MANAMA, Mohammad E. AlMaskati -- Protests and local political tension are not new to Bahrain. Most of those at Pearl roundabout, Lulu, yesterday were in their early teens during the unrest of the 1990s, when leftists, liberals and Islamists last rose up together in support of democratic reform. Many of them must have had relatives that were either in prison, forcibly deported, or carried a martyr above their shoulders to their final resting place.
The situation in the '90s was horrific to say the least: The use of live bullets, allegations of torture, imprisonment without trial and even midnight police raids on homes became stories shared at family gatherings. All of this came to a sudden stop when the political mood in the country turned 180 degrees with the demise of the late Emir, and his son, King Hamad taking control.
There was no need for any dialogue with the opposition to know what the people were demanding. Soon after the king took office he introduced what is now known as the "National Action Charter", which Bahrainis voted in favor of by 98.40% through a national referendum.
Bahrain lived in happy times during the celebrations of the charter. People of all sects, all political and economical backgrounds were on the streets in a scene of unity Bahrain had never experienced before.
It all came to an end on February 14, 2002, when the king replaced the 1973 constitution. That was why that day chosen for what is now being known as the "Revolution of February 14".
As I walked towards Lulu on the first day of the sit-in (after the fall of the first two martyrs), I knew this was different than all the other protests I had seen around the country. Pearl roundabout stood before me in all its glory, a miniature of Tahrir Square was slowly being built before my own eyes.
Within hours, protesters built a stage in the middle of the roundabout and installed two large speakers. Tents soon followed, signs, woman and children. By nightfall, it had grown to a large camp with full amenities. Thousands of protesters were chanting "we will not leave before he leaves".
"He" is Bahrain's Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman AlKhalifa. He is a symbol of the brutality, the corruption and the arrogance of the royal family. He has been in office for a more than 40 years.
By February 17th, three days after the sit-in started, the demonstrators on Lulu had agreed to a unified list of demands. Hours later the local police used brute force to drive them from the roundabout, allowing the army to take over.
I couldn't sleep that night. News made its way to Twitter and local online forums. I stayed awake, scrolling through the tweets and web pages, hungry for news, any news. Soon, the facts of the massacre that took place that night came to light. Four deaths were confirmed, two from gunshot wounds, while another was described by a local journalist to the BBC as an "execution". The final victim to death on the streets without medical attention.
I, along with hundreds of others, responded to calls surfacing on Twitter and Blackberry messages calling for donations at the local blood bank. That was when I was witnessed the trauma first hand. I saw doctors and paramedics in total shock, I heard woman and children crying hysterically , I saw wounded lying in the corridors of the hospital as I slowly walked to the blood bank only to be turned away because of my blood type.
I walked downstairs to where demonstrators had gathered outside the hospital. You could feel the anger and sorrow in the air. People were furious, swearing that the blood of those killed would not go in vain. More and more of the injured came in through the main door, as doctors screamed "How many more?"
Medics soon learned that the police had not allowed ambulances to approach the roundabout and evacuate the wounded; the paramedics that tried were severely attacked by riot police. Soon afterward, the local TV channel aired news of the tactical attack on the protesters, claiming that 50 members of its police force were injured by "swords and daggers" used by the protesters . No video evidence of such acts were broadcast.
The next day, we all watched videos of live rounds being shot by what looked like a machine gun at unarmed protesters as they walked carrying flowers to the army that took control of Lulu Roundabout.
That same day, things started to calm down. The army slowly withdrew from Lulu handing it to police, only to be taken over once again by the protesters who were once again driven back by little teargas and rubber bullets.
The protesters return to Lulu today, as determined as ever to stay in protest until all demands are met.
We are still waiting for the outcome. The families of the dead are still burying their loved ones as national TV and local radio stations turn a blind eye to the situation and continue to air songs of unconditional allegiance to the King and the royal family. As the calls for unity among different sects of the community grow, there is a lot of talk and lots of promises. Those in Lulu today are left to wonder: Has anything really changed?
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