5-22-2012By Brian Dooley
Human Rights Defenders
The huge wave of protests for democracy and human rights sweeping across the Middle East over the last year has seen hundreds of thousands of previously politically inactive young people become dedicated revolutionaries. In Egypt they call them “first time activists,” people whose first taste of protest came in the early months of 2011.
Throughout the region, the demonstrations and subsequent violent government reactions have transformed a generation into a new political force using social media and other tools to fuel revolutions.
In Bahrain in early 2011 a young woman was pursuing her hobby of photography, “taking mostly photos of flowers or landscapes. I wasn’t that interested in shooting pictures of people to be honest,” she said. Then, on her way home from work on February 14 2011, everything changed. “It was around 6pm, I was passing the Pearl Roundabout with this huge crowed and Bahrain flags everywhere, I was like ’OMG It’s happening!’ I found myself parking on the flyover and stepping out of my car to have a look.” She started taking pictures of the crowds and has been documenting the revolution ever since.
“I was never into politics nor into activism before February 14. Then during the Pearl Roundabout phase I was like anyone else, enjoying the lovely pro-democracy spirit at the roundabout, feeling super excited and happy participating and taking pictures of the outstanding rallies.”
“I used to have all the pictures posted on Facebook and Twitter, but they all had to be taken off during the period of so-called ‘National Safety’ for which anyone could have been arrested for having been at the Pearl Roundabout,” she said. Although the state of “National Safety” has officially been lifted, people are still being targeted for their perceived association with the pro-democracy movement. She still fears being identified by name, and wishes to be known simply as “Nawal Photography”.
“Almost everyone got involved in the revolution in one way or another; now we have a martyr or a detainee or a sacked employee or a dismissed student in nearly every family. It’s impossible to isolate yourself and live in denial. You don’t necessarily need to be personally targeted to see the truth – we see what’s happening to our family members, to our friends.”
Photographing protests is still dangerous. “The scary moments are mostly at ’Nonauthorized Protests,’ often those called by the February 14 youth protest movement. While taking photos you have to do your best not to be obvious in front of the police; we have many cases of people being targeted by the police when they see them filming. I do my best to stay close and out of the way at the same time. I usually step back once the police attacks start, trying my best to capture the maximum length my zoom can reach.”
She has an impressive collection of her work on her Facebook page.
She says that photographing kids during the revolution “tastes different – in their innocent expressions, smiles and tiny victory signs you can feel the hope, the upcoming victory. I always try to show optimism through my lens. The saddest pictures are those taken of the injured or the dead, those graphic pictures can’t compete with any other sad scene captured in a normal day”.
She’ll soon be 26, and says that her art has now become “an obsession for me. If I stopped I’d miss it, I’m addicted. But there is a risk involved with every shot we take, many photographers got sued, many got tortured for exposing the reality… the reality that the regime is spending millions of dollars to hide through expensive public relations companies. But that won’t stop us; the world should know, the world should see.”