Nabeel Rajab speaks to crowd at the mass gathering of Bahraini political societies, 12 January
In this speech from last Thursday, Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, outlines a vision for the future direction of the protest movement. He calls for unity across religious, political, economic, and social lines, as the opposition takes the marches out of the villages and into the capital, Manama. Rajab also says it is now time for King Hamad to step down.
For us, the speech is significant and essential reading for several reasons.
- There is a growing attempt to paint the opposition movement, and particularly Rajab, as led by Shia fundamentalists, linked to Lebanon's Hezbollah and funded by Iran. This line is being taken to journalists in the "West", possibly through public relations firms, and definitely though Saqer Alkhalifa, the Bahraini regime's media attache in Washington. On a number of occasions, Alkhalifa has posted statements and videos via his public Twitter account putting out this message.
The Western media routinely frames the political situation in Bahrain on sectarian lines. They have often falsely described Rajab as a "Shia activist" (he is secular, born to a mixed family).
- Many in the media have not seen the opposition movement that has been growing in protests in villages across Bahrain for several months. Instead, some reports put out a general, sectarian portrayal of a battle between the Alkhalifa ruling family (Sunni) and the opposition Al Wefaq (Shia). For example, see Frank Gardner's framing for the BBC in December: "Meeting both King Hamad and the head of Bahrain's main opposition party in London today, I heard, perhaps predictably, both sides of the story." Or see how today's New York Times description of "Bahrain's opposition" was limited to Al Wefaq.
- Al Wefaq, the largest legal opposition party, if far from the only opposition group, has taken a line distinct from Rajab's. Following King Hamad's speech on Sunday, Al Wefaq --- who had organised last Thursday's rally --- criticised the monarch's Constitutional reforms as "cosmetic" but they announced that they would not support a campaign for the departure of the King.
- There was a mixed audience, with multiple religious and political affiliations, and a range of speakers at the rally. We have watched the video of the occasion and note the enthusiastic reception that Rajab received when he took the stage, throughout his speech, and after he finished talking.
We are grateful to Views From Bahrain for the translation.
The Speech of Nabeel Rajab, 12 January 2011
On the topic of lying down, it seems that tens of thousands are going to lie down in Manama tonight. For this reason, the regime has closed down all the entrances to the area and all the entrances to the capital. So we can say that we have accomplished half the desired result up to now, and the other half will --- God willing --- be accomplished after this gathering when we go to Manama.
Brothers & sisters, after the publication of the Bassiouni [BICI] report, it has become clear that the regime is insisting on its existing policies, its recklessness, its brutality and its tyranny. And it doesn’t seem like there is any glimpse of hope or sign that we cling on to that indicates to us that the regime is going to reform itself. The persistent use of excessive force against protesters, and the new strategy of kidnapping the youth from the villages, dragging them to isolated places like the Youth Hostel, municipality buildings and stable in Budaiya, and torturing them there indicates that the new strategy is not to take them to police stations to do this, so that these institutions are able to distance themselves from these crimes, and for them not to be accused of ill-treatment and/or torture. This shows that this regime does not learn from its past mistakes, and does not learn from what is going on in the world around it.
I think that we are entering a new phase of activism. We are entering a phase in which we have to escalate our activism work as individuals, organizations, activists and human rights defenders. The regime has undoubtedly gotten used to the current rhythm of protests, just like a body that gets used to certain drugs. The regime got used to these gatherings and to the small village protests that it ends and disperses using tear gas. At the same time it tries to mislead the world public opinion in saying that Bahrain does not have any problems except for some small protests inside the villages and these gatherings.
We have to be clear in our speech. Our problem is not with the Prime Minister, nor with the government of the Prime Minister, whom are all merely employees. Our problem is with the King of Bahrain.
Our problem is with the King, whom since his ascendancy to the throne we have been facing tragedies. It’s the same King that was behind the Bandar Report [Bandargate], the same King that was behind the sectarian cleansing in public institutions, the same King that tried to implement sectarian segregation, and the same King that is trying to change the demographic composition of the country. As I said before, we tried to give the King a chance. We have rarely criticized the King in our speeches and writings to allow him a way back from his policies and for him to reform. However, it is now clear that this strategy has not produced any results with the King. So it is now important that we openly confront the King with honesty.
[Speaking to the King] We have given you a great opportunity to reform yourself. If you cannot get rid of the heavyweights of your regime and the crimes that your regime has committed, then it is the appropriate time now for you to leave.
I call on the patriotic lawyers, that have played a crucial role during this crisis and deserve all the thanks and gratitude from us, to start filing court cases against all the criminals and human rights violators that have killed and tortured. Especially that most of the international courts of justice do not accept cases in their courts until after exhausting all the local means of obtaining justice. Therefore, I would request the lawyers, again which have already exerted considerable effort in the legal movement in the courts and have themselves been victims of detention, like Mohammed Al Tajer, and threats, like Jalila Al Sayed, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohammed Al Jishi and others, to start filing these court cases, and to start with members of the ruling family that have been complicit in these crimes, headed by the sons of the King; Nasser & Khalid. Adding to them, the Commander of the BDF, Khalifa bin Ahmed, the Head of the NSA (that has been recently promoted), Khalifa bin Abdulla, the Head of the Riffa Police Station, Khalifa bin Ahmed, and also Sh. Noora. These people, and according to many statements received by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, have been complicit in crimes of torture either directly or indirectly.
On another point, we must get past the protest marches and gatherings that wait for the permission of the authorities.
I do not know if the King of Bahrain is looking at the thousands chanting "Down with Hamad". And these are the same people that have greeted him when he first ascended to the throne with chants of "With our Blood & Soul, we would sacrifice ourselves for you, Abu Slaman [Hamad]". [Speaking to the King] What have you done to yourself and your regime?! What is the scale of crimes that your regime has committed!? What has changed in these innocent people, that have greeted you and carried your car in Sitra, to now unanimously chant "Down with Hamad"?!?
I think that activists, human rights defenders and leaders in all the areas and villages need to start rallying the people in their areas and villages. I can see that we are entering a new phase, and this new phase requires steadfastness and insistence, and it provides a new challenge. We are entering a phase of “to be or not to be”. This regime is targeting our very existence, our culture and our faith. This regime is waging a war against us. It is now imperative that we start rallying the youth and the elderly, the men and the women, in all our areas and villages to be ready for the new phase in our struggle.
As I have mentioned before, these protests need to include everyone. It should not be restricted to any age, social or economic group. These protesters are defending all our dignity, that of the merchants of us and that of the poor, that of the women and that of the men, that of the Islamists and that of the Leftists, that of the Shias and that of the Sunnis. Therefore, everyone must participate in these protests regardless of age, social and economic status, or political and religious ideology, and not restrict the participation in a few youth from certain areas and villages.
Apparently, keeping some of the leaders of the opposition in prison until now seems like they are being held as hostages. Even after the publication of the Bassiouni [Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry] Report and its consideration of these prisoners as prisoners of conscience, the regime has kept them in prison. It seems that they are being kept in prison in order for the regime to be able to use them as a bargaining chip. But we say to this regime that, whether you release them today or tomorrow, we will relentlessly continue our struggle for their release and will not accept to bargain on their release!
I get asked a lot whether I am with this group or that. Whether it’s myself, as Nabeel, or the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, we do not adopt a political stance, whether it’s the reform of the regime or its downfall. We leave this decision to the political societies and political movements both those inside and outside prison. But we stand with a consensus between all the political societies and political movements, and we want to push for them to sit with each other and reach this consensus and we will struggle for this. We do not encourage disagreement between groups whereby people from one side would criticize or abuse the other. This has cost us a lot in the past period. We need to unite now more than any other period. We have all been equally targeted, whether you are an Islamist, a Leftist, a youth from Haq, a youth from Al Wafa’a or a youth from Al Wefaq, we have been targeted by the regime equally and indiscriminately. Therefore, I ask the youth, especially those active online, not to engage in discussions to point out our differences. Be on the side that unites and not the one that puts us apart.
Manama is the capital of the people of Bahrain, and not the capital of the regime. Manama will be the subject of the coming phase in our struggle. With you, and with all the political societies, political movements and rights organizations, we will work on moving all our protests to the capital of the country, and we ask you to support these protests. We also ask the people of Manama to open their doors for all the protests, starting from tonight. We have to influence this regime that wants all our protest movements to be confined within our villages and be isolated. This is what the Minister of Interior said to the Parliament two days ago, claiming that by February all protests will be over. We have to prove to him that the protests are not over, and that we will continue in our protests and our struggle whether he likes it or not.
Brothers & sisters, you will probably have to excuse me since I will have to leave you and head to Manama where I will be waiting for you. I hope that as soon as this gathering is over you will all, men and women, head to Manama to join me.
I also ask you, since I don’t know what would happen to me today or tomorrow, not to surrender or let go of your rights. Don’t bargain with your rights, even if they put all your leaders behind bars. Even if we had to sacrifice more and put forth more martyrs, don’t relinquish your rights. We have conceded enough in the past, and the regime has enslaved us for too long. To this day, this regime is breaking into houses, stealing property, arresting women, beating the elderly and demolishing mosques. So we have to ask, what has this regime done 50 years ago, if it is doing this now in spite of the media and the whole world watching!? We have to admit, we were the reason that allowed the regime to commit these crimes until now. Even being from the Bin Rajab family, I have to say, we strengthened the regime in the past by allowing it to rule in this brutal way against its people and not standing up. Therefore, I ask you again, not knowing if I may ever be kidnapped, imprisoned or even killed, which I do not fear, to not ever surrender your rights for freedom of expression, against illegal detention,….
I am waiting for you in Manama!