MANAMA, Bahrain — The images of victims like Ridha Mohammed Hasan — lying in his hospital bed, allegedly shot in the brain by the Bahraini army — is splitting protesters between those who want government reforms and those calling for an end to the country's monarchy.
What began as a call for Bahrain to move from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one and the resignation of top officials has led to violence never seen on this tiny, wealthy island that up until now was known more for its oil riches and Formula One racing events. At least five have been killed in one week, driving many to call for the end of the ruling regime.
Whatever the outcome, last week's events raised questions about how the government can regain its people's trust after unprecedented violence against them.
"I don't know anything about politics, but people say the king must go," said one of Hasan's nurses, Zainab, whose clothes were covered with Hasan's blood two days ago when he first arrived at the hospital. She refused to give her last name Sunday because she still fears the government. "The army may be shooting, but the king gives the orders. How can we trust a government that will kill us?"
On Sunday, opposition leaders said they would not sit down with the government until it promised to stick to any agreements. So far, there have been no direct negotiations, opposition leaders said.
"When the first casualties happened (earlier in the week), the king apologized and it sounded like they were going to let us stay in the square. And then they shot people in the middle of the night. It made believing the word of the regime doubtful," said Ebrahim Sharif, who leads a leftist secular opposition group, National Democratic Action Society. "We want democratic reforms."
These days, hospital staffers eagerly invite anyone with a camera into the hospital to see the patients overflowing their hallways. In operating rooms, doctors have bystanders hovering with cameras to record images of those injured by government forces even as they are trying to save the patient.
Those pictures are distributed throughout the population of 600,000 in a matter of hours. Indeed some gruesome, bloody pictures of the injured clinging to life hang outside the hospital entrance and are distributed at the demonstration site, in the capital's main square. Never is a name attached to the photo; the image is enough. Opposition members are desperate to document what is happening in a police state where much happens behind the scenes.
During protests Friday, four people were seriously injured by either gunshots or tear gas used by the Bahraini army, a portion of which consists of mercenaries brought in from countries like Yemen, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The injured remain side by side in the intensive care unit of Salminiya Medical Complex, the largest hospital here and the alternative demonstration site when officials block access to Pearl Square, where the protests began.
On one side of Hasan is a 17-year-old shot in the shoulder, and next to him lays a 16-year-old shot in the neck. On Hasan's other side is a 42-year-old man injured by tear gas. Hasan's body is covered with a Bahraini flag that reads "I love my country," and for a few minutes solemn family surrounded him even as he was hooked up to various machines tracking his health.
Even as they lie in the ICU, the injured pose for photographers, some of them doctors, as a steady stream of people flow in throughout the day. One holds up his fingers in the shape of V for victory; another looks up at those photographing him.
All is except for Hasan, that is.
"He is brain dead," whispers Zainab, the nurse. "The family does not know yet. We confirmed it today. They are about to tell him."
The nurses call Hasan's father, Mohammed Hasan Ahmed, 55, away to a separate room, and in a few minutes it is painfully clear the family knows. Women collapse, a man grabs a Koran and starts reading it at Hasan's bedside; one of his six siblings, a brother, screams and is carried away from the hospital bed.
Another nurse grabs a mandated picture of the smiling prime minister off the wall of the ICU and throws it into the garbage. But that does not seem like enough. She takes it and throws it onto the ground with all the force she can muster, smashing the glass. Others come behind her, turn over the photo and start writing on it. "Nobody wants you," someone writes.
"Death to the Khalifas," the nurse yells at the top of her lungs, referring to the royal family, amid a string of profanities. "Death to the Khalifas!"
Zainab's lips quiver and she turns around and quietly cries. She has worked in the ICU for 14 years and has never seen anything like this. This is not a hospital that has ever seen multiple people coming in one night with gunshot wounds, let alone from an attack by the government.
"We knew he probably would not make it the minute he came in," she said. "They did the surgery but fragments of the bullet are still in the brain. But we kept hoping."
Hasan, 32, was injured at a protest that began when mourners gathered at Pearl Square to bury the first man killed in the demonstrations. The army opened fire in an effort to clear the square.
Zainab, the nurse has a photo on her mobile phone of the injured in her ward, Mohammed Ali Ebrahim, 16, holding up his fingers in a V for victory when he heard the news that the protesters had retaken the square Saturday. On her other phone she has pictures of Hasan's injuries. She takes pictures everyday since they arrived in her ward and forwards them on. "We want the world to see what they are doing to us," she explains.
And then, she asks: "Do you want a copy of my pictures?"
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