(Yes, I know I stole the title from Desert Island Boy, but it was so appropriate, I had to use it)
If you're in a hurry and you want to go straight to the pics then click here.
Before the protest even began, 4 people were arrested. For what? No one knows. [Update: They were all released without charge on the same day] Half of Exhibition Avenue was blocked off by the police so that passers-by would not be able to see what's going on. The presiding officer demanded that the protest be called off but the organizers refused. So the goon patrol, all dressed up with helmets, shields and batons were dispatched to intimidate the crowd. There must have been 100 goons (with more waiting further back), and about 200 protesters at the time. The goons marched towards the protesters until they were face to face, with barely a metre between the two rows. The demonstrators were a bit intimidated at first, but then the organizers told everyone to sitdown quietly on the pavement, and they repeated over and over (and over, and over) again the importance of remaining peaceful. Because tensions were high, and on a couple of occasions a youth would lunge towards the goons only to be pulled back just in time by the fellow protesters. After a while, the organizers got together and decided to call off the protest. The end. It wasn't even 8:30pm when the protest was called off, and more demonstrators were arriving at the scene only to find out that they were too late.
I think the organizers played it very smart to call off the protest to avoid any conflict. One needs only to recall a couple of occasions during the Al-Khawaja affair when things got unnecessarily out of hand (1, 2). I'm quite relieved that there was no tear gas or rubber bullets this time. Asides from the obvious benefit of maintaining the peace, the move would also mean that the protesters would walk away with the moral upper-hand. It was announced that that protests will be held at the same place each week until the BahrainOnline trio are been released. The Public Prosecutor will announce this Sunday whether the three are to be charged, released, or detained for another 45 days for further "investigations". Hopefully they will be released, but none of the people I spoke with at the protest were expecting that decision.
But really, I wish I knew what the government is trying to achieve by intimidating the peaceful protest with hundreds of armed riot police. Bear in mind that there were several reporters on site, including one from Al-Jazeera TV with his cameraman. And the Formula 1 Grand Prix is just a few weeks away. Will the government do the same thing next week? What if the protesters decide not to move? And the Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture has already announced that they will be protesting in front of the F-1 site. How does the government plan in dealing with that? Arrest Al-Shayeb once again?
How long will this culture of intimidation continue? If the people are to be convinced that the democratic reforms are real and significant then public dissent must be tolerated, on the streets or on the Internet. Meanwhile, the prime minister announced just yesterday 'that democracy thrives on different viewpoints' and that 'clashes of opinion should never be an obstacle to progress' (as paraphrased by the GDN).
Right, I have a ton of pictures from the protest, so click here to see them all.
Here are the rest of the pictures from the protest:
Before the protest even began the chief cop (plain clothes, the one in the dishdasha) was demanding (quite fiercely) that the protest be called off:
But the protesters ignored him and started lining up:
As you can see, the normally PACKED Exhibition Avenue is empty because of the police blockade:
Here we see those ruthless and violent protesters that pose such a security threat that it requires riot police with helmets and batons to contain them.
Even the ladies:
So the cops are having none of it. Release the Goon Patrol!
The goons intimidate them, but the protesters sit down in their positions:
Despite their gooniness, when they stand together in a line, their uniforms and helmets and shields produce patterns that can be aesthetically interesting:
The organizers finally call off the protest and the standoff ends peacfully. Both parties step back:
A reporter from Al-Jazeera TV interviews a protester in the aftermath:
And of course, some kids: