This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

The Daily Need

Amid Bahrain crackdown, prominent opposition leader is arrested, accused of foreign ties

Ebrahim Sharif Al Sayed, leader of the National Democratic Action Society, an opposition party in Bahrain, at a campaign event in 2006. Photo: Soman.

Bahrain’s monarchy has executed a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in recent weeks, delivering a final blow Friday by dismantling the opposition movement’s most powerful symbol, a pearl at the center of Pearl Square in Manama. The state-controlled Bahrain News Agency called the change a “facelift” designed to “boost the flow of traffic.”

The destruction of the monument is not the only tactic being used to suppress dissent in Bahrain, a collection of islands off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula with just over a million inhabitants. In an early morning raid Thursday, government security forces swept up seven prominent opposition activists and whisked them to a secret detention facility, refusing to tell their families where they would be held or why they were being detained.

The son of one of those opposition leaders — Ebrahim Sharif Al Sayed, head of the secular National Democratic Action Society — described the circumstances of his father’s arrest in an interview Friday with Need to Know. Sharif Al Sayed, a 19-year-old student at the University of Michigan, said his father had been taken away in a car at about 2 a.m. Thursday morning, after a band of government loyalists surrounded his house and pointed a gun in his face.

“They were wearing plainclothes and they had their faces covered,” Sharif said. “They looked like thugs. They didn’t have any official uniforms or anything.”

The account of the elder Al Sayed’s arrest was relayed by Sharif’s mother, who was in the house at the time of the incident. The family was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of about 40 men outside the gate, some of whom had scaled a wall surrounding the property. They were not dressed in official uniforms, and Sharif’s mother suspects they may have been “thugs” loyal to the government. “At this point, my parents still have no idea who these people are,” Sharif said.

After one of the men pointed a gun in the face of the elder Al Sayed, he spoke with two security service officials who were apparently the leaders of the armed gang. Sharif’s mother could only hear snippets of the conversation. “What she understood from what happened is that they wanted to interrogate my father,” Sharif said. “He calmly went with these men, and they put him in the car and they went.”

The armed men who remained behind refused to answer questions about where Al Sayed was being taken, despite his wife’s repeated pleas. They joked that Al Sayed was being taken to a mall in Manama, the capital city, and that his wife should call there for information about his whereabouts. “They laughed her off,” Sharif said.

The family later learned through intermediaries that Al Sayed was being held in a government “investigations building,” and that he was reportedly being treated well. “We still cannot get in contact with him,” Sharif said. “We see this as a violation of basic human rights.”

The Bahrain government has apparently accused Al Sayed and the other opposition activists of inciting violence that led to the “killing of citizens and the destruction of public and private property,” according to Human Rights Watch. The government has also called the activists “leaders of the sedition ring who had called for the downfall of the regime and had intelligence contacts with foreign countries.”

That, Sharif said, is most likely a reference to Iran, which has encouraged the protests in Bahrain as a way of asserting its influence. Bahrain is led by an elite Sunni minority, and the protests have been fueled in part by Shiites clamoring for equal rights. A prominent Sunni cleric in Bahrain dismissed the uprising Friday as the work of “a sect, assisted by foreign sides.”

Part of what Al Sayed was advocating for, Sharif acknowledged, was equal rights for the Shia majority. But the party he leads, the National Democratic Action Society, is a secular party that advocates mostly for constitutional reforms.

“This is not a group that professes supremacy for any one religion,” Sharif said. “This group tries to encompass everybody, and is trying to bring more justice to Bahrain, and more transparency in how the government is handled.”

At the time of the protests, Al Sayed was calling only for an open dialogue with the government, rather than the downfall of the monarchy. “Even in the middle of the protests, when these groups had the most support, my father and his political party did not take a hardliner stance,” Sharif said. “They took a moderate stance, and they were trying to convince the protesters that dialogue with the government was probably the best option.”

For now, the brutal repression of Bahrain’s popular uprising seems to have quashed any hope of serious reform. Sharif, for his part, said he hoped the change his father was fighting for was still possible.

“I still have faith that we can make something out of all this violence,” Sharif said. “All the deaths that both sides have suffered, they don’t have to be in vain. We can still make Bahrain a better place.”

EbrahimSharif Al Sayed
  • thumb
    Egypt in transition
    Although it is unclear what authority Mohammed Morsi will have, his win is considered a huge victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. Watch our report from earlier this year, when correspondent Mona Iskander talked to regular Egyptians about their fears, hopes and dreams for their country's future.
  • thumb
    Clinton visits Burma
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a historic visit to Burma this week, recognizing the country's incremental reforms and setting the stage for an end to the country's long period of isolation.
  • thumb
    Can democracy thrive in Egypt?
    Egyptians on Monday began the lengthy process of choosing their first civilian government since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. But it remained unclear whether the military would give up power.


  • haya

    they deserve it .. their intentions were to get Iran interfering and ruling the gcc countries..they held a different flag with 12 triangles representing shitta imams while the real flag has only 5 they claim they were peaceful but they took over salmanya hospital & refuse to treat sunnis.. they started killing indiaans and asians.. they broke into Bahrain university and started hitting people and stabbing them with daggers.. they were caught by ppl near sunni areas trying to burn electricity cables theiir protests were VERY RACIST. .. WHILE THE CROWN PRINCE CALLED FOR PEACE and ressponded by emplowing all ministers shitta except education.. they did not respond .. this is the only way to deal with them by force because they dont understand the peace language

    ps: everything is documented on video while evaacuating the roundabout .. they walked to their cars and burned their tents before they leave so that they take pics of the fire and claim that saudi did that to them ..while dir aljazeera consist f all gcc countries not only saudi which they emphasis on to justify iran interference btw dir aljazera dint get involver in anything with protestors they R protecting governments buildings only and in case iran interfered

    oh & i forgot how the shitta teachers stroke and refused to teach but all the real Bahrainis who love their countries went to volunteer they dragged their kids into it and madee them protest inside schools chanting no for volunteering and took the kids out to streets to protest too and started protesting wanting the education minister to resign..

    pure racist pure irani protests !!

  • haya

    i forgot to mention kidnapping sunni doctors and nurses and throwing molotoves on the boys who were protecting their neighborhoods

    this is what they did to students in while they were studying in university

    look at their lies

  • Sharif


    You are sorely misinformed about the occurrences in Bahrain.

    First of all, this has nothing to do with Iran or racism. How is asking for basic human rights, equality, and a more representative government racist? It’s something all people of all countries deserve. Iran has nothing to do with it because the large majority of Shia in Bahrain do not even want Iran involved! All the Shia I have spoken to said they want Iran to stay out of it – The “Iran! Iran!” line is simply government propaganda that they use to scare people into conformity.

    The thing about refusing to treat Sunnis in Salmaniya hospital is false. This is not something I’ve ever heard or seen proof of. However, what is fact is that the government clamped down on protesters in the area, refusing protesters access to hospitals and taking over and trapping doctors in rooms within hospitals (the UN even condemned this as a flagrant violation of international law). You seem to have your facts wrong.

    Additionally, you mentioned the University of Bahrain incident. The fact is, this incident was instigated by plainclothes government operatives, and was covered widely as such in international media (here is an example source link: )

    I can tell you the protests were not “VERY RACIST” as many members of my own family were there, and they are Sunnis. The protesters chant “No Sunni No Shiite Only Bahraini”.

    The Crown Prince called for dialogue, it is true, but he called for dialogue while his government was still shooting people in the streets and using live rounds to silence opposition. If you don’t understand why his offers of dialogue were not treated with a lot of credibility, this is why. That said, most of the opposition parties (including Wefaq and Wa’ad) did in fact push for dialogue with the crown prince, and were against protesting in schools.

    I’d like to see proof of the events you speak of at the roundabout. The video I’ve seen shows clearly that they were driven out by Saudi and Bahraini forces who then proceeded to demolish practically everything in the square.

    The teachers of Bahrain have a right to strike or protest themselves, why shouldn’t they? That said, they should probably do it outside the classroom. Schools should be kept relatively free of politics.

    Again, these protests are not “racist” or backed by Iran in any way. Check your facts.

    There has been violence on both sides, to be sure. The main political parties never advocated violence – they were all for peaceful reform and dialogue. However, some fringe elements did commit acts of violence – this is true. I have had Sunni friends who’s homes were broken into, and one of who’s brothers was beaten up. However, I have also had Shiite friends who’s homes have been broken into, who were shot at for no reason by police and military forces, etc etc. The violence against the Shiites is completely sanctioned and backed by the government, and is in most cases caused by government forces themselves (and we’ve seen LOTS of violence against Shiites in recent days), while the violence against the Sunnis is a small fringe group that has no support from the protesters and is actively condemned.

    P.S. first video you linked to doesn’t really show anything at all, 2nd video is completely and hilariously incorrect in its assertions.