Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An Intervention Presented to a seminar at the House of Lords - UK

An Intervention Presented to a seminar at the House of Lords - UK
By: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja
President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights
London 25 August 2005

Assalam Alaykum and Good morning

All of us may know that as a result off internal unrest and external pressure, Bahrain has witnessed positive changes 1n 2000/2001. However, events took a different direction after the voting on the National Charter, the declaration of the new ruler as a king, and securing closer relation between the regime and the US administration.

In the past three years, human rights conditions has been deteriorating, both in laws and in practice, and at the different aspects of human rights: civil, political, economic and social. Recent reports issued by the US State department, Crises Group International, and many national and international NGO’s illustrate the setback.

During the last three years, the people in Bahrain have experienced the deference between true and false hope. For true hope is based on knowledge supported by struggle and hard work, while false hope is built on promises and depending on the kindness of others.

Five years ago, Bahrain people thought that heavens had sent them a savior. Many of us had put their trust in him and voted to make him a king, but we found out that, in real life you may not rely on miracles and other people good intentions.

The people of Bahrain woke up from the sweet dream to find out that the new ruler has been working cleverly to maintain absolute power but in the form of constitutional monarchy. He has been also working in secrecy for ten years to accomplish demographic changes by granting citizenship to thousands of tribal Arabs brought from other countries to serve in the military and security.

He has also acquired for himself and for members of his family, as private property, all public lands and the lands to be reclaimed from the see. In the last five years members of the royal family became more rich and acquired more influence on political and economic life.

On the other hand, discrimination, corruption have been mounting. While more than half of the people are suffering from unemployment, underpayment, poor housing conditions, at the time of growing oil revenues.

It was a shock when the special military forces, build by the king himself, and supervised by the Crown prince, savagely assaulted peaceful demonstrators who were demanding jobs, that’s we understand, to send a clear message to all the people to point out who is in control, and to declare the end of the transition period, as his father did in 1975 when he declared an end to short period of democratic life after independence.

So no wonder, the hastiness of the King last month in approving the restrictive low on political societies in two days, despite appeals by civil societies and society figures. Many people expect the king is going to approve many other restrictive lows in the coming few months such as the law on gatherings and demonstrations and the law against terrorism.

All of that has been happening with blessing of a rubberstamp parliament, and under the eyes of the press which is either state controlled or partially free but self censored, and in the existence of week civil and political societies.

As for the international role, there has been a lot to learn about hypocrisy and double standards of the western governments. They work hard for political changes in the countries that are governed by regime hostile to their influence and interests, but when the regime is an ally like in Bahrain, stability of the regime is of more importance than reforms, strategic interests replaces real democratization, and economic globalization lead political reforms.
So, no wonder that the US has approved the cosmetic fake democracy in Bahrain and present it as a model for the region.

The UN bodies and procedures are International nongovernmental organizations, were more supportive and are more credible when it comes to standards and morals, but their role is still off minor affect. They act only in urgencies, and when selecting there priorities in countries and issues they are influenced by states policies and funding, there were Bahrain become misfortunate.

However, and despite all the setbacks, there are great space for optimism. The main ground for that is the well and potential power of the people. For in Bahrain, the power and the will of thy people brought about the current intention for reforms, and that power will be a main factor in the future. And the story of the Bahrain Center for human rights is related to that factor.

As you may know, the Bahrain Center for human Rights was closed by the authorities in September 2004, for organizing activities and issuing reports in issues which were considered as taboo, namely privileges enjoyed by members of the ruling tribe, discrimination, and poverty related to mismanagement and corruption. But what happened since the closure of the center one year ago?

Every body now is talking about discrimination and corruption. Poverty, unemployment, housing is on the top of the political agenda.

As a result of the strategy adopted by the Center to empower the people, specially the disadvantaged and the vulnerable groups, Groups that were established as a part of the Center, have become independent societies and committees. Such as the Society for Migrant Workers, the Committee for Persons Deprived of Citizenship and the Bahrain Youth for Human Rights. All in addition to the Committee for Victims of Torture which was established by the center as an independent group three years ago.

In regard to the center strategy to promote economic and social rights, the unemployed were assisted by the Center to form there own organization, which has in few months become one of the most active actors on the issue, despite the aggressiveness and restrictions by the authorities. On the other hand, families suffering poor housing were also assisted by the center to start a popular protest movement which has been growing and active in the last few weeks.

On top of that, the closure of the Bahrain Center for human rights did not stop the center from issuing reports and statements in deferent issues an participating in regional and international conferences including the meetings of the committee against torture and the committee on racial discrimination. It is worth noting that both International committees questioned the official delegation on the closure of the center and recommended to insure the safety of its members.

In conclusion,

I would say that Bahrain is in a bottle neck, either it will returns inside the bottle with some cosmetics and more tensions and violations, or come out of the bottle to the democratic free world. We are working on the latter, despite difficulties, for we now that the expenses of the first is damaging.

Thank you for your patience, and allow me to specially thank Lord Eric Avebury, not only for hosting this seminar, but for his struggle for human rights in Bahrain and other countries around the globe.

Thank You.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Today the topic in the house of lords in Britain was Bahrain. Although the Bahraini government tried to prevent this occasion it did happen and it proved to be very succesful.

A number of Bahraini human rights activists gave speeches on the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain and a video of one of the demonstrations was shown.

I would like to thank all the people who work hard to get our voice heard everywhere. And I would like to thank Lord Avebury who has been working with us and others for human rights for so long.

For those of you who speak arabic, this was broadcasted in AlJazeera news. Abdulla Hashim, trying to speak for the government, made some very weak accusations. Making it seem like Bahrain is a democracy and the people who are demonstarting peacefully are the ones who are aginst it.

Congrats to all the Bahrainis, we will make it one step at a time.

Ashamed? Yes I am!!

As I was sitting in the bus I noticed a black man comming towards me. He sat next to me and I could tell he wanted to talk. I waited until...

Man: Hello, are you form Egypt?
Me: No I am from Bahrain. (with pride)
Man: Bahrain?? How are Asian and Indian maids treated there?
Me: emmm... (looking down and ashmed) well, honestly... bad.
Man: What do you mean by bad?
Me: (I thought of Anita Verma whom I had met personally) I mean bad as in neo-slavery. They have no rights and no laws to protect those rights. If the family is good then they are lucky. Otherwise, which is more common, they overwork for very low wages, and sometimes dont get paid at all. Also they get raped and have noway to protect themselves. On top of all that the family keeps their passports so they cannot go back to their countries without the families consent. Many commit suicide, I could go on and on.
Man: (giving me a bad look) Why do you treat them like that?
Me: Well, racism. I guess many people are born and raised treating Indians and other nationalities as an inferior race. They grow up believing it.

I love my country Bahrain and I love my people as well. But when it comes to this issue, I am ashamed. I wish I could have told that man that racism comes only from the upper class and not the average poor Bahraini. But I know that would be a lie.

Some PLUS students here criticize me for the negative things I say about my country when it comes to this issue and the the government. They say we are here in the States to give the best picture possible of our countries. However, I know that as a muslim it is my job to speak up when I see something wrong. We cannot cry for our democracy and turn around and abuse other people.

I would like to mention that not all Bahrainis are racist ofcourse. Many Bharainis work for the rights of Migrant workers. But in Bahraini society it has become something very normal to treat others with disrespect because of their origin.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bush lied, People died!!

"Bush Lied... People Died... Cindy Sheehan wants to know why!!"

This is what the demonstrators in Portland where chanting as they walked downton. Me and Lamya went for a last walk around Pioneer square, when we saw a group of people standing with posters. Now this is the first time I have seen a demonstration since I got here that isn't about abortion, I was impressed.

I must admit they were not a large number, about 25-30, however they were really strong and they also knew alot. The guy speaking was talking about the Palestinian issue as well, and he was telling people that "we are seeing the Israelis crying as they are being pulled out of their houses, by unarmed soldiers. The Palestinians were given two minutes to leave their houses before it was bulldozed on their heads, But we did not see that!!"

Then People started shouting at the top of their lungs "Israel out of Palestine... END THE OCCUPATION!" I must tell you that by this time me and Lamya were really happy. We kept reminding each other to stop smiling because this was a serious issue. But there was a reason we were smiling. Because we are both here to try to make people understand, and here we saw this group of people, who not only understand very well what is happening, but are also doing something about it.

This old man was one of the protesters. Other than the banner he is holding in his hand, he had two hanging from his neck. One on his back and the other on his chest. When he saw us he called us and said "Don't be afraid, always speak up, because there still is something good about America. Everyone has the right to speak." Then he went on and said "Tell your people there are Americans who know"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Goodbye L&C

This is my friendship family.

Lamya (Yemen), Me (Bahrain), Benazir (India), Rama (Jordan), Adel (Syria),
Zoubida (Morocco), Adla (Jordan), Bilal (Morocco), Priyanka (India)

These are all the PLUS students at Lewis and Clark this summer. It was interesting because during this summer we interacted much more with students coming from different parts of the world then with Americans. We all take pretty much the same classes and we live in the same dorm. So we ended up learning a lot about different countries and cultures. It has been very interesting.

Now, that we have finished this summer orientation, we will all move to new universities but this time its the real thing. It will be very interesting and a big challenge, but I must say that this orientation really taught me a lot and gave me a wider perspective on many things.This does not mean that we did not meet many Americans, one of the classes we took in this summer session was a normal summer class where we had the chance to interact with others. The class I chose was American Foreign Policy, and it was great. Great discussions and I learnt a lot.

Another thing is that we all have friendship families, and my friendship family was a sweet couple, Becky and Roger Warren. They took me to the zoo on a picnic and we went hiking, and I really enjoyed my time with them. We had great discussions and I was really lucky to meet them.

I will miss downtown shopping with my friends, and meeting new people. Nothing is better than going to the Italian restaurant and then getting lost downtown.

In two days it will be goodbye to Portland Oregon but along with my two bags I will be carrying many memories.

A Peoples History of the United States

Hi Everyone

I know I havn't posted anything lately, and as I mentioned in one of the comments the reason is I am moving from Oregon, and at the moment I am packing...

The reason I am moving is because this is how our scholarship works, we take an orientation in the summer at one college and then we move to another college for the two years and graduate there. This is so that we get exposed to different parts of the US.

I have started reading a book that I have very high expectations of, the reason being.... that I really liked the first chapter. But... one should never judge a book by the cover, or the first chapter that is. Anyway the title of the book is "A Peoples History of the Unite States" by Howard Zinn.

The author talks about the intention of this book, and I quote:

"And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of the thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioner."

I thought that was brilliant.

Zinn goes on to explain that he is not writing this book "to grieve for the victims" but to be "skeptical of governments and their attempts through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest."

There are many things in what I have read so far that are very interesting and I think I will write at least a couple of posts on the issues that are discussed.

Take care every1

Monday, August 08, 2005

Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL)

Is America in Iraq for Oil...?? Or Freedom and Democracy??

Although in our countries there isn't much doubt in peoples minds about this question, I was surprised that there are many Americans who would disagree and would tell you that it is about freedom.

One of those people commented on one of my postings and said :

"it's more about helping our fellow human beings in the Middle East achieve freedom so they will no longer feel helpless and turn to terrorism to gain a sense of control over their lives."

Is it just me or does there seem to be a big misunderstanding..? I actually loose sleep at night over this topic. Some Arabs would say that they are not only against the American government but also the American people for voting for Bush. They say that logicaly since many Americans vote for Bush then they like what Bush is doing to us. Well this comment that I quoted earlier should make us realize why some Americans do vote for Bush and they think they are actually doing something good for humanity by doing so.

The American governmant realizes that although many Americans have little knowledge of the world around them they still have an approach of deeply held principles and values. And therefore if they are to be convinced of something these principles must be brought forth. Afterall who would say no to helping other people gain liberty, especially if it means they would stop being terrorists. And who would say no to fighting "the axis of evil". If that was what I knew on the issue I would support Bush as well.

To some Americans this is a reality, why?? Because of the media . I read something in a book the other day which said that among FOX viewers greater attention to news increased the liklihood of misperceptions. ANd then it stated that FOX news emerged from the war as the most popular cable news network.

This might get you depressed, however there is hope. Because once people start realizing the truth, they oppose their governments actions. That is actually happening now, support for the invasion has inflated when Americans realized that 1) there is no link between Saddam and Alqaeda, 2) There were no Weapons of Mass destruction and 3) that global public opinion is not on their side.

These realizations have been made too late and its not even full realization of the situation but this is not surprising especially that in recent years the American gov. has abolished many rules designed to foster diversity in the media. SO now the news media is limited to a few national networks.

The solution is simple and very clear to me, if Americans were more "informed" and knew what was actually happening, they themselves would oppose it. However, according to Hook, the largest group of the American population, the Mass Public, are not informed and not interested in foreign policy and therefore have little impact.

(It is worth noting that there are many Americans who are informed and do oppose Bush, some are more anti-American foreign policy than some arabs I have met)

Who is to blame??

In one of my last postings "Make-up and Hunger" (July 20th, 2005) I got a comment from Blewyn. Part of this comment was:

"what has the western economy got to do with governments whose people starve ? Apart from the cash-crop issue, whose place is it to feed these people but themselves, ie their own governments ? "

I found this question very interesting and I thought the answer is important enough for a new posting.

What has this got to do with western governments... well isn't it obvious??? My answer to you, my friend, is colonialism and neo-colionialism. You may ask why I say this, to answer that question I would like to quote:

"Even when the developing countries work harder it is of little use; the structure of the international economy is biased against them and keeps them in a subordinate position as suppliers of cheap raw materials for the rich Western states and as consumers of their finished products. The developing world seems condemned to poverty and to continuing political weakness. (...) They remain chained economically to the Western industrialized economies, unable to grow in their own rights. Indeed their status ramains neocolonial because their economies are geared not to the needs of their own markets but to those of the developed countries markets"

These are not my words, but the words of Steven W. Hook and John Spanier, in their book "American Foreign Policy Since World War II". So you see the suffering of many poor countries is the result of either direct colonialism or todays neo-colonialism, or most of the times... both.


My sister Batool writing about her experience:

Yesterday I had one of the most heartbreaking experiences in my life. It started with a tour within the villages of Bahrain where we saw the effects of poverty everywhere. We then visited a house in AlDuraz where we had permission to go in and look around. One of the sons was showing us around and as soon as I stepped in I was devastated. The place was simply falling apart and it was merely a few rooms held together by an outer fence.
As we stepped in he told us that there were mice everywhere, and that the mice were eating everything. He also showed us this small shack where they usually stay during the winter because it tends to be a bit warmer. As we walked through the place we were told that the place was rented, and that everything in the house from cupboards to the refrigerator were all charity from people who had seen the house.
We also got to see the father who worked as a fisherman. He was telling us how he wanted to build a new house for his family but they simply had no money to build it. We then asked the son where he worked. He answered “I’ve been through many jobs but I’m currently unemployed”. In his last job he worked at a cleaning company from 2 in the morning till 11 at night. As I stood there figuring out the math, I was shocked beyond belief.
I said to myself that surely a person so overworked would at least have a good salary?? Well, I was wrong. His salary was a mere 150 BD. And what’s worse is that with all his hard work, he finally got fired for unknown reasons. I left that house with a sinking feeling. Why should anyone… Anyone… Have to live like that?? I have to say that I was proud of the people that lived in that house, because many people, if forced to live in those conditions, would have other (illegal maybe?) ways to deal with it. And yet this young man, as we left, held his head up high, smiled, and bid us farewell.