In the 1970s, one of the first phrases that Bahrainis learned in first grade was: “Hamad has a pen.” And that phrase remains stuck in the memory of many. But that phrase has recently been changed to: “Hamad has pain.” It was written on a sign held by a protester at a mass rally in a major neighborhood in the north, west of the Bahraini capital Manama. The modified phrase showcases the pain felt by the citizens under the rule of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
The demonstrations in Bahrain have not stopped in two and a half years, when the Arab Spring reached that small island in February 2011. The slogans raised in the demonstrations were highly creative and summarized the people’s suffering, especially after the harsh crackdown that killed dozens, wounded hundreds, tortured many, detained thousands and caused many to be dismissed from work.
In a recent demonstration on al-Badih Street, protesters released balloons that read “samidoon” [we are staying steadfast] and raised banners saying “I will die for my country.” That slogan was what student Ali Mu’min wrote on his Facebook page hours before getting shot and killed by the police at Pearl Square. The protesters carried pictures of their “martyrs” and prisoners, both men and women.
Many children were present. Some wore shirts showing pictures of their detained parents with the phrase “I want my father” or “I miss my father” written in red. Some children waved banners that read “When will my father go back to work?” And some parents painted their children’s faces red and white. In contrast, the government of Bahrain is trying to brand the protests as sectarian. The protesters try to counter that by raising banners saying “Sunnis and Shiites are brothers” and “Not Sunnis nor Shiites, just national unity.” And to refute violence, they raise banners saying “Peaceful, Peaceful,” and “My pen and tongue are my weapons.”
In contrast, the night demonstrations being organized by the February 14 Youth Coalition are more serious because they are calling for the regime to be toppled and for the ruling family, whom they call “criminal” and “occupiers,” to be tried. The slogan “The people want to overthrow the regime” is evident in those demonstrations, in addition to the slogan “May Hamad fall.”
Beside the angry slogans demanding that the murderers and torturers be punished, there are also humorous slogans. In one, the prime minister is called “Abu Dinar.” The opposition uncovered documents confirming that he bought a beachside plot of land worth millions for just 1 Bahraini dinar, or $2.60.
Bahraini cartoonist Ali al-Bazar told As-Safir that the demonstration banners are generally distributed by the demo organizers, so those banners get more visibility than homemade ones. “But many insist on making their own banners. They state their demands and they show pictures of loved ones, political leaders and relatives who were killed, captured or wounded. That’s their way of showing solidarity and demanding that the perpetrators be punished. Some spend a lot of time designing and preparing banners. Each expresses his opinion in his own way without endorsing the demands of the political groups. Each person has his own suffering, cause, demands and ways of expressing himself.”
Bazar tries to contribute to the demonstrations by drawing cartoons about the cause, current events and sometimes even about matters that he cares about personally.
Bazar encourages the Bahraini people to express their opinions, to actively participate in the demonstrations and to express their suffering in drawings. “We have a lot of creative types. But they are often held back by fear and by the lack of institutions that can embrace and nurture their creativity. We don’t even know who are those graffiti artists who draw on the city’s walls beautiful drawings of the Bahraini revolution. Moreover, there has not been a single song about what the people feel. And there are only a handful of artists and cartoonists.”
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