Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 13

Bahrain's Young Women Keep the Revolution Aloud

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bahrain's revolution is muffled by a combination of Saudi influence and U.S. reticence. Several young women--from both inside and outside the troubled kingdom--are overcoming the forces of silence.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Ayat al-Gormez, Maryam al-Khawaja, Lamees Dhaif, Amira al-Husseini.

These are just four of the young women who are giving their names, faces and voices to the revolutionary effort in Bahrain.

The most famous example is al-Gormez, a 20-year-old poet who got up on the makeshift stage in Pearl Square in Manama--the nerve center of the demonstrations--and read her poem about a conversation between King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa and Satan.

She became a YouTube sensation, but was arrested in June and sentenced to a year in prison. On July 13 she was unexpectedly released; she had reported to have been tortured while in custody. While the regime may have silenced her temporarily, al-Gormez remains a significant revolutionary figure.

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"One of the things I love about the Bahraini revolution is that you have a female who became a symbol for the revolution, and it's not only the girls that look up to her, it's the men as well," said Maryam al-Khawaja, director of international advocacy for the Bahrain Human Rights Center, a Bahrain-based nonprofit. "I love the fact that all my guy friends were talking about how much they look up to her and how she was like the icon of bravery to them."

Bahrainis under the age of 30 make up 65 percent of the population and the preponderance of demonstrators. As men and boys were rounded up and arrested by the hundreds in the first waves of demonstrations in February, such young women have emerged more visibly, maintaining a cause that has left several peaceful protesters dead from police violence.

Al-Khawaja Tweets Protests

One of the most prominent online activists is the Bahrain Human Rights Center's al-Khawaja, the 24-year-old daughter of a leading human rights activist.

Before the massive Feb. 14 protests she was not much of a Twitter user and had only about 30 followers. Now she has 19,000 followers and has sent more than 5,000 tweets, providing real-time coverage of various protests overlooked by many formal news agencies. As demonstrators flooded the streets she stayed for days on end in Manama's Pearl Square Roundabout tweeting round the clock.

On March 18 the government destroyed the famous statue at the center of Pearl Square Roundabout--the one featured on its currency--in an effort to silence its citizens.

Bahrain is a relatively wealthy country and Internet connections and smart phones are widespread. Al-Khawaja and others are using their keyboards and mobile phones to oppose what they see as two major forces of silence.

One is the mainstream Arab media, largely aligned with media powerhouse Saudi Arabia, the Sunni-ruled ally of Bahrain. Saudi media entities control about 70 percent of the regional advertising market and that professional influence has helped muffle attention to the uprising in the region.

Another silencer is the United States, which has largely withheld criticism from Bahrain, a regional ally that hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Al-Khawaja says Bahraini authorities frequently hack into e-mail accounts and disrupt online critics. That day her Twitter account had been hacked, blocking access to her account.

"I feel like my life is empty!" she half-joked.

In March she left Bahrain for the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to take part in a panel discussion about the human rights abuses occurring in her country. Since then she has been unable to return to Bahrain and spends her time traversing the globe, raising awareness and advocating for human rights in Bahrain.

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Thanks to womensenews and Courtney Radsch for reporting this story; it includes specifics and perspectives not as thoroughly covered in mainstream media. These women in Bahrain are fighting such an uphill battle of wills, there is a long way to go in Bahrain, and the outcomes are not certain yet.


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