The Arab Spring is still going on in the tiny Persian Gulf country of Bahrain. The protests began in February 2011 and have continued ever since despite harsh government reprisals. The news that five home-made bombs exploded in the capital of Manama earlier this week, killing two and severely wounding another, has observers fearing that the mostly peaceful uprising could take a turn toward violence.
Maryam Al-Khawaja is one of the country's leading activists, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and head of the international office of the Gulf Center for Human Rights' (GCHR). Based in Copenhagen, she comes from one of the most prominent dissident Bahraini families. "The last time I cried was when I read the report on how they tortured my father," said Al-Khawaja. "But my family is just one of a long list." The interview was conducted for Foreign Policy by Azzurra Meringolo.
Foreign Policy: According to the Bahrain News Agency (BNA), the Bahraini Information Minister, Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab, said the bombings were staged by terrorist groups trained outside Bahrain and based in countries including Lebanon. What do you think? And how can you explain everything that's happening?
Maryam Al-Khawaja: As always we condemn violence, but given the Bahraini authorities' background in spreading disinformation we are calling for an independent investigation into the deaths of the two migrant workers. We are also reminding the authorities that this is not grounds to start a campaign of collective punishment, arbitrary arrests, and torture as we've seen happen before.
More from Democracy Lab
- The Optimist’s Case for Yemen
- The Prickly Politics of Aid
- LGBT rights and the long road to democracy in Georgia
FP: The U.S. and European governments often call for the release of human rights activists in Bahrain, but this ultimately doesn't change the situation. What is the role of the international community? Are Western countries being too silent?
MK: These powers also have interests to defend in the Arab region. The United States, for example, has naval bases in Bahrain. I personally think that, if the European Union and the United States stop supporting the regime, it will fall very quickly. The reason they are still in power is because they have the support of foreign countries. The fact that European countries are selling weapons to the Bahrain government to commit human rights violations is disgusting. These are the same countries that speak everyday of human rights and democracy. They criticize Russia for doing the same in Syria. But then they close their eyes to what happens in Bahrain. Now the regime knows that they are not going to act. It is not afraid of their words because it knows that they are just words. The Western powers are not going to impose economic sanctions or stop selling arms to the regime.