A Bahraini journalist and blogger spoke at the Netroots Nation conference today about how her country’s protest movement has been beaten back, the personal costs of supporting the uprising, and how the U.S. State Department remained silent.
Lamees Dhaif said that she supported the protest movement that became widespread in Bahrain following the initial outburst of the Arab Spring. “It was very simple,” she said. “Those people have rights.” But her outspoken support cost her jobs at three newspapers in one day and her family was targeted. “As bloggers, as journalist,” she said
we pay [very high] price of speaking loud. I don’t think any American citizen can understand what I’m saying. If we say one word that they consider wrong, they can punish you in every possible way. They can punish you, they can punish your family, they can hunt you everywhere. [They] tried to burned my house with family in, attacked my house. My brothers were hunted in their jobs; they were punished because of their sister. My sister [was] arrested for fifty days as a punishment to me, to force me to stop writing.
Dhaif is in the U.S. as part of a State Department-sponsored tour for foreign journalists. She said she was excited about the opportunity to meet with State and to share her stories so that people would understand what she and her colleagues were going through in Bahrain. But her information sharing was unnecessary: State already knew all she had to say, and explained that they were restrained because of the U.S. relationship with Bahrain, which has vast supplies of natural gas and, more importantly, houses the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet:
They actually knew about it. They know all the details: the doctors and writers. But they said, ‘The Bahrain government, we have layers of relationship with them. We can’t conflict with them.’
The irony — that Dhaif recognizes — is that U.S. is itself based on the values she espouses, and has considerable pull with Bahrain, but refuses to exercise it:
I come from a country that the government thinks that the U.S.A. is their god. So if the U.S.A. gave them a very harsh recommendation about what they can do, they will do it. But still the U.S.A. doesn’t want to say something… [They] concentrate on the other revolutions.
Dhaif said she felt “betrayed” by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
The [U.S.] give us the oldest idea: All the people should be equal, all the people should have human rights. [But] Hillary Clinton [went] out and say, ‘The other armies have the right to go to Bahrain.’
This, of course, referred to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a consortium of Gulf monarchies that has been at the forefront of countering the Arab Spring. As the protest movement in Bahrain grew, the GCC, with Saudi Arabia leading the way, moved forces in and aided the royal family in a violent crackdown. But as Dhaif notes, despite its silence, the State Department already knew that.
Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss caught up with Dhaif after the Netroots session. Here’s what she had to say:
We expected that Americans would stand by us. We thought that when five armies came into our country, America would give a definite No No No, this should not happen. We were shocked by Hillary Clinton’s statement. She gave the green light for the people who are crushing us. If Iran was coming to Bahrain, we wouldn’t mind [the Saudi and Emirates armies entering Bahrain]. But nobody is there but us.