Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark
Release Date: 4/12/2012
When Western media discuss the Arab Spring protest movements, they recall the overthrow of governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya (the latter with the help of NATO airstrikes), and now, potentially, Syria, where violent military suppression helped suck a peaceful protest movement into a bloody civil war against Bashar al-Assad and his loyalists. U.S. officials and others, seizing on the chance to score a human rights win and oust an "anti-Western" regime, expressed disdain for Assad's actions, trumpeting the vital role of freedom and democracy to any just world. However, there is one Middle Eastern protest movement that Western geopolitical maneuvering has had no time for. What about Bahrain?
Former Deep Dish TV and Paper Tiger TV producer May Ying Welsh, now working for Al Jazeera English, has just received the George K. Polk Award for reporting, producing, and directing the excellent documentary, "Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark." The 50-minute piece chronicles the Bahraini protest movement that began on February 16, 2011, when thousands amassed in Pearl Roundabout, in Manama, the capital, to speak out against the injustices wrought by the ruling Sunni minority upon the Shia majority. The government reacted to the gathering with swift brutality, clearing out the roundabout in a 3 a.m. raid, in a similar but far more violent fashion to the NYPD's handling of Zucotti Park. Army and police forces, which are predominantly Sunni, killed four people in that raid, and beat, maimed and injured many more, including doctors treating protesters (the doctors also cared for wounded soldiers and police). Welsh and her team went undercover to interview Bahrainis on the ground, capturing the pain, indignation, hope and even occasional spontaneous joy of the movement and putting a human face on an uprising that has been "forsaken by the West and forgotten by the world." Indeed, as Libya received NATO support, and Egyptians and Tunisians received moral support from Western diplomats, Bahrainis have been neglected while military and riot police increase the intensity of their crackdown on the Shia majority. Doctors Without Borders has observed that many wounded Bahrainis avoid seeking medical attention, for fear of being arrested, especially after the military occupied Salmaniyya Hospital, the main hospital in Manama, arresting, imprisoning, and torturing and arresting dissident doctors and patients. In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released a report on conditions in the country, which, among other details, found that the government "systematically tortured prisoners."
Though Bahrainis are living through much harder times than Occupiers, they, at their core, are fighting common enemies: government corruption and violence, lack of citizen power in politics, the undue influence of wealth and privilege in politics, and the "theft of public wealth" by a small ruling minority. The Sunni Khalifa family has controlled Bahrain since the 17th century, backed first by a treaty with the British, and later by its oil alliance with the United States and Saudi Arabia. In 2001, Emir Hamad Khalifa changed his status to King. The king's uncle, Prime Minister Salman Khalifa, has headed the Parliament for 40 years, the longest such tenure ever. Parliament is littered with royal appointees to keep power in the hands of the Khalifa family. PM Khalifa bought the Bahrain Financial Harbor, a conduit of capital in a struggling nation, for one dinar ($2.65 US). Today, the protest movement continues, and the government continues to ruthlessly persecute, shame, imprison and torture protesters and those aiding them.
Every year, Long Island University gives out George K. Polk Awards to celebrate excellence in journalism across many categories. Winning the Television Documentary category, May Ying Welsh is the first Al Jazeera correspondent to receive the award. She has worked on many documentaries, including the Deep Dish TV programs "Anchors Away!" and "Breaking the Blockade." She has also worked for Democracy Now!, and currently works for Al Jazeera English. You can catch all of "Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark" here:
And here's an interview about the film with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!: