Bahrain is a multi-ethnic nation whose heritage is built on a seafaring tradition and its accompanying internationalism. But the way Bahrainis responded to the ‘Arab Spring’ was for me, alienating and dangerous. As a member of the medical profession, the last thing I expected to see was the politicization of my colleagues, blatant racism and violations in healthcare neutrality and code of ethical medical conduct.
I am a consultant maxillofacial surgeon at the Royal Medical Services of the Bahrain Defense Force (RMS-BDF) as well as a part-time senior consultant maxillofacial surgeon at the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) in the Kingdom of Bahrain. In these capacities I witnessed first-hand the now notorious events between February 14 and March 17, 2011, and have been dealing with their repercussions ever since.
While I sympathized with the demands for democratic reform and improved welfare, which some in the kingdom began to voice on February 14, 2011, the escalation in opposition tactics and their encroachment into the medical profession was unexpected and allegorically reminiscent of scenes from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
This is the obscured narrative of the role of a minority of Bahrain physicians in the political unrest at the time: ‘…these persons [some medical personnel] moved in and out of their roles as political activists and medical personnel, the latter being expected to carry out their professional, ethical and legal duties and responsibilities.‘ This description is taken verbatim from the report of the United Nations-styled Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (Conclusions & Findings; Chapter V (C.), Paragraphs 828 – 847) that was led by the world renowned human rights expert, Prof. Cherif Bassiouni. This reality has been ignored as international media and non-governmental organizations have focused on the record of torture in detention and judicial malpractice in Bahrain during the unrest.
For me, while the tragedy in the healthcare situation caused by fringe medics continues to divide the profession locally, the most difficult reality is the daily medical treatment of injuries related to the continuing riots and violence. As the only active maxillofacial surgeon on the island for the last year, my team has been involved in the treatment of nearly all maxillofacial injuries since February of last year. This has included the treatment of protesters, rioters, law enforcement officers and bystanders in both the RMS-BDF and the SMC.
Injuries in the facial region during the civil unrest in the Kingdom of Bahrain were the third most common body region, after lower and upper extremities and they have ranged from violent assault to injuries resulting from the throwing of bricks, use of slingshots, crudely ‘home-made’ weapons (Molotov cocktails, nail guns etc.) and the like to live ammunition bullet wounds. And it is the fate of the law enforcement officers that remains hidden today. Time and again, I have had to operate on Bahraini police who represent 1 in 3 of the maxillofacial injuries in this low-level conflict. They are the dehumanized and demonized actors within this continuing cycle of violence.
First, second or third generation Bahrainis, these officers have been the victims of racial assault by young rioters incited by irresponsible and extreme religious leaders who refuse to accept the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural character of historical and modern Bahrain. Their charged rhetoric, from Friday sermons to public debates, has targeted naturalized Bahrainis and foreign workers as unacceptable elements in the economy and society.
It should be noted that the majority of Bahrain’s society are foreign, representing 54% of the island’s nation population. Bahrainis originate from the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, India and Africa. Put into perspective therefore, this trend of abuse and attacks towards both foreigners and naturalized citizens is alarming and defies the country’s centuries-long heritage of accommodation and pluralism.This does not negate the very real abuses by some members of Bahrain’s security forces towards rioters and members of the opposition, but the purpose of this essay is to highlight some of the obscured realities surrounding some of the unrest’s ‘other’ victims.
As early as February 2011, racist slogans were being paraded on the grounds of the SMC, the main district general hospital, by healthcare workers. Calls to deport naturalized Bahrainis were rampant throughout the hospital with daily protesting, even in front of patients and naturalized colleagues, who naturally felt threatened and vulnerable. The polarization and politicization of healthcare, the intolerant behavior of its professionals and gross misconduct and ethical breaches represent a microcosm of Bahrain at large.
As such, it is understandable that that racism and violence have not abated because they have simply been unacknowledged in the mainstream. Today’s victims of racially-motivated and politically-charged attacks are law enforcement officers and migrant workers – an aftermath of Bahrain’s Arab Spring. I have operated on attack victims who have lost eyes and limbs, suffered broken bones and more. Until this reality and perversion of the ‘Arab Spring’ is conceded, there will be no hope for any kind of long term reconciliation and societal reconstruction.
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Dr. Mohammed A. Al-Muharraqi is a UK-trained Bahraini consultant Maxillo-Facial Surgeon and a Senior Lecturer in Anatomy as well as the head of the Bahrain Dental licensing body. He has had numerous publications on head & neck surgery in peer reviewed journals and takes a keen interest in medical ethics, sociology and evidence-based healthcare.