Khalifa called the nightly street violence “a threat to our national security,” instigated by Iranian-backed revolutionaries who he said want to turn Bahrain into a Shiite theocracy, an accusation that Muhafdah and others deny. The justice minister said that the government would use “all necessary means” to stop the violence and that the royal family would never step aside. “We will stay here. We will live here, and we will die here.”
Birth of a political agitator
Muhafdah didn’t start out as a political agitator. His father and brothers are bankers, and he had been happily working as an insurance salesman. But in 2007, when he was 25, he and a friend went to a human rights workshop at which he heard former prisoners, many of them women, telling stories of being tortured in Bahraini jails.
“I said, ‘This is happening in my country?’ I did not sleep well that night.”
Muhafdah met with Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the leading rights advocate on the island. Rajab hired Muhafdah to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and to start posting video to YouTube and photos to Flickr.
Rajab has been arrested many times for leading protests, and in August he was sentenced to three years in prison, a punishment that has energized the demonstrations. Human rights groups and the State Department have called for Rajab to be released.
Muhafdah’s anti-government activities got him fired from his job. He and his wife support their two girls on her salary as a teacher.
He works out of two “offices”: the driver’s seat of his Chevy and a soft leather chair in a coffee shop in one of Bahrain’s many shopping malls. In a typical day, he conducts nonstop media interviews via phone and Skype, meets with other activists and visits wounded protesters.
Through a network of volunteer assistants in 25 villages, Muhafdah is a clearinghouse for information on human rights violations. He said he doesn’t organize protests. That is mainly done by political parties, especially al-Wefaq, the major Shiite group in Bahrain.
Muhafdah attends as many protests as possible and documents police behavior.
On a recent Friday afternoon, the heart of the Muslim weekend, another big protest was called in the capital’s Old Souk shopping district.
By noon, the shops and coffeehouses in the neighborhood were filled with people awaiting word sent by organizers through Twitter about when to step into the streets.
Muhafdah said the protest was organized by a group called the Feb. 14 Youth Coalition, which wants a complete overthrow of the monarchy — a more radical position than Muhafdah supports. (He backs an elected government with a ceremonial monarchy.)