Bahrain: The Forbidden Land of The Arab Spring

By Stéphanie Lamorré

In Bahrain, attacks happen every day, and every week there are more casualties. Journalists, photographers, activists and citizens calling for democracy are among the targets. Public hospitals are controlled by the army, the secret police are everywhere and misinformation pervades society. In fact, it is virtually impossible for journalists to enter Bahrain. You can’t even access it by land, sneaking in illegally like some do in Syria, because Bahrain is an island, one located between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The monarchy ruthlessly manages its public image. First, by controlling journalists, but also by using a surprising strategy. Bahrain has hired spin doctors from the American company Qorvis Communications, a lobbyist firm from Washington D.C., to spread the idea that the only violence happening in Bahrain comes from demonstrators. It worked! In February 2012, Michael Posner from the U.S. State Department visited Manama, Bahrain’s capital, and pleaded for people to stop using violence. “Bahrain is very important for America as both countries share political, social and security interests. America also has a military presence there and likes to consider Bahrain an ally against Iranian influence and interests,” Posner said.

Bahrain likes to see itself as a modern state, with a developed and expanding economy relying on oil and good relationships with the West (there are up to 400 foreign banks and financial institutions in the country).

NGO’s have an equally difficult time being allowed in. And according to Human Rights Watch, Bahrain’spolitical climatehasworsenedinrecentyearsas thecountry’scourtsconvictandimprisonpeacefuldissenters, as well as tighten its grip on women by restricting their rights to attend the Muslim holy pilgrimage on their own if they are under 45 years-old.

Since there are close to no eye-witnesses on the ground, the only way to see what is happening are video clips posted on YouTube by amateurs or tweets sent by activists. If the government happens to grant visas to a television station, the journalists will be followed and controlled by a “communications team” – so-called “guides” whose mission it is to prevent direct contacts with the local population. Because of this lack of visibility, the rest of the world behaves as if nothing ever happens in Bahrain.

But for an entire month, my team and I were able to share the struggle of the Bahraini people even though international media from outlets like the BBC or the New York Times were banned from entering the country.

And I witnessed how Bahrain’s insurgents have fallen in the wrong side of history.

I filmed mostly women but it wasn’t much of a deliberate choice. As a foreign female journalist, I couldn’t stay at a man’s place, though Bahrain isn’t like Saudi Arabia, as women there tend to be educated and independent.

I lived in besieged villages following three emblematic women: Nafissa, Maryam and Zainab, who are leading the struggle on behalf of the forgotten people of the Arab Spring.


On a rooftop, a young woman shelters herself from police offensive


Bahraini police raiding a Shiite neighborhood looking for militants


A young woman comforts a friend who has just been beaten by the police


Police use extremely toxic gas to discourage demonstrations. It triggers serious asphyxia and has killed many people


Young women pray at the funeral of a young boy killed by the police


Funeral of a young militant

Watch the full documentary in French:

A film by Stéphanie Lamorré

Produced by Luc Hermann and Paul Moreira

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