At least she had the resources to mount an effective campaign for his freedom. After nine and a half months Farhan was finally released. He had missed a lot of time with his son Nasser, born in August 2010. His business partners, pressured by the government, bought him out. So now he has to start over. But the nightmares won't stop.
The government has vowed to prevent things like this from happening again. An independent investigation into last year's turmoil documented 35 deaths in the crackdown on the demonstrators.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has said that he'll reform the political system to give people more of a voice. So far not much has happened. In an interview published a few days ago, King Hamad denied the existence of political prisoners and suggested that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should follow the advice of "the Syrian people" -- remarks, according to one journalist I spoke with in the Bahraini capital of Manama, that merely served to enflame the populace.
On February 13, Bahrainis took to the streets again. The Pearl Roundabout has been dismantled, but the demonstrators have tried to find new rallying points. The police rained down tear gas canisters on an estimated 10,000 protestors. An overwhelming security clampdown around the kingdom seems to have largely deterred additional demonstrations on the day of the one-year anniversary.
Bahrain hasn't solved any of its problems. With time, the opposition -- some of whom have moved from calling for constitutional monarchy to throwing Molotov cocktails at the police -- will grow radicalized. Iran has little to gain from getting directly involved, but then it doesn't really have to. The deepening global schism between Sunni and Shia can only be exacerbated by the images from Manama. (Right now, little noticed in the outside world, restive Shiites in the nearby Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia are battling the police once again.)
Like her husband, Ala'a never really thought of herself primarily as a Shiite before. But now she has no choice: "We're worthless. We're treated like second-class citizens." Now the authorities put photos of individual protestors on TV and the internet, urging people to inform on each other. The government, says Farhan, "is promoting the gap between Shia and Sunni."
Bahrain is small, and that makes it easy to ignore. But no one should make the mistake of thinking that that makes it unimportant.