NEW YORK – Ayat al-Qarmezi, a 20-year-old woman poet in Bahrain, recently condemned to one year in prison, has become the human face of defiance against the regime ruling the country. Her crime, to have spoken at a pro-reform rally in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout in February.
Unless the government changes its approach and accepts peaceful dissent, the seeds of resistance will flower in Bahrain.
Speaking at a rally, Ayat al-Qarmezi recited a poem among whose lyrics were, “We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery.” She was arrested after the police raided her parents’ house and threatened to kill her brothers if Ayat didn’t give herself up. During her detention she was whipped across her face with electric cable, held for days in a small cell with near-freezing temperatures and forced to clean lavatories with her bare hands, the same hands that wrote other beautiful verses.
Here is one of her poems, translated from Arabic by Ghias Aljundi:
We don’t like to live in a palace
And we are not after power.
We are the people who
Break down humiliation
And discard oppression.
With peace as our tool
We are people who
Do not want others
To be living in the Dark Ages.
Ayat is one of many women doctors and medical personnel, among others, who have been targets of repression by Bahrain’s regime. Her detention has been harshly condemned by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.
“By locking up a female poet merely for expressing her views in public, Bahrain’s authorities are demonstrating how free speech and assembly are brutally denied to ordinary Bahrainis,” stated Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Smart asked that the Bahraini authorities drop all unfair charges against Ayat al-Qarmezi, and release her immediately and unconditionally. His request follows U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement during the visit to Washington of Bahrain’s Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa that stability of the Gulf Kingdom “depends upon respect for universal human rights.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined the protests against the Bahrain regime’s actions, particularly regarding special military court proceedings against those arrested during the country’s anti-government protests. “Bahraini authorities should immediately halt all proceedings before the special military court and free everyone held solely for exercising the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly,” stated HRW, while at the same time demanding that all those charged with criminal offenses be tried in independent civilian courts.
The young Bahraini poet joins the ranks of other women in history who have written forcefully against brutality and oppression.
In the book “Women Against Tyranny: Poems of Resistance During the Holocaust,” edited by Davi Walders, Marianne Baum, one of the creators of the Baum Group, a resistance group opposing the Nazis from 1937 until 1942 (when most were arrested and sent to concentration camps) wrote:
They hunted us. Retaliation everywhere./ Then the Sondergericht — “special court.”/ They carried me there, my shattered legs dangling./ No one talked./ A hundred Berliners rounded up for each of us./ Five hundred — most shot there and then;/ The rest, slower deaths at Sachsenhausen./ This, too, our burden, but … would they/ Have died anyway?/ You must understand./ We had to do something.
If a few circumstantial details were changed, those words could have been written by Ayat al-Qarmezi today in Bahrain.
Cesar Chelala, M.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.