The accidental heroine?


Zainab al-Khawaja, the young Bahraini activist who went on a hunger strike ago to protest the detention of several family members ended her ordeal last Wednesday after authorities allowed her to speak to her father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the prominent human rights activist. Mr. al-Khawaja is currently under detention, according to his family.

Mrs. al-Khawaja’s mother, Khadija al-Mousawi, on Wednesday wrote a blog entry on behalf of her daughter. “(Zainab) would like to tell everyone that we got news about her father, her husband Wafi Al-Majed, and her brother-in-law Hussein Ahmed as the Ministry of Interior contacted us and asked that we take clothes for them,” she said.

Bahrain authorities have consistently maintained that “external” sources have aided and abetted many of the protesters. They have also denied allegations of ill treatment made by some activists.

According to Mrs. al-Mousawi, her daughter was still too weak to express herself but was updating her followers on Twitter under her account name of Angry Arabiya. “My father’s trial is in less than an hour, I wish I cud [sic] b there. Wish I cud catch a glimpse of him 2 make sure hez ok,” she tweeted on Thursday. “The lawyers were not allowed to enter the military court either this morning. We have no way of knowing what happened.”

Prior to ending her hunger strike, Mrs. al-Khawaja spoke to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and said that while she was growing weaker by the day she would not give up until her father, husband, uncle, and brother-in-law were released from prison. Mr. al-Khawaja, former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested during the early hours of the morning of April 9.

Mrs. al-Khawaja’s uncle, Salah al-Khawaja, was detained three weeks prior to her father, but according to her, he was merely a citizen expressing his opinions about the government, unlike Mr. al-Khawaja, who has a more prominent activist role.

Meanwhile her younger sister, Batool, said she had no idea of her husband’s whereabouts or of his condition. “He was a university student, and happened to be in the building when they detained my father, so they decided to take him as well. There’s no other reason,” she said.

Although Mrs. al-Khawaja believes she has been the recipient of much local attention, she said that the US administration has had minimal input in the situation despite Bahrain being home to the United States fifth fleet. Mrs. al-Khawaja wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama on April 11, addressing her concerns and the pressing issues of the current unrest in Bahrain. She said that President Obama has not responded, although the United States has urged Bahrainis to refrain from violence.

The outbreak of protests in Sunni-ruled Bahrain began on February 14, with the Shiite majority demanding more rights and justice, following revolts across the Arab region. After imposition of martial law, troops have been deployed from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council have fully endorsed the deployment of these troops, whose presence has helped calm down what had been a volatile situation.

(Noora Faraj of Al Arabiya can be reached at: [email protected])