Pray for Ali Abdulemam
20 Mar 12

blogfatherIt is very difficult to imagine what life is like for Ali Abdulemam, the blogger turned fugitive. How can anyone hide for a year on an island that is 55 kilometres by 18 kilometres, and that has turned into a police state, where the state conducts nightly raids on homes, and where the secret police are everywhere?

As we mark the one year anniversary of Abdulemam’s forced disappearance, the online community needs to do more to raise the plight of one of the pioneers of blogging in the Arab world. His work over a decade ago in establishing one of the foremost political forums in the country,, paved the way for the biggest revolution in the history of the country, and he is the one now paying the price. He is also paying the price for using his real name, but in targeting Abdulemam, the government has now created multiple anonymous Abdulemams.

Abdulemam was sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment on charges of attempting to overthrow the monarchy. A bizarre charge to make against someone who spent hours in coffee shops with a laptop smoking a sheesha, flipping through Ali Wardi’s books, listening to Iraqi music or mingling with the blogger community of Cairo and Belarus. There is a reason why he is considered one of the most dangerous men in the country and one of the biggest threats to the state, and that reason is that his forum offered dissidents a voice. During his second arrest, his torturers, digitally illiterate at the time, forced him to take down the site. Abdulmam’s colleagues, thankfully managed to restore the site.

He would not have known or even expected this at the time from his prison cell, but his forum was pivotal in the call for a Day of Rage on 14 February, and in fact, it was there that the Pearl Roundabout was proposed as gathering point, and was subsequently occupied. It should have been no surprise then, that when the uprisings took place in Egypt, Bahrain and Syria, historically active bloggers such as Ala’a Abd El Fattah, Ali Abdulemam and Razzan Ghazawi, would be top of the list of the most wanted people in their country.

We hope that Ali Abdulemam is still alive. He left his home just hours before it was raided last March, leaving behind his wallet and passport, his friends and family have not heard or seen him since. It is extremely worrying that he has not contacted anyone for so long. Even if he is still alive, family have grave concerns about his mental well-being.

I was one of the last people who spoke to Ali just hours before he disappeared last March when the Saudi troops invaded Bahrain. I needed his advice. Worried about what was going to happen to the country, and to us, we decided to prepare for imminent arrest. Do we sit at home and wait for the masked men, or leave? Abdulemam was not going to take the risk. He had already spent 6 months in jail where he was tortured, humiliated and completely shielded from the outside world. Did Abdulemam have a lucky escape or did he inadvertently enter a dark abyss much worse than we can know or imagine? None of us know. All we can do is pray and ask, where is Ali?

Ala’a Shehabi is a British-born economics lecturer, activist and writer in Bahrain. She has a PhD from Imperial College London, and is a former policy analyst at Rand Europe.  She is also a founding member of and the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation