Ali Aldairy / Middle East

Coming Down From the Tower (Bahrain)

In our penultimate Writing Revolution extract, Ali Aldairy tells the story of a nation’s ignored revolution as a result of a near total media blackout from international and Arab news organisations.

Coming Down From the Tower

In the afternoon, my friend Abdel Wahhab and I left my house, in the Jabalat Habashi district, near Sanabis and not far from Pearl Square. It was the day of the memorial service (it’s custom in many Muslim communities that services be held four days later) for the first martyr, Ali Mushaima and we moved off in the direction of Jadhafas cemetery. On Twitter I wrote: ‘Heading for the march from Jadhafas cemetery. The street’s crowded and we haven’t seen the cemetery yet.’

One of the marchers informed us that they were going to Pearl Square. We drove off to the square. Suddenly we heard the sound of gunshots and tear gas being fired. We went closer; the scene grew more confused; cars driving in the wrong direction. Abdel Wahhab got out of the car, approached a group of young men and started photographing the wounded as I drove on, unable to pull over in the midst of such chaos. I sent a series of tweets:

Heavy fire and ambulances carrying the injured, all heading for Salmaniya Hospital, which is already full to capacity.
Seriously injured man taken away on a pickup.
Car belonging to a member of parliament driving in front of me.
Journalist friend runs forward and says they’re using live rounds.
Young man next to me weeping hysterically. Seems his friend has been badly hurt.
Stopped at an intersection in al-Naim. More than 8 ambulances have passed by.

It transpired that the mourners marched towards the roundabout, which was surrounded by the army and security troops. The young men, their bodies wrapped in Bahrain flags approached the armoured vehicles and the security forces and came to a halt some 100 metres away from them, shouting, ‘In peace! In peace!’ For a few minutes … nothing … then gunfire again filled the air. The scene was captured on film and viewed by the entire world: images of victims falling to the ground and the hail of live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas that left the whole place and the people in it unable to breathe.

We made our way to the hospital. The streets were in wild disorder. The young men from the march were rushing back and forth to the hospital in their cars ferrying the wounded in the cars. An enraged crowd milled about outside the emergency ward and we joined a human chain clearing a path for the ambulances to arrive and carry the injured inside.

People were shouting hysterically. Their numbers swelled and so did the volume of their angry screams and wails, their chants demanding the fall of the regime. I tweeted:

Outside the emergency ward at Salmaniya Hospital with press photographer Mazen Mahdi sobbing bitterly from everything his camera has witnessed. God be with you, Mazen. I wish I had the bravery of one of your photos.

As this was taking place, the Crown Prince stunned everyone with an unexpected television appearance in which he gave an apprehensive, impromptu address to the nation:

I offer my condolences to all the people of Bahrain for the painful days through which we are living and I wish to send a message to everyone to remain calm. We need time to evaluate what has happened, to gather ourselves, to restore our humanity and civilized selves, to reclaim our future. Today we are at a crossroads. Young men are taking to the streets, believing that they have no future in this country; others are doing so out of love for their country and the desire to preserve its achievements. But this land belongs to all, not to one group or another. It does not belong to Sunni or Shia but to Bahrain and the people of Bahrain. At times such as these it is the duty of every true patriot to say, ‘Enough!’ To regain what we have lost over the past few days will be no easy matter, but I have faith in the abilities of true-hearted men.

He delivered this speech, while in the streets outside the television studios it had been raining bullets. In Salmaniya Hospital all doctors were summoned to the operating rooms. There were now 96 injured cases in the building, some with wounds from live rounds. According to medical sources at the scene, six were taken in for immediate surgical intervention. The most serious case was that of Abdel Rida Bouhamid (38 years old), who had been shot in the head and was now clinically dead. X-rays confirmed that a live round had penetrated his skull.

We stayed in the hospital until late into the night, where we got to know a group of British correspondents. We showed them some of the pictures and video clips we had taken. We viewed the X-rays of the martyr Abdel Rida. We all saw them with our own eyes. The doctor who talked us through them turned out to be an old acquaintance of mine from primary school. We came from the same village, had not seen each other since leaving school and now we met again over the fatal bullet lodged in Abdel Rida Bouhamid’s head.

There was no space left for neutrality or professions of balance; no excuse for sitting behind one’s desk and failing to go down to the street to see for oneself. Insensitivity, naivety, superficiality maybe, but never balance in that positive sense; the word can never be anything other than negative and terrifying.

Beirut, July 2011. ■

Translated from the Arabic by Roger Moger.

Ali Aldairy is a Bahraini researcher, linguist and cultural critic, interested in philosophy and religion. He is the author of several books. A long-standing activist, he has been struggling since the Bahraini uprising in 2011 and was forced to leave the country. In exile he founded the online Arabic newspaper Mira’at al-Bahrain (The Bahrain Mirror).

Writing Revolution

Image courtesy of T U R K A I R O.

More Writing Revolution Extracts
Diary of an Unfinished Revolution (Syria) // Wishful Thinking (Saudi Arabia) // Cairo, City in Waiting (Egypt) // We Are Not Swallows (Algeria) // Bayou & Laila (Libya) // Greetings to the Dawn (Tunisia) // Armed With Words (Yemen)

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