Matar is one of 18 members of the al-Wefaq political party who recently resigned from parliament in protest of the Sunni regime’s crackdown on predominantly Shiite protesters. Constant regime surveillance had become the norm and party leaders feared for their safety, according to one of Matar’s colleagues. Matar suggested the caller meet him at al-Wefaq’s bustling office. She demurred, suggesting an alternative location close to his home.
Matar eventually agreed and drove with his wife to the appointed place. When they arrived, armed, masked men pulled Matar into their car and sped off, according to Matar’s colleague, who is in touch with his wife. Matar has not been heard from since, but a government spokesperson confirmed to one of us that he “has been called in for investigation.”
It has now emerged that another Wefaq member and former parliamentarian, Jawad Fairuz, was arrested the same night in what appears to have been a simultaneous operation. His house was surrounded by some 30 masked agents, weapons drawn, said a source close to his family.
“This is the type of regime we are dealing with. Crackdown and punishment and revenge are the only tools they are using,” said Matar’s colleague. “[Matar is] a very peaceful person, and a politician, doing his job. Who knows? Maybe I will be next.”
Since pro-democracy demonstrations began in Bahrain in February, more than 30 protesters have been killed, according to press reports. The U.S. State Department has condemned the arrest of opposition leaders to little effect. Bahrain’s justice minister announced Tuesday that some 50 doctors and nurses arrested for treating injured protesters will be charged with acting against the state and tried in a military court.
The United States has a particular obligation to try to help Matar. In 2008, he traveled here under the State Department’s Leaders for Democracy Fellowship Program, the flagship of President George W. Bush’s Middle East Partnership Initiative. The program seeks to impart practical organizing tools and a deeper understanding of democracy to emerging civic leaders.
In a meeting with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Matar raised his views about representative democracy in Bahrain and his concern that Washington has given the kingdom’s ruling family a pass in exchange for hosting the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet’s large base that supports the war in Afghanistan. After the program ended, Matar returned home and focused on getting elected to Bahrain’s parliament.