Tamarod breathes new life into Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement

The logo for Tamarod Bahrain.

The logo for Tamarod Bahrain.

It is too early to evaluate the outcomes of the new Tamarod movement which started a few days ago in Bahrain. However, it is fair to say that the organizers of the “Tamarod August 14” movement have managed to achieve one important goal at this stage: lots of attention.

Tamarod in Arabic means rebellions and the word was inspired by the grassroots movement in Egypt that collected 22 million signatures for a petition demanding the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi call for an early election. The success of this movement was inspiring to many Arab countries, including Bahrain.

Many activists and opposition leaders have recently complained that the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain, which erupted on February 14, 2011, has reached a stage of immobility. While protests and demands never stopped over the past two and a half years, neither did the human rights violations by the authorities. Both sides have been determined to continue the fight and neither has been able to prevail.

The launch of the Tamarod movement on August 1 stirred the stagnant water and forced all of the international players to react, including the United States and the United Kingdom. International media picked up the story and started reporting on Bahrain again after being occupied with struggles in larger countries in the Middle East. And most anti-government actors — whether they officially embraced the Tamarod movement or not — were supportive.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Bahrain reacted to this movement as soon as it was launched with a noticeable new wave of suppression. Even though leaders of this movement are unknown due to security reasons, several bloggers and online activists were arrested in Bahrain earlier this month and accused of being part of Tamarod. Officials in the Ministry of Interior called it “a terrorist movement,” and local media, which is mainly owned and controlled by the government, started campaigning against it. A special session of the National Assembly was convened to discuss “dealing with terrorism” and most members voted for harsher punishment against these so-called terrorists. Pro-government groups also started speaking out against the movement in social media and in public gatherings.

It was therefore no surprise to see an intense police presence early on the morning of August 14 throughout Bahrain. Residents of a few villages managed to organize protests; however, the heavy police presence prevented larger protests from occurring. The day ended with 13 injuries after the police fired birdshot and tear gas on the protesters. Meanwhile, shops in most parts of the country, especially in smaller villages, were closed as a sign of protest.

Several points need to be addressed to better assess what happened on August 14. First, the movement succeeded in highlighting the importance of the date, which is when Bahrain gained its independence from Britain 42 years earlier. Second, statements given by members of Tamarod outside Bahrain — as well as the leaflets designed by the movement that have circulated online — suggest that its organizers have a long-term plan, which will be revealed in the coming days. Finally, many observers said that Tamarod Bahrain would have garnered even more media attention had it not been for news of the Egyptian military clearing the streets of Morsi supporters.

Nevertheless, Tamarod Bahrain has a huge task ahead of itself if it is going to build a more effective movement. New creative tactics are needed to empower the Bahraini public toward peaceful resistance, as well as a real unified strategy, which has been missing since 2011. But there are encouraging signs of such a development. At the end of its first day, Tamarod Bahrain released a statement declaring the capital, Manama, as the destination for all future protests. Although the city has been besieged by police since the crackdown in April 2011 — forcing most protests to other parts of the small island nation — Tamarod aims to escalate the intensity of the struggle by bringing it back to the scene of its greatest confrontations.

Will this give the pro-democracy movement the boost it’s long needed to regain momentum? Only one thing seems certain: It won’t be long until we find out.

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