x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bahrain's missing men leave families behind, equally punished

All but 23 of the 662 Bahrainis arrested in unrest-related circumstances have been men, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. But the women left on the outside feel the punishment, too. Elizabeth Dickinson reports from Muhuzza

A woman argues with police as they arrest a man on suspicion of protesting in the Sanabis village following Sunday’s funeral march for eight-year-old Qassim Habib Marzooq in Daih village, on the outskirts of Manama.
A woman argues with police as they arrest a man on suspicion of protesting in the Sanabis village following Sunday’s funeral march for eight-year-old Qassim Habib Marzooq in Daih village, on the outskirts of Manama.

MUHUZZA, BAHRAIN // As far as three-year-old Zainab is concerned, her father has not come home for a month because he is a hero, off doing good deeds.

He is ever-present, though. Zainab sometimes asks to see his belongings, and she parades them around the room after her mother dutifully retrieves them.

On Zainab's birthday, a gift appeared, signed by her absent hero.

What Zainab's mother, Fatema, is at pains to admit to her daughter is that the present was actually from her. Her arms flexing and writhing with anxiety, Fatema, 24, explains out of Zainab's earshot how police arrested her husband in November. In January, he was charged in connection to violent anti-government activity.

All but 23 of the 662 Bahrainis arrested in unrest-related circumstances have been men, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. But the women left on the outside feel the punishment, too.

They must cope with the loss of their husbands' income, run households on their own and parry questions about missing fathers and brothers from mouths too young to grasp what it all means.

But the repercussions of missing men are more than personal and psychological. The challenges faced by families torn apart by the turmoil are a microcosm of the divisions splitting the country.

King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa last week invited the opposition to resume talks aimed at ending a two-year political stalemate.

Khalil Al Marzouq, a senior official in Wefaq, cautiously welcomed the offer on behalf of five opposition associations.

Fearful that security forces would return in the wake of her husband's arrest, Fatema fled their home with their child and now lives with other family members. Jalila, a middle-aged volunteer from the main opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, urged her to go to court and contest her husband's detention.

"There are so many houses like this," Jalila said. "Bahraini women are running everything. Her children are traumatised, her husband is in jail, but she is still standing."

Down the road from Fatema, another woman, Amina, watches over her three children, aged 4, 7, and 14. Her husband, 50, went into hiding three weeks earlier after an arrest warrant was issued for him.

"They stopped the salary of my husband, who was the breadwinner," she said. It is not just food she worries about. Her 14-year-old son has sickle-cell anaemia and often needs medical care.

"The whole population needs rehab. We ourselves need rehab," said Jihan Kazerooni, who recently helped found Bravo, a non-governmental organisation that offers counselling to families and victims. But these women lack the resources and time to avail themselves of counselling and there is very little cultural awareness of mental illness, Ms Kazerooni said.

Bravo has seven members, three of whom are medical doctors although none have training in mental-health care, particularly trauma-related disease. "We don't have the capacity or the people to deal with trauma cases," she added.

edickinson@thenational.ae

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