Zainab Al-Khawaja writes a letter from Isa Town Women Prison (Bahrain): The Arab MLK?


Zainab Al-Khawaja, an activist imprisoned on several occasions since the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, wrote a letter to supporters and has been published on numerous media outlets from the Huffington post to Jadaliyya. For those of you who don’t know this woman, or what the significance of her letter and role as a an activist, I shall briefly explain. Khawaja also known on twitter as “Angry Arabiya,”  is the founder of the Bahrain Center For Human Rights.  When the pro-democracy movement started on February 14, 2011 she has been very involved  by participating in many demonstrations and documenting the human rights violations that have been conducted  by Bahrain government officials/regime.   Khawaja has also been on multiple hunger strikes with her father, husband, and brother in-law. Currently she has been refusing food in prison, and only adheres to drinking liquids as her only source of nutrition.  Being known to be on the front lines of protests, she has gained significant support in the Arab World.

Her letter surfaced two days ago on March 24. In her writing,  she refers to Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in history as a “great leader.” Khawaja also relates to King as he once wrote a letter from prison about his struggle in promoting civil rights in the United States. She connects by writing, “When I look into the eyes of Bahraini protesters today, too many times I see that hope has been replaced by bitterness. The same bitterness Martin Luther King Jr. saw in the eyes of rioters in the slums of Chicago in 1966. He saw that the same people who had been leading non-violent protests, willing to be beaten without striking back, were now convinced violence is the only language the world understood.”

However, she strongly disproves of the role the United States has taken with the Bahrain government. She writes, “As I read through Martin Luther King’s words I found myself wishing he was alive. I found myself wondering what he would have to say about the U.S. administration’s support of Bahraini dictators. What he would say about turning a blind eye to the blood and tears being spilt in the quest of freedom.”

Of course the United States has not been vocal in the situation in Bahrain as in other Arab countries such as Libya, Syria, and Tunisia. It seems the Obama administration and the State Department have left that role to the United Nations.

Her letter is clearly written to attract a Western audience, including government officials in the United States. By emulating Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Khawaja makes that connection. She concludes her letter by writing, “Yesterday I sent while looking at my prison cell door with its iron bars, and I had a dream. But this time it was a small and simple dream, not of democracy and freedom.. I dream of those I love, it is their love that gives me the strength to fight for the dreams of our country.”

Full Letter:

Angry Arabiya Twitter:


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