personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

The Arab Spring: When will the bloodshed end?


I woke up this morning and walked my children to the bus stop. They were so excited to go to school and play with their friends that they wanted to arrive at the stop twenty minutes early. The bus driver was punctual, I kissed my boys goodbye, walked home and read about a 14-year boy who was killed in Bahrain.

When I was fourteen I remember reading a quote in Omni magazine by Joseph Stalin, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” So far the Arab Spring has claimed – according to Wikipedia, anyhow – anywhere from nearly 24000 to 54000 lives. The Economist offers a smaller number, excluding Libyan deaths as of July. Whatever the real number is – and I doubt anyone will ever know – there have been countless children like 14 year-old Ali Jawad Ahmad who were innocent victims.

I wonder what the parents of Ali are thinking now. Are their thoughts filled with as much anger as sorrow, as much hatred as grief? To have a son taken away like that after being hit by a gas canister must be an unbearable loss to live with. The road from an Arab Spring to an Arab Summer has its martyrs, but why must one of them be this child? If anything positive can come out of his untimely death, it’s to highlight the absurdity and cruelty of the violence being perpetrated on peaceful demonstrators. In Bahrain, where over 30 people have lost their lives in protests since February. In Yemen where it’s more than 200, in Libya where thousands have died, in Syria where the death toll is over 2200...

When will the leaders in these countries have their WTF moment? When will they realize that by now, as long as there are people in their countries, there will be protestors in the streets demanding change? They will not back down. I hate to admit it, but the exit strategies led by Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt are proving themselves to be exemplary in comparison to the continued oppression we are seeing in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. When world leaders like President Obama (finally) state that “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” you’d think Assad would listen. Then again, probably not. When Assad takes note of how Gadhafi has fled after viciously fighting, he has to wonder what his end game will be like.

There are far fewer protests in Bahrain than in Syria, but the grievances, the anger, and the desire to change, is just as present, and the same goes for Yemen.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain has offered to pardon some of the protesters, but many remain in prison, like my friend Abdulhadi al Khawaja. Worse, some civilians, like Abdulhadi, were tried in a military court, a mockery of justice. The independent fact-finding panel investigating alleged human rights abuses is set to release its findings at the end of October. The panel’s independence has been put into question seeing how the king set it up. With the death of Ali Jawad Ahmad, they need to critically examine police practices during the protests. Hopefully the panel’s recommendations will, at a minimum, describe the violations, identify the violators and propose actions for accountability and true reform.

The bloodshed must end. I do remember another quote from that Omni magazine all those years ago, this one from Aldous Huxley: “Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell.” I hope not.



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