“The American government cares more about their political interests than they do about freedom and democracy,” said Khawaja, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Beloit College in Wisconsin. “By supporting the dictatorship here, they are making the people feel hopeless.”
Muhafdah noted that in May the United States agreed to sell Bahrain tens of millions of dollars worth of missile systems and other weapons whose sales the Obama administration had frozen last year over concerns about the island’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters.
Posner said he has visited Bahrain five times since last year’s violence, both to bolster the security alliance and to call for an end to violence and human rights abuses by police and protesters. But he said that “both sides are dug in” and that he senses an “increased polarization” of society with no immediate hope for negotiation.
“The impasse is going to be resolved by Bahrainis themselves,” he said. “We encourage them to come to the table, but we can’t make that happen.”
‘The change will come’
A few minutes after 3 p.m. that Friday, phones were lighting up with tweets. Muhafdah walked outside, where riot police with shields, batons and tear gas guns stood on almost every corner.
Small groups of people were trying to come together to march, but clusters of police officers stepped in whenever the groups got too big. The hundreds of protesters outnumbered the dozens of police personnel and soon began shouting anti-government slogans.
Police tossed stun grenades that exploded with a deafening bang. The crowd raced down narrow alleys, with police officers rushing after them firing tear gas. Officers in helmets and body armor pushed men and women and doused them with pepper spray.
Muhafdah watched from the sidelines, covering his mouth. He took photos of people being arrested and tweeted them, while plainclothes police took photos and video of him.
The next morning, Muhafdah was back in his coffee shop “office” when Hamad delivered a speech criticizing “foreign interference in our domestic affairs,” a clear reference to Iran, and noted the recent “dangerous escalation” in violence. He called for dialogue but also warned that the government would “criminalize anything that attempts to erode the unity of our nation.”
“They always say we are Iranian spies or American agents — they’ll say anything,” Muhafdah said. “Maybe they will arrest me and think that nobody will talk about human rights anymore. But then another activist would come after me. The change will come. They cannot silence it.”