Repressing Democracy, With American Arms
WHEN President Obama decides soon whether to approve a $53 million arms sale to our close but despotic ally
Yet he should also understand the systematic, violent repression here, the kind that apparently killed a 14-year-old boy, Ali al-Sheikh, and continues to torment his family.
Ali grew up here in Sitra, a collection of poor villages far from the gleaming bank towers of
People here admire much about
In August, Ali joined one of the protests. A policeman fired a shell at Ali from less than 15 feet away, according to the account of the family and human-rights groups. The shell apparently hit the boy in the back of the neck, and he died almost immediately, a couple of minutes’ walk from his home.
The government claims that the bruise was “inconsistent” with a blow from a tear gas grenade. Frankly, I’ve seen the
Jawad al-Sheikh, Ali’s father, says that at the hospital, the government tried to force him to sign papers saying Ali had not been killed by the police.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has recently distanced himself from the killings and torture, while pledging that
Yet despite the lofty rhetoric, the police have continued to persecute Ali’s family. For starters, riot policemen fired tear gas at the boy’s funeral, villagers say.
The police summoned Jawad for interrogation, most recently this month. He fears he will be fired from his job in the Ministry of Electricity.
Skirmishes break out almost daily in the neighborhood, with the police firing tear gas for offenses as trivial as honking to the tune of “Down, Down, Hamad.” Disproportionately often, those tear gas shells seem aimed at Ali’s house. Once, Jawad says, a shell was fired into the house through the front door. A couple of weeks ago, riot policemen barged into the house and ripped photos of Ali from the wall, said the boy’s mother, Maryam Abdulla.
“They’re worried about their throne,” she added, “so they want us to live in fear.”
Mourners regularly leave flowers and photos of Ali on his grave, which is in a vacant lot near the home. Perhaps because some messages call him a martyr, the riot police come regularly and smash the pictures and throw away the flowers. The family has not purchased a headstone yet, for fear that the police will destroy it.
The repression is ubiquitous. Consider Zainab al-Khawaja, 28, whose husband and father are both in prison and have been tortured for pro-democracy activities, according to human rights reports. Police officers have threatened to cut off Khawaja’s tongue, she told me, and they broke her father’s heart by falsely telling him that she had been shipped to
Khawaja earned her college degree in
Khawaja is tough as nails, and when we walked alongside demonstrations together, she seemed unbothered by tear gas that left me blinded and coughing. But she worried about her 2-year-old daughter, Jude. And one time as we were driving back from visiting a family whose baby had just died, possibly because so much tear gas had been fired in the neighborhood, Khawaja began crying. “I think I’m losing it,” she said. “It all just gets to me.”
Since the government has now silenced her by putting her in jail, I’ll give her the last word. I asked her a few days before her arrest about the proposed American arms sale to
“At least don’t sell them arms,” she pleaded. “When Obama sells arms to dictators repressing people seeking democracy, he ruins the reputation of
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs