Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Since mid-March 2011, every night Zainab Al-Khawaja moved from a village to another. She cannot count the number of demonstrations she took part in. There is nowhere that she has not been to whether invited or not. One evening she passed by Duraz area and was surprised by a huge march. She parked her car and joined the protesters. Some of them were afraid as they did not recognize her. She said to them: “Don’t’ be afraid, I’m Abulhadi Al-Khawaja’s daughter.”
Previously, that was her identification. No one knew her other than Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s daughter. He is the Human Rights Defender and a prisoner for charge of toppling the regime. Today Zainab’s name is prevailing. The girls whisper her name when they go out for a demonstration. All the police know her well. One day, a police battalion intercepted a group of girls in Budaiya Street, they tried to rob the girls. A girl yelled at them and started to chant anti-regime slogans. A policeman shouted back angrily “Has Zainab Al-Khawaja taught you?”
At mid-night: Have I lost my eye?
Sometime, Zainab continues working day and night for her busy schedule. Everyone is surprised that she shows up on Twitter only after mid-night these days and rarely does she. When Zainab is not at a demonstration or a sit-in then she is in a meeting with one of the regime victims, in a visit to the detainees or martyrs’ homes, in an interview with the media, or in a workshop or a meeting planning for some activity.
Zainab does not stop working. She does not care whether she sleeps or not, fresh or tired. She feels so sad that her daughter is no longer close to her, because she does not see her. Last April, when she went on a hunger strike after her father and husband’s brutal arrest, Zainab says, “People considered me as one of hundreds of girls whose dads were arrested”, today “My dad and husband’s cases are only cases among hundreds others of detainees and tortured, and they mean to me the same.”
Zainab accompanied many of the injured in their journey of treatment. She treated the protesters who had hidden in a house that the police burnt in Sanabis area while the protesters were inside. The most tragic event for Zainab was when she took a boy whose eye was injured to hospital. The doctor removed the injured eye in front of her. The boy cried: “Tell me, have I lost my eye? Please I want to see mum with both eyes!” Zainab froze and could not speak. What matters for her is that people should not forget those grievances.
Research in Civil Disobedience
Zainab is a strong believer of her cause. You would not think that her talk is slogans. She fills in all the gaps. She does not leave doubts in her ideas. She is serious and resolute, honest and courageous. She always works within the framework of her principle. She cleverly constructs a convincing idea from that principle.
Prior to 14 Febraury Zainab made a research about the Peaceful Resistance and Civil Disobedience. She discussed that with Abdulwahhab Hussain (a popular leader and prisoner with her father) and other leaders. She is inspired by Gandhi through the writings of Gene Sharp.
“I am not political, and don’t like to be” Zainab says. Many told Zainab to be considerate and take care of some issue for political reasons. One of them was Nicholas Kristof. However, she refused. She does not like to think how she talks to people in a way to influence them. She likes to be on her own nature, to be 100% honest. She likes that whoever listens to her feels that she tells the truth and expresses her opinion without any twists.
Not only she is full of strong will, she has emerged from the agony filled with challenge. “I want to break people’s fear. I want to show them that they can say Down with Hamad as far as he’s doing all of that to us. After I got five cases of people who were beaten and tortured by the King’s sons Nasser and Khalid, I wrote about it without hesitation.”
Why is she angry? “We have all the right to be angry, no one should come and say to me calm down. After all that injustice? Those who sit at their homes, sleep, eat and lead a regular life and don’t get angry for what’s happening to us, those are abnormal, being angry is normal.”
In Aali area when she was arrested for the second time, the police thought that her standing was an ambush. She did not know that somebody was filming. She did not carry her phone. She prepared for that by only putting on two shirts on top of each other, to lessen the pain of beating that she would be subjected to.
Zainab’s talk and work are transparent, honest, and extremely accurate despite their abundance and spontaneity. After Nicholas Krisof advised the authorities not to harm her, as she might be their future leader as he put it, Zainab laughed a lot “He’s raving. Will the Bahrainis elect a liberal girl to be their leader?”
Down with Hamad
Zainab left her home at Muqsha’a area on foot to head to Abu Saiba’a roundabout, passed through the riot police that deployed everywhere during the “Occupy Budaiya Street” rally. When she arrived the troops had attacked the protesters in front of the “Country Mall”, everyone had gone inside the mall, and nobody was in the street, only the riot police.
She sat cross-legged alone. She started to chant amid the amazement of the riot police “Down with Hamad, Down with Hamad”. Other girls were encouraged and joined her. The forces came and fired on their heads. Everyone left but she stayed.
The Lady Police came, and started to swear at her the most hateful insults. Her response to them was only “Down with Hamad”. When they asked her to leave or tried to remove her, she replied “Down with Hamad”. They punched her in the face and dragged her on the ground. She did not resist, she only shouted “Down with Hamad”, they took off her scarf and rammed it in her mouth to silence her. She took it away and continued to chant “Down with Hamad”.
Zainab thought that they would do that to her in the street while they had full control of every movement on the street, especially, from the mall side after their attack. “Honestly, I didn’t expect they were that stupid”. Somebody was filming the entire event by a video camera. Zainab knew that from her lawyer.
Along the way to the police station she was kicked and beaten on the head. She did not know from where the strike would land. She was not able to see. She refused to reveal the bad words and insults that the lady police said to her, even at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights for documentation, “I can’t get that crass”.
Zainab was jailed for seven days. She was released before that duration was over. Her first tweet was “Down with Hamad 10 10 T10 [the car horn tone for down with Hamad in Arabic]”. People started to call Abu Saba’a roundabout Zainab Al-Khawaja Roundabout. “I’m honoured, but it would better if it’s named Abu Saba’a Free People Roundabout.”
Legitimacy: the Weak Point
Zainab does not talk against those who use the Molotov cocktails as a defence tactic. However, she says
peacefulness the strongest way. It should not evolve in violence. It is strong than violence and more effective.
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Victory.. in visiting old woman
“Peaceful resistance is contrary to surrender, it needs courage” Zainab says. “The best thing I read about that is to combat against the weakness of the opponent, not their strengths, that what makes peaceful tactics work and effective”
“The strength of the dictators and tyrants is arms and violence, on the contrary, those are not our strengths, we don’t know how to wield violence. The weakness of our opponent that tips the balance to our favour is that we have to make them see that our principle is stronger than theirs.”
The authorities justify their use of violence through their loyalists, those who were raised to the notion of “Dad Hamad” as he has developed and built the country. Al-Khalifa should be the rulers and no one else, they try to promote among the people that they should stay in power for ever and their removal is impossible, they depict them as Gods haloed in holiness and fear.
We should promote the contrary, as Zainab sees it. Among all the people, we target their legitimacy as a government and regime. That is stronger than hurling Molotov cocktails at them. However, Zainab, herself, would not have accepted such way of thinking, and had not been convinced of it. She had considered it stupidity, all that changed after what she witnessed of her father in front a tank.
A Degree in Political Science
Zainab 28 years old spent her school days in Denmark. She graduated from the American University of Beloit where she majored in Journalism and Political Science. She would impress the famous American journalist Nicholas Kristof “She speaks impeccable English.”
In the anniversary of 14 February, Zainab was not in the field with the people as she had been last year when she informed the world of the first demonstrations especially in Sitra area. Certainly, she has not retreated. She would not accept any excuse for herself. She was behind bars for the fourth time because she was at the barbed wire fence that surrounded her freedom and the Pearl Roundabout.
The Arabic copy