Protest march along Budaiya Highway, 14 September 2012
Matthew Cassel writes for Al Jazeera English:
"We need supplies," said the doctor, "Who can go get them?" One activist, a computer engineer in his 20s, quickly volunteered and invited me to go with him. It was nearly midnight and the injuries were piling into the makeshift medical clinic in a home in the Sanabis village, a suburb of Manama, the Bahraini capital. Injured protesters couldn't be brought to hospitals or medical centres where they'd likely be arrested, so they were treated inside the villages. Volunteer medics were out of burn ointment and IV syringes, and needed someone to bring them from another makeshift clinic on the other side of the village.
There was a rare silence outside on the street. The protesters, mostly shabab (youth), had been dispersed only minutes earlier when dozens of police stormed through firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bird shot. The stench of gas still lingered; it never really disappeared fully from Sanabis during the two days of protests there.
We left the house into the streets. Some stone-carrying shabab were starting to return to the main crossings in central Sanabis, standing over broken glass and spent tear gas cartridges - all clearly marked "made in USA" --- waiting for the police to return.
We passed through the narrow alleyways, some barely wide enough for a car to pass through. Some parts were well lit with the bright orange glow of the street lights, others pitch black. Some areas were tight giving a sense of protection, while others were more open, leaving us completely exposed for a number of seconds when anything could happen. We could only hope as we approached the next street corner that there wouldn't be any police waiting around it, while we kept looking backwards to make sure there were none there either. Too fast and we would come upon them with no place to run, too slow and we'd get caught from behind.
In the chance that we did see police, which was more likely than not, we knew it'd already be too late. Their uniforms are unmistakable: blue bodysuits topped with bright white helmets. We had seen their weapons cause countless injuries all day long, and if we were spotted they'd fire at us. Up ahead atop a roof a couple of shabab on lookout waved to let us know the coast is clear. At the next crossing another group motioned for a signal to know if there are any white hats from where we just came.
As we continued to creep along in the shadows an abaya-clad woman peaked through the crack of her front door. "Come in," she whispered waving her arms for us to get off the street, "do you need anything?" "Thank you, hajjiyyah, we are okay," the runner whispered back, continuing his mission.
More than seven months after it began with marches of tens of thousands to Manama and sit-ins at the now-destroyed Pearl roundabout, this is what the Bahrain uprising has become.
After a brutal crackdown followed by months of martial law, the uprising is now largely confined to the numerous predominantly Shia villages around the country. It's an increasingly organised and (still unarmed) guerilla resistance movement against the police force armed with "non-lethal weaponry".
The protests last weekend were the biggest since martial law was lifted in early June. Two and a half months after they came, the Saudi and other troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (the GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait) returned across the causeway, linking the small island nation to Saudi Arabia.
The two days of demonstrations were called for by the faceless February 14 youth coalition, named after the first day of the uprising, to coincide with a boycott of September 24 by-elections to replace 18 opposition members of parliament who resigned during the brutal government crackdown that killed more than 30 protesters earlier this year.
Posters for the candidates set to replace the MPs hung in Manama and a few other places around the country. However, in villages like Sanabis, their pictures were nowhere to be seen. "Traitors" and "opportunists" is what activists in Sanabis called them.
Shia Muslims, who make up a majority of the country's population, say they've long faced discrimination by the ruling Sunni minority led by the al-Khalifa family. The government has accused the protesters of trying to create instability and being influenced by Iran.
The volunteer doctor in Sanabis disagreed that the conflict is sectarian, and said it's a question of rights that can be found throughout the entire Gulf region. "All of the countries [in the Gulf]," he said, "are ruled by families who only know how to control people."
A young activist in Sanabis told me that he's boycotting the elections because none of the protesters' grievances have been met, adding that the electoral process in Bahrain is "completely unfair". He said that not only do Shia districts get a minority 18 out of the 40 electable seats in parliament because of government gerrymandering in the lead up to the 2002 elections, the first in almost 30 years, but the other 40 seats in parliament are selected the king.
"Basically, there is no parliament, only an image of one," he said. "At the end of the day the king can do whatever he wants."