I came to Netroots Nation with a keen sense that I’d be disappointed by what the progressive base of the Democratic Party has to say about the Middle East, but a Bahraini writer who is on a State Department-sponsored tour and is afraid to publish in her own country has already stolen the show here with her declaration that Obama and Hillary Clinton have “betrayed” the Arab spring by not supporting the uprising in Bahrain– even as a State Department minder stood at the side of the room.
Lamees Dhaif said, “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.”
Dhaif, who is on an American tour with 20 other bloggers sponsored by the Washington Foreign Press Center, a branch of the State Department, said she had confronted State Department officials in Washington with details of human rights violations, but these officials already knew the information and said they couldn’t come out against Bahrain.
Dhaif worked as a columnist for four newspapers, including a Saudi one, but when the democracy movement began in Bahrain she had no choice but to support people who were speaking out for economic reform and human rights. As soon as she did so, “I had to be punished.” She lost three jobs on one day, and the other soon after.
She continued blogging but the regime persecuted her own family. “My brothers were hunted in their jobs, they were punished because of their sister.” Government thugs broke into the family house and tried to burn it. Dhaif’s reputation was savaged on the internet. “It was like a witchhunt in the 16th century.” Her sister was imprisoned for 50 days, and tortured. And similar punishments have befallen student bloggers. Even for tweeting or posting on facebook, the government finds their IP addresses, arrests them, tortures them, tosses them back on the street at night, publishes their phone numbers and libels about their social activities.
“They are kidnapped in the middle of night and tortured, no one knows about them, and of course they cant tweet any more. Some of the girls’ brothers, they couldn’t even go out of the house, because they are so ashamed of what is said about their sisters.
“We are in a very conservative society, it’s not something easily taken, that this girl has a relationship with a man, or she has many boyfriends. And they don’t have to give a proof, they just have to say it, and 90 percent of people will believe.”
These punishments have worked. Bloggers and tweeters shut up. And Dhaif is now afraid to write.
“I’m so terrified, yet I’ve been asking myself this question every day for the last 2 months. I can speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves. I know that I will pay for it with a very high price. But if I keep quiet, more and more people are paying every day. You know, this is the conflict between what you believe in and what you should do [to protect] yourself.”
Dhaif’s testimony was so inspiring that she got repeated applause from the Netroots audience, and all four panelists on the Arab Spring panel (more to come) got a standing ovation at the end.
I wonder whether the platform that Dhaif has commanded at a progressive forum– with a tall blonde State Department official who is leading the bloggers’ tour standing at the side of the room — will have any effect on American policy.
Dhaif said that she had brought her charges to the State Department the other day, and the officials she spoke to knew the story.
“They actually know about it, they know all the details, about the doctors and writers, but they say that the Bahrain governmet– we have layers of relationship with them, we cant conflict with them…. But because they are loking the other way from us, we are being crushed every day.”
Dhaif was just as judgmental of American policy toward Iran.
“Iran turned into a phobia. For 30 years they’ve been terrifying us and terrifying the world– Iran is going to take on Gulf countries. But Iran is a loud country, they talk a lot. For 30 years I haven’t seen them do anything. But on the ground, what did they actually do? And they are taken as an excuse to make us pay more for armies, for not having equal rights…”