By Citizen Staff
The Arab Spring has been attracting significant academic interest at Harvard University.
Bahrain, a relatively progressive state in the Arabian peninsular region, has traditionally been a few steps ahead in terms of socio-political rights for its citizens.
When Bahrainis began their recent fight for democratic rights, it became relevant to discuss the state of the country and its citizens from a human rights perspective.
The film screenings series of the Human Rights PIC chose the documentary “Bahrain – Shouting in the dark” as the platform to jumpstart such a discussion at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“Bahrain – Shouting in the dark” is a documentary produced by Al Jazeera English featuring the events recorded during protests and police crackdowns. It features interviews with activists and physicians, contrasting those conversations with the news aired by state-owned television. Guest speakers at the event included Matar Ebrahim Matar, a politician from the opposition party who was detained without charges during the protest; Nada Alwadi, an independent journalist who fights for the democratic rights; and Hadeya Fathalla, a national security expert who is also an MPA-candidate from Bahrain.
The diversity of the speakers brought unique perspectives of the experiences of the detainees and the innocent citizens who were at the receiving end of the Bahrain government’s repression, as well as the state’s perspective on how national security requirements can override personal rights when the protestors’ backgrounds are linked to terrorism. The venue was fully occupied and the audience was highly engaging.
Students from Bahrain discussed how innocent expatriates get trapped in the political battle between the monarchy, the opposition and religious leaders.
Another member questioned the safe space that is denied to human rights professionals in Bahrain that work for the progressive betterment of their people. A student representing the rights of physicians highlighted how medical practitioners often become pawns in such political crises because they are coerced to violate their duties towards their patients under state pressure. Medical practitioners often have to face consequences under the Hippocratic Oath.
At the same time, the security expert on the panel pointed out that most of the problems in the country could easily be resolved if the religious leaders from both the Sunni and Shia would take a stand against violence and broadcast that message to their followers. The guest speaker from the opposition bore the brunt of the audience’s questions when he had to provide reasons why the opposition party did not embrace the opportunity to sign an agreement with the monarchy to move towards democracy.
While he expressed that it may have been a lost opportunity, he also said the process of negotiation is like a roller coaster ride and if the immediate response is state retaliation through the army, the intention may not be to work towards democracy.
After more than a year of protests and crackdowns, he used this platform to declare that, at this point in time, the members of the opposition party are open to engage in negotiations with the government and waiting for such an opportunity.
This event created a space for speakers from opposing backgrounds and ideology to come together and share their views. The diverse, worldwide audience benefited from two opposing political views and was given a platform from which to make their own assessment.