. This comes after a considerable yet not unexpected escalation of violence, which mainly involved the targeting of riot officers with molotov cocktails, iron rods and stones. Many are blaming Isa Qassim’s controversial speech for the rising violence, and while his words certainly helped validate it, it was the BahrainFist operation that was chiefly responsible, and that was planned long before Isa Qassim gave his sermon. Somewhat ironically, NUA chairman Sheikh Abdulatif Al Mahmood said that the protesters were trying to incite a war, despite the fact he gave an address last year that wasn’t entirely dissimilar to Qassim’s. Even the BBC seemed to blame Isa Qassim, while simultaneously dumbing down any sense of what might have led to the violence. Anyway, as predicted, the attacks on the riot police have provided government supporters with an opportunity to paint the security apparatus as victims, demonise al-Wefaq, and throw in some timely information about an Iranian backed plot.
For their part, the national press have wasted no time in highlighting the hardships faced by the security forces. Akbar al-Khaleej led with a story of the Prime Minister visiting injured security officers, while the Gulf Daily News featured a story you’d expect to hear in relation to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, entitling it ’Children and women are human shields‘. The police sources being interviewed stated that they are only allowed to use tear gas, which is ineffective against the protesters’ arsenal of molotovs, irons rods and swords. Indeed, the policeman goes on to state (in immaculate English I might add) that the protesters make their own tear gas, which is apparently stronger than the stuff used by the security services. If this claim is true, I imagine weapons manufacturers will be in Sitra faster than you can say ‘weaponised mahyawa’.
Despite the fact that Bahrain’s villages are now becoming a creative hotbed for pioneering crowd control technologies, the policeman’s ‘human shield’ claim is a little spurious. I mean, if the police are only allowed to use tear gas, how on earth do protesters use women and children as human shields? Do they tell them to suck up all the tear gas before it reaches them? Do they fling the chubbier kids onto the cannisters, vainly hoping that they will provide a better seal to stop the smoke from escaping into the villages? Do the women lure the officers into ‘mut3a’ tents before clonking them on the head with an oversized, cartoon club? All real possibilities.
As if this human shields argument wasn’t enough, the Gulf Daily News also reported today that some Pakistanis in the security forces were demanding that their embassy tell the Bahraini authorities to do more to protect them. The emerging theme is that the security forces want more weapons to defend themselves against the protesters, a sentiment mirrored by a group of citizens who gathered at the clocktower , Sahwa al Fatih, and Mohammed Khalid . Whether any of these people read the BICI report is unclear, though last time the security forces were given more deadly weapons things did not end well, and that was when the protests were predominantly peaceful. That both the security forces and the protesters are now invoking the ‘self-defence’ argument is absurd, not least because it implies that no single party is responsible for initiating the violence. There is also a great irony in the fact that these policemen have some recourse to protection through their embassies, whilst many Bahrainis feel that they have no recourse to protection, least of all from the police.
All this talk of lacking sufficient arms suggests that the police have stopped using other weapons. This photo posted on the 25th January shows a policeman holding a shotgun, while this video allegedly shows a protester having shotgun pellets picked out of him. In addition to shotguns, the security forces are still using their jeeps to disperse protesters, a tactic that reportedly led to the death of 17 year old Mohammed Ebrahim - who died this morning after being run over yesterday. And if jeeps aren’t enough of a weapon, there’s always the good ol’ combination of fists, boots and batons, as this human-shield-less man found out the other day. Last but not least, some policemen still appear to be throwing metal rods and molotov cocktails back protesters.
So it would seem that despite the considerable arsenal at the hands of the security services, they still need more weapons. As expected, increasingly violent resistance in Bahrain’s villages has riled the loyalists, and given the regime more reason to justify a crackdown. Whether or not the government plans to give more arms to its security forces is uncertain, though they are probably more than a little embarrassed by videos of protesters chasing policemen out of villages with stones and molotov cocktails. As predicted though, BahrainFist has resulted in an aggressive stance from the regime and its supporters, who no doubt think the idea of police reform should be scrapped in favour of equipping the security forces with bigger, scarier weapons. Incidentally, on the topic of reform, do videos like this suggest increased police restraint? If so it seems wildly inconsistent.
It is of course terrible that 41 riot officers got injured. Pre-meditated attacks are wrong and should not be condoned, yet to uncritically portray the security forces as mere victims of motiveless violence is just misleading and inaccurate. Without anyone to hold the police accountable, they will increasingly act with impunity. Indeed, placing all the emphasis on protester violence whilst suggesting police are merely victims ignores the fact they are still engaging in unacceptable behaviour. Obviously state violence works to aggravate activists, as does their continued intransigence on political reform, but much of this violence also results from a lack of space to protest. The fact that even applying for a permit to hold a rally shows a ‘determination to break the law‘ is palpably absurd. Not granting permission for political parties to hold peaceful rallies is obviously going to encourage more violent activism. As Della Porta and Tarrow propose
as mainstream challengers steadily lose their capacity to inspire and organize large-scale popular protest, radical organizations and entrepeneurs operating on the fringes of the political spectrum attempt to seize the initiative through the use of violent of tactics.
Anyway, despite the regimes continued willingness to deny space to the legal opposition, violence towards policeman will almost certainly not stop them from coming into the villages or working in Bahrain. Judging from the ‘Bahrain embassy in Pakistan page‘, there’s countless Pakistanis wishing to head over and get a job here. If anything, continued violence will only swell their numbers, further augmenting a whole community whose livelihood depends on continued unrest. Not that you can blame them though, the pay is pretty good.
Many people believe the MOI are covering up yet another death. They say the man pictured here died after getting drunk & high and then crashing into a group of police cars. People are reporting that he was tortured. With little efforts to restore its credibility, it’s very much hard to believe the MOI are telling the truth, especially after the debacle concerning Yousif Muwali.