Repression Sparking a Bahrain Brain Drain?

Intellectuals pack up as Shi'ite opposition brings tens of thousands into the streets

by Jeremy Sapienza, July 15, 2011
Protests at Pearl Square in March, before the government crackdown.

Though many of Bahrain’s opposition figures continue to stay and fight it out with the oppressive Khalifa monarchy, some figures are choosing to pack up and head for greener pastures.

The Khalifas — backed by Saudi tanks and a Pakistani mercenary army — aim to bully the country’s writers and thinkers into silence and compacence through intimidation, fines, imprisonment, and even murder. But many aren’t sticking around; they’d rather leave than be silenced or forced to pledge allegiance to a corrupt regime.

"To get arrested for a third time is too much," writer Ali al-Jallawi, who has had run-ins with the regime for 20 years, told al-Jazeera. "I have a ten-year-old son who I want to spend time with. It’s too much to spend more time in jail."

Hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis — some 1/5 of the population — rallied in February and March this year for more representation for the country’s Shi’ites, many calling for the king’s ouster. The protests ended with the government shooting and killing many protesters, and even bulldozing the monument that served as their main rallying point. The regime went so far to punish the dissenters that they have put medical staff on trial for treating injured people during the protests.

Most of the intellectuals are heading for London, where a large Bahraini exile community exists. They are unable to travel through Saudi Arabia, the only land escape possible. Most are unwilling to return home any time soon, not trusting the government to respect their rights despite its invitations to return.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters rallied for political reform Friday in Manama, the largest gathering since the crackdown. Banned Shi’ite opposition party Wefaq hopes to gain concessions from the government before deciding if it will be involved in political reform talks.

It’s not clear whether the opposition withdrawal, combined with a brain drain, will isolate — or strengthen — the Khalifa regime.

(Photo by zero110zin)

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