Bahrain will shortly endure the fourth February 14 of political unrest – the date when protests were sparked across the Kingdom. Here Citizens for Bahrain looks back at what took place on each of these days.
Why is February 14 special to Bahrain? February 14 is the National Action Charter Day, when 98.4% of eligible voters voted for an amendment to the constitution in 2001, which gave people further rights and set the cornerstone for democratic progress in the Kingdom.
February 14; 2011
(The below account is based on the text of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report)
After the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, in early February 2011 various groups started calling for protests on February 14. Secretary General of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society Ali Salman supported these calls and Ayatollah Isa Qassim proclaimed that a wind of “unstoppable” change was sweeping through the whole region.
Groups like Wa’ad, Haq and Amal also gave their support to the protests and the shadowy “February 14” Group started agitating online in favour of protests.
On 14 February, protests sprung up on a small scale all over Bahrain, varying in size from tens of people to hundreds of people.
Mainstream political groups were calling for reform on the path of Constitutional Monarchy, and many people were articulating socio-economic grievances, while some radical elements were beginning to agitate for violently overthrowing the Monarchy.
Police were deployed across Bahrain, but were largely unprepared to handle such widespread activity. Protestor Ali Al-Meshaima was fatally shot when a rally of around 800 people “attacked a police patrol of eight police officers, using rocks and metal rods”. After police had “exhausted their supply of tear gas and rubber bullets, police resorted to firing one shotgun round”
The opposition proclaimed Mushaima to be a ‘martyr’ and as a result, over the coming days protests escalated across Bahrain.
February 14; 2012
After a year of instability and increasingly violent rioting, there were fears that the February 14 in 2012 might set the stage for further escalation.
However, after weeks of agitation, the opposition’s attempts to mobilize people for mass protests were remarkably disorganized and the result was a lot smaller than many had anticipated.
The Bahraini security forces had also been through months of retraining in order to better handle social unrest using minimal force and respecting the rule of law. So this anniversary’s protests were in part a testament to their better ability to manage protests, without events getting out of control.
The most prominent figure organizing the protests was Nabeel Rajab, but he failed to get his supporters anywhere near their planned destination of Pearl Roundabout, where many of the previous year’s political activity had been focused.
It’s worth noting that nearly a month later, the opposition organized more rallies, with Ayatollah Isa Qassim ordering people out on the streets. This time the faithful did what they were told and turned out in larger numbers, for rallies that were granted official permission by the Bahraini authorities. However, extensive rioting once again marred the rallies and one protester was left dead after a tear gas canister hit him on the head.
February 14; 2013
After two years of political unrest, occasional protests were beginning to feel like normality in Bahrain, so the 14 February events seemed somewhat less traumatic this time around.
The three day strike was organized like a military operation, with road-blocking equipment being dropped off around Bahrain and threatening leaflets warning store-holders that they would “suffer the consequences” if shops opened and children being told to stay away from school.
Rioting was even more localized this year, with intense activity being focused against police in the village hotspots. By now, hundreds of police had been hospitalized in increasingly severe violence against the security forces, in the form of firebombs, simple weapons and even makeshift explosives.
But for most of Bahrain, lives went on as normal and untroubled.
February 14; 2014
The opposition are already agitating for a “Pride Strike” extending over three days; again with thinly veiled warnings for people to stay away from work and schools over three days.
This is despite the recent initiative by the Crown Prince to relaunch the Dialogue, during which he sat with opposition clerics Ali Salman and Ayatollah Isa Qassim. Al-Wefaq agreed to participate, but seem determined to continue protests and riots, whatever the cost to Bahrain.