For the past four years, Bahrainis have been marking Valentine's Day with massive protests, which are faced with a brutal clampdown by the regime. This year is no different, except that protesters, in keeping with the spirit of Valentine's, took with them stuffed teddy bears to face off with the riot police.
On February 14, 2011, Bahrainis joined the bandwagon of protesters across the Arab world and staged anti-regime protests, which ushered a new era of widespread human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests of thousands of Bahrainis and the killing of protesters and bystanders, including women and children.
This year protesters marked the anniversary with a three-day strike, in which businesses in villages and protest areas shut down.
According to Bahrain Mirror, an opposition online publication in Arabic, the teddy bear has become a “political icon” used by the protesters for “political satire.”
وكانت قرية الدراز، غربيّ المنامة، أولى القرى التي يظهر فيها “الدب” تزامناً مع بدء سريان الإضراب الذي أعلنت عنه القوى الثورية
The village of Diraz, west of Manama, was the first village to see the appearance of the teddy bear with the start of the strike, announced by the revolutionary forces
Teddy bears starting to appear at barricades before #Bahrain Feb 14 anniversary @NABEELRAJAB pic.twitter.com/AdEX1nKoqA
— Brian Dooley (@dooley_dooley) February 12, 2015
Copycat teddy bears soon popped up across villages in Bahrain, and were placed at barricades put up by the protesters to protect themselves from police attacks.
this is so funny RT “@AliKaz93: Nice touch of humour this time around pic.twitter.com/orw6cFQbN3”
— وعد المرهون (@WaadAlmarhoon) February 12, 2015
On his Instagram account, photojournalist Mazen Mahdi ventures into Sitra to photograph this teddy bear, which faced off with an armoured personnel carrier (APC):
And the teddy bear was also teargassed:
Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab takes the opportunity to take a photograph with a teddy bear in Bilad Al Qadeem:
14feb happy valentines and happy #Bahrain revolution day pic.twitter.com/C83D2QtwO0
— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) February 14, 2015
Depending on who you talk to, the symbolism of the teddy bear changes. One reader even suspects it is a marketting ploy for Ted 2,an upcoming American comedy film, scheduled to be released tomorrow.
Viral marketing for #Ted2 RT @JustAmira: #notphotoshop #Bahrain protesters unleash stuffed teddy bear at riot police. pic.twitter.com/WHHuUB2Eso
— jacqui (@heyjdey) February 13, 2015
But it wasn't all fun and playing with teddy bears for Bahraini protesters. Rajab, who was out documenting human rights abuses, witnessed the regime forces shooting shot gun at women and men protesting in Daih. He tweets to his 260K followers on Twitter:
مشاهدات امام عيني : الان إطلاق الشوزن على النساء والرجال المتظاهرين في منطقة الديه #البحرين — Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) February 14, 2015
I saw in front of me now the shooting of women and men protesters with gun shot in Daih
In another tweet, he shares a photo collage of injuries from gunshot from different areas in Bahrain today:
#Valentine day 14Feb 2015 in #Bahrain – This is the cost for freedom,justice and democracy my nation are paying #UK pic.twitter.com/HRo3meXRPf
— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) February 14, 2015
And another tweet describes the scene in Bahrain as a “war zone.”
الالاف من القوات الخاصة والمدنيين المسلحين والمئات من المدرعات وسيارات الدفع الرباعي والطائرات تحوم وتمسح المناطق- #البحرين تبدوا كساحة حرب — Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) February 14, 2015
Thousands of special forces and armed civilians and hundreds of APCs and four-wheel drives and aircraft are combing all areas. Bahrain looks like a war zone
Journalist Naziha Saeed, who was covering the protests today, witnessed the overuse of teargas. She tweets from Maameer, in Sitra, saying:
In 3 minutes in #Ma‘ameer .. police fired nearly 100 rounds of teargas at scores of demonstrators #bahrain
— Naziha Saeed (@nazihasaeed) February 14, 2015
Mohammed Ashoor shares a photograph that has been widely shared on social media of riot police forces patrolling the streets:
Police army? Friday in #Bahrain. pic.twitter.com/NPpiEeoIa3
— الوطن ليلى وكلنا قيس (@MohmdAshoor) February 13, 2015
While Ali bin Jawwad shares this video from Abu Saiba showing a riot policeman running after a young protester and shooting towards him:
أبوصيبع الشاخورة: محاولة قتل أحد الأطفال بتصويب رصاص الشوزن ناحيته بشكل مباشر و متتالي 12/2/2015 http://t.co/0cu9z4VbZp
— ali bin jawad (@alijjawad) February 12, 2015
Like many in Bahrain, Ahmed Al Ghasra has a message for the international media which is adamant in portraying the conflict in Bahrain not as a stuggle of Bahrainis against the regime, but as a Sunni-Shia conflict. He tweets:
الانتفاضة الشيعية الشيعة يتظاهرون الأغلبية الشيعية تتظاهر ضد الأقلية السنية الحاكمة إلى متى الإعلام يوقد نار الطائفية في البحرين بسنا — A7md Al-Ghasra (@A7mdG) February 14, 2015
The Shia Uprising
The Shia are protesting
The majority Shia are protesting against the minority Sunni regime
Until when will the media fan the flames of sectarianism in Bahrain
We have had enough
Four years into what has become almost daily protests and clashes with the police, and international media is still stuck in its narrative. Four years on, protesters continue to march.