Mahdi Abu Dheeb
Mahdi Free! Bahraini teachers’ union leader released
Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the leader of the Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) was freed on 5th April 2016 from a Bahraini jail after serving five years. He was jailed by a military court in 2011, accused of inciting social unrest, but his and the BTA’s real crime was that they campaigned for the rights of teachers and for democratic reform in Bahrain.
A year earlier in 2010 the Arab Spring had erupted across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq and Syria. It could be argued that the Arab Spring’s ideals were similar to those of the 18th century European enlightenment project – ideals of reason, rationalism and empirical evidence. It aimed to set the people of the region free from the grip of authoritarian rulers.
A key underlying democratic aim of the Arab Spring was the separation of the State’s three key powers; the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Creating a liberal democratic society with a multi-party system. With a free press, a progressive developing social market economy, supported by vibrant civil society organisations. At its heart free trade unions, the very motor that propels it.
To crush the Bahrain’s Arab Spring of hope, reason, and dignity, the theocratic feudal rulers of the Bahrain invited in Saudi troops. They violently smashed the country’s peaceful mass protest movement. Thousands of trade unionists and human rights activists, including children were accused of being traitors and carted-off to prison. Mahdi was one of those arrested.
The BTA was banned by the State of Bahrain. They sought to justify their actions by accusing the BTA President of using the organisation as a cover for the political objective of overthrowing the constitutional monarchy of Bahrain. An accusation strongly denied by the BTA and by many in the international community. Banning the BTA deprived the Bahraini nascent Arab Spring of a key supporter. It also denied teachers, in particular, of their right to free trade union representation.
Mahdi lost five years’ of his life, suffered torture and was denied access to basic healthcare. All because he had the audacity to support teachers’ trade union rights to free assembly, free speech and for free quality public education- all common themes in the Arab Spring.
Mahdi loves his country, his family and his union the BTA. He wants nothing more than to live and work in a free genuinely constitutional democratic Bahraini monarchy. Where teacher trade unionists can exercise their internationally recognised rights (ILO) without fear of harassment, abuse or detention.
Mahdi and the BTA campaigned like, hundreds of other unions that are members of Education International (EI), for quality public education. This remains a key issue in securing a brighter future for Bahrain.
The Arab Spring took different trajectories in the MENA countries, leading to different outcomes. However, the struggle for democracy, justice and peace remains alive. With the release of Mahdi, we should also remember the plight of Bahraini teachers who are denied the opportunity to work on ideological and sectarian grounds, and also the fate of other civil rights activists who continue to face injustice, many languishing in Bahrain’s prisons.
Bahrain’s struggle for democracy marches onwards. Mahdi’s commitment and tenacity to that goal is the evidence.