Detained founder and President of the BCHR on The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers
Foreign Policy- Bahrain, the tiny archipelago wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is the only country where tear gas and buckshot have succeeded (so far) in squelching an Arab Spring uprising. And for the ruling monarchy, the brave activists who run the Bahrain Center for Human Rights are Public Enemy No. 1.
The center, co-founded in 2002 by Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and others, played a vital role in advancing the idea that all Bahrainis should be treated equally in this religiously divided kingdom, regardless of their sect. But after Rajab called via Twitter for a powerful member of the ruling family to step down, the monarchy had enough -- in July he was hauled into prison for "insulting" Bahrainis. Khawaja, who has been a thorn in the government's side since the 1970s, fared even worse: His jaw was shattered in four places by police upon his arrest last year, and he subsequently embarked on a marathon hunger strike that turned him into a global cause célèbre.
The activists' sacrifices, however, have gone largely unrecognized in Washington, which has been only too eager to ignore the revolt in a country that hosts a critical U.S. naval base and is an ally in efforts to isolate Iran. "It has become evident today that, to the United States, democracy and human rights should only be applied to countries that are in conflict with the United States -- but not with dictatorships it calls its allies," Rajab told Foreign Policy before his arrest. With the two veteran opposition leaders in jail, the Khawaja daughters, Maryam, 25, and Zainab, 29, have taken up their father's mantle to remind Americans that their founding principles are applicable the world over. "This is an issue of pride and dignity. People are sick and tired of living in a country where they cannot speak about what is on their mind," Zainab told Der Spiegel. "I am speaking out, but we are paying a high price for it."
Reading list: Iran Awakening: One Woman's Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country, by Shirin Ebadi; Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West, by Zoya Phan; The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, by Peter Popham. Best idea: Developing laws that protect people online. Worst idea: Use of drones. American decline or American renewal? Decline. More Europe or less? More. To tweet or not to tweet? To always tweet.
Reading list: As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, by Catherine Claire Larson; An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mohandas Gandhi; Call of Surat (history book in Arabic). Best idea: We got rid of some autocratic tyrants during the Arab Spring. Worst idea: Tribal and sectarian feuds taking over. American decline or American renewal? American decline. More Europe or less? Less Europe and weaker eurozone. To tweet or not to tweet? To tweet.