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Zainab Alkhawaja: The Female Face of the Bahraini Struggle

Photo Courtesy of @QuiteBH

Zainab Alkhawaja  has been hailed the female face of the Bahraini struggle. Zainab was arrested and detained on April 21st 2012 whilst protesting against the country hosting the Formula One.   Via Twitter, @Shehabia told us the charges against Zainab were: inciting hatred against the regime, three assaults on officers and obstructing traffic.

Zainab was demanding the cancellation of the F1 race, the end of the crackdown on dissent campaigners within Bahrain and the release of her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja from prison.   Witnesses have said Zainab was arrested while sitting protesting peacefully in the middle of a main road in country’s capital Manama. She has risen to prominence after becoming a well known name on twitter, tweeting about the year long protests in Bahrain under the name @AngryArabiya

Zainab’s recent arrest has thrown her plight to the forefront of the Bahraini uprisings, but defending the rights of the Bahraini people is in Zainab’s blood.  Her father is the Human Rights Activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who founded the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.  His shocking malnourished and skeletal image has been broadcast across the world’s global media, after being on hunger strike for 82 days in protest to his sentence of life imprisonment for speaking out against the Bahraini regime.  He has spent his life as a central figure of the human rights struggle in Bahrain and he has passed on his legacy to his daughters.

Our Other Sisters heard Zainab’s younger sister, Maryam,  speak in London in December 2011.  She captivated the room retelling harrowing tales of her family’s struggles to bring the plight of those in Bahrain to the forefront of the Western media,  who, on the main, seem to side step the issue of human rights in this particular Middle Eastern country.   Activists failed to stop the Formula One in April 2012 but their demonstrations were not in vain, it has brought the debate of the regime to the table.  A group of jailed Bahraini dissidents, alongside Abdulhadi, who were handed lengthy prison sentences by a secretive military tribunal last year were given hope on Monday that their convictions might be overturned after the country’s highest court ordered a civilian retrial.  However, family and friends of the prisoners have said that this new development must be approached with caution, as they believe it is an attempt to deflect international criticism of the regime.

Zainab has been hailed as the ‘female face’ of the Bahrain struggle.   Images of her petite frame against backdrops of the brutality of the regime that silences her have spread across the internet. In April 2011, she went on a ten day hunger strike to protest the arrests and detainment of her father, her husband, and her brother-in-law Hussain Ahmad. She stated that though she had a one-year-old daughter, she preferred death to living under the current government: “If my father is going to be killed, I want to die as well… We’ve always been taught by my father that dying with dignity is better than living as slaves.”

She has previously criticized the Obama administration for “standing behind the dictator” Last year she wrote a moving letter to President Obama in which she said:

“I ask you to look into your beautiful daughters eyes tonight and think to yourself what you are personally willing to sacrifice in order to make sure they can sleep safe at night, that they can grow up with hope rather than fear and heartache, that they can have their father and grandfathers embrace to run to when they are or in need of support. Last night my one-year-old daughter went knocking on our bedroom door calling for her father, the first word she ever learnt. It tore my heart to pieces. How do you explain to a one-year-old that her father is imprisoned? I need to look into my daughter’s eyes tomorrow, next week, in the years to come, and tell her I did all that I could to protect her family and future.”  full letter here http://angryarabiya.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/letter-to-president-obama.html

Our Other Sisters first wrote about Zainab after her arrest in December 2011 where we saw her dragged by a female officer for sitting down protesting on Pearl roundabout but she has been a prominent figure in the protest long before that.  On 26 November 2011, an American journalist witnessed Alkhawaja standing her ground alone in front of oncoming riot police.  He reported that tear gas shells were being fired just past her head but because of her fame, officers were ordered not to remove her from the road, and were finally forced to advance their vehicles by another route.

The entire Alkawaja family, alongside other activists, have protested tirelessly to raise awareness of the human rights abuses and brutality used by the police force and the regime within Bahrain.  The family are a beacon for the opposition struggle and an inspiration to freedom fighters both inside and outside of the country.

As of May 5th 2012, both Zainab and her father remain in prison.  Bahrain seems to have weathered the storm of the Arab Spring but one thing is for certain, with the determination of the Alkhawaja family and Zainab’s new identity as the female face of the Bahrain revolution, the country’s elite will have a tough time silencing them during the Arab Winter.

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