Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): An hour and a half spent in Ibrahim Sharif's room. A few days ago this wish would have been impossible, yet we are with him now, interviewing him face to face and asking him questions. The inspiring "Wa'ad" leftist leader and former cellblock 7 detainee in Jaw Central Prison can speak now free of chains.
A while back, we sought to have an interview with him and almost had the chance. We almost did because our chance was gone with the wind after the prison authority changed the visitation system. However, the dark prison nights are now in the past, at least since June 19, 2015 until now.
We wanted to know a lot of things: about the four years he spent in prison; about the times he spent with the leaders of the Islamic Shiite movement; about their discussions and evaluation of the 2011 outcomes; about the one time he cried; about meeting the international investigator Bassiouni in the prison's cafeteria; about meeting Sheikh Ali Salman, Al-Wefaq secretary-general in prison; about Abdulwahab Hussein's home, the secretary-general of Al-Wafaa group which was the first place he visited after his release; about the books he read; about what is possible in this period; about the regime and future of reconciliation; about hope and if there is any hope; about the solution: what is the solution after all these days passed.
Year after year, his blood was shed as he lived in agony and pain. Despite all that, Sharif was generous, very generous. He delved into his memory and spoke all the lessons of wisdom he learned from his experience. However, another program was awaiting him. He asked his wife, Farida Gholam, to call the family of one of his companions in prison, Abdulhadi Al-Mokhawsar, so he could visit them. "I was his secretary when he was in prison and when even when he is out I still am," Ghola said as she laughed. The following is Bahrain Mirror's interview with Ibrahim Sharif:
Bahrain Mirror: How did you see the people after five years in prison?
Ibrahim Sharif: The people's spirits are high. We were not isolated from the world. We were a group of 13 prisoners who received news. We received all newspapers except Al-Wasat and when we asked about it, they said it is a "newspaper of sedition". Thus we said: What about Al-Watan? Since then they we no longer received it as well. We read three newspapers daily in addition to the English-speaking Gulf Daily News (GDN), in which we read news that wasn't found in the other papers. We were aware of the spirit among people in general and received news.
We received a lot of news from people outside prison when they called family member held in prison. Bahrain Mirror was an important source of information to us, and to be honest, it was the most important source to us. As a politician, from its headlines, you would understand whole the story in the report. Its headlines contains a high level of news, yet local newspapers are limited even if they were independent.
Bahrain Mirror: Are you optimistic about the extent of the people's resilience?
Sharif: This is the longest uprising in Bahrain's history. There was never an uprising this long and like this; even after severe suppression, the people's spirits are still high. I think it is important to evaluate matters from this angle. The regime has a massive security power, backed with huge financial support, not to mention the strong gulf aid. At first the international community was concerned about Bahrain, but now it is only the human rights level and the international pressure has deteriorated. The human rights community's concern is useless if there isn't a domestic strife. There will always be a human rights concern as long as dozens of strivers are constantly put behind bars and dozens of human rights struggles emerge daily.
I am very optimistic because the government wasn't able to rebuild the barrier of fear. The most important thing in a long strife is preventing the regime from making you return back where you started when the barrier of fear was very high. Even though people now can't stage mass protests because of the arrests and social media is very restricted to the extent that it is being used to convict people, that is only the facade, but the reality is that people are still rejecting marginalization and suppression.
Bahrain Mirror: Is this atmosphere helping the opposition adhere to its demands that it presented in the Manama Document even more or does it need to reevaluate its demands somehow?
Sharif: Change cannot be accomplished on the ground unless there is a balance of powers. What happens on the ground is what determines what you can achieve at any moment. If the opposition in any country wanted to achieve something meaningful to the people even if it's less than their demands, it has to strive to attain it, without compromising the people's main demands. The opposition has no right to give up the citizens' demands. If the opposition was given the authority by the people, then it is entitled to strive to let the people have their rights with time yet it has no authority to give up these rights.
The points listed in the Manama Document are the least of what the majority of opposition factions can agree on. We have clear demands stated in the Manama Document. They are highly patriotic demands that gathered the opposition factions under the same umbrella. The negotiation; however, will be about the schedules according which it will be implemented. Any late schedules will make the solution process fail and any very early schedules will be prevented from being accomplished by the balance of powers. Therefore, there has to be a balance between these two things.
The opposition in Bahrain is deep-rooted and non-elitist. Thus, there is no separation between the opposition and the elite. The situation isn't like it was before, that is if you target the elite, the opposition in Bahrain will end. The roots are very deep, and I think that one of the real reasons behind the fact that it is deep-rooted is the campaign of wide-range marginalization of a sect of people that took place during the past 35 years, since the beginning of the 1980s until now. This leaves the citizens with no choice but to be dissents. The government left the marginalized citizens with no other choice. The government can say that it is going to arrest opposition leaders and then say it will arrest activists mobilizing the people in the streets, and then say it will arrest youth under 18 years of age, yet the opposition will remain strong and present.
We have 3,000 detainees, i.e. one detainee for every 100 male citizens in Bahrain. No country in the world has this number of detainees in comparison with the population. This proves that the society brings about the opposition. The opposition ranks are always packed. Even though people can't strive as they did in 2011 for instance, they don't need more than a breeze that would blow the aches and unveil the blazing coals. Thus, the authorities have no choice but to reach an agreement on the long term.
Bahrain Mirror: Do you think the Bahrainis can realize a great part of their dreams through this uprising?
Sharif: By carrying on, yes it is possible, but we cannot forget that the government during the last three decades made a huge accomplishment, as it was able to create sectarian division; we cannot deny that. It was able to divide the society into two. One of the opposition's failures is that it was incapable of reaching out to the other side of society who have concerns. Some of these concerns are extremely exaggerated and untrue, yet some of them are actually true. Until now, the opposition has failed to communicate with the other side and reach out to others. This gap, unfortunately, is expanding and feeding on regional conflicts; every conflict in the region is affecting us negatively. No one should imagine that one party's victory over another would benefit us. With every side's victory over another comes a stirred up conflict. Any peaceful resolution in any country suffering from a war will help our situation. We are a small country located in a region flaming with fires.
Bahrain Mirror: You said the Manama Document is what you will hold on to reconcile the different opposition factions. Did you work on that during the four years you spent in prison?
Sharif: I think what we succeeded in is that every side now understands the other very well. There are some people in prison who believe that the Manama Document was the best thing the opposition accomplished to date, while others think it is good yet doesn't reach the limit of demands they are calling for. We; nonetheless, respect one another. I respect those who call for establishing a republic. 90 % of countries in the world are republics. This isn't an odd demand. The people have the right to choose their system.
Those who differ from us in their views also respect that Ibrahim Sharif and Sheikh Ali [salman] call for a constitutional monarchy. I understand what they say, which is that if the constitutional monarchy [option] was available, they wouldn't have rejected it. The authorities were given a chance over the past ten years to establish a constitutional monarchy yet it didn't do so. Thus people opted to calling for the overthrow of the regime and turning a new page different from the previous pages, far from the constant "false promises" concerning reforms.
I understand this point of view but I propose another view: you cannot take a huge leap in changing the regime without causing a civil war or vast divisions in society like the ones we are suffering from already. I don't see that there is a big difference between a republic and democratic state. That is a nominal issue. I; however, look at the costs. Any solution that doesn't include some sort of agreement between the authorities and the opposition means that there will be no agreement between the religious sects, and this is a fact. If this agreement doesn't exist then this means that one party will force its opinion on the other.
This will result in an ongoing uprising as the case is now, or a civil war which is the worst situation. Both are bad options so we cannot continue with them. The government is wrong to continue with this further. The security solution only suffocates the people and deprives them of their freedoms, yet they always find a way out of it.
We, the 13 persons in prison, understand one another. Sheikh Ali Salman's presence in prison now is useful since our brothers will be able to learn what happened in the past four years. Ibrahim Sharif was there with them before to tell them about the meetings and negotiations that took place with government delegations and others. Now, Sheikh Ali Salman is the best person to tell them what went on after 2011.
Bahrain Mirror: The government attempted to target the Manama Document by the Document of Al-A'yan (the notables) and replace the political representation of political opposition parties with "the notables". How can Ibrahim Sharif describe the Manama Document whose voice faded amid the challenges it faced?
Sharif: My role was part of the opposition's role. The "notables" was an experience used in the past, even in the 1990s they used the notables as mediators to release prisoners. When the authorities have a political project, they know how to enter the opposition's home; they enter through the door. The notables aren't a door or window to the opposition. As I mentioned before, the opposition is rooted in society, as no party can enter the opposition's home (the people) through the notables. Even the members of parliament, without competitors, couldn't gain 10 % of the opposition votes. They have no actual weight in society.
The government's stupidity is reflected in the fact that it didn't give the opposition a spark that would ignite division among them. If the government was smart, it would have been able to divide the opposition and benefit from this division. For, it can present an acceptable offer to some and an unacceptable one to others, and thus cause division among the opposition. Unfortunately, the regime wasn't able to offer the any of the opposition factions something acceptable.
Bahrain Mirror: There are concerns of a weakened alliance between "Wa'ad" and "Al-Wefaq" and fears that some liberals were able to convince the opposition or some factions of the opposition to accept a demand ceiling less than what the Manama Document offers. What's your say on these concerns?
Sharif: I think that there isn't a demand ceiling less than the Manama Document. The document has presented the main principles the opposition is working on, and they are its main demands.
If there is a demand ceiling less than that of the Manama Document, then this means that there is a segment of Wa'ad society that accepts this view. To my knowledge, there is no such matter. There may be some individuals; yet there is no vent through which Wa'ad could be penetrated.
Wa'ad is one of the few societies that comprise of members from the two religious sects and there hasn't been any division based on sectarianism.
What I was concerned about inside prison is that I witnessed a sectarian division in society before I was imprisoned. I was afraid of consequences of this division. At the end of the day, we live in a Sunni society. When I used to go to the Sunni society in March 2011 specifically, I used to witness the siege that was imposed on the opposition. There was major fears among members of the Sunni community and big doubt about the opposition. This led to a severe social pressure. The first year was the most dangerous. As long as we managed to survive that year, then there will be no sectarian schism. The society is united.
Bahrain Mirror: Does this unity include the political ceiling too?
Sharif: Concerning the political ceiling, there is no disagreement on what is proposed in the Manama Document. The disagreement is on what could be obtained from the Manama Document based on the dynamics of change. When we tell the authorities that this is the Manama Document and you have to implement it all today or the deal is off; this is not political action. Political action is have demands that can be fulfilled without compromising the political agenda of the Manama Document. This means that what could be accomplished now is less than the Manama Document, but it will launch a dynamic of change that would lead to the aims listed in the document. If the solution doesn't launch this sort of dynamics, then it would be a truce and not a solution.
A truce between the opposition and the regime is possible, in terms of calming the situation. We need a period of time that would last months in order to build trust between both sides. This trust depends on the main point, which is the release of political prisoners, starting with the leaders until the last detainee in exchange for a truce initiated by the opposition followed by a real negotiations process that would include all factions of the opposition and not just societies.
Bahrain Mirror: Are you thinking about proposing this project now?
Sharif: What I am discussing now isn't something new in the field of political action. It could be proposed today. Sometimes, you cannot reach a political solution if there is unrest in the country. There is no trust between the two sides. If we cannot manage to implement the Manama Document, then we must build a bridge that would lead us there. The bridge is launching a national reconciliation process, starting with certain issues over a specified period of time. The bridge we need to reach this reconciliation is the building of trust. Building trust doesn't require a comprehensive political agreement. It only requires a truce between both sides. Each side should make concessions, The concessions that the government should make is withdrawing all security reinforcements from the villages, end the siege and release all detainees.
There is a point of view that I respect and understand very well. This view is present inside prison; it is that the leaders shouldn't make decisions while in prison, because the prisoner is subject to pressure and could make concessions he shouldn't have. Thus, I believe that this view should be respected.
Bahrain Mirror: Was there a deal offered to Ibrahim Sharif inside prison?
Sharif: No. not Ibrahim Sharif nor anyone who was with me held in the same prison. The authorities isolated us during the past four years.
We were isolated in prison block 6 and 7. Why would they isolate us? There are two potential reasons; either that we are a political plage so we shouldn't be close to any prisoners, for we might be a source of mobilization, incitement or anything else, or that the government needs us to be on one place so it could be easier to negotiate with us and so that any information about the negotiations wouldn't be leaked. The first one happened; we were isolated from others. We; however, didn't witness anything like the second option over the past four years.
Bahrain Mirror: The most important figure who visited you in prison was the Chair of the fact finding commission, Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni. How was your meeting with Bassiouni and what do you think abou the commission's performance?
Sharif: There were major concerns since we didn't know Bassiouni, but when they put Sir Nigel Rodley, who is well-known and has a good reputation, our concerns weren't as big. Our concerns were like the concerns of the societies outside prison. After our meeting, the commision had a good impression on us except for one person, who we all doubted. We felt relaxed in our meeting with Bassiouni and we were very honest. Bassiouni himself and the head of the investigation team, Khaled Mohieddin, said that those who called for a republic have the right to do so. It is freedom of expression and anywhere in the world, no one is punished for this. He said this very clearly.
We sat with him for an hour in the prison's cafeteria. Regarding the final report of the Bassiouni commission, the best we could say is that "it was less than we want and more than we expected".
The majority said it was either good or very good. The report for the first time in the history of Bahrain, presents three sides of a controversial historic event. There is the opposition's side of the story, the government's and the third party's version. We can point out a somehow false narration of the al-Salmaniya event and the Bahrain university issue. They attempted to avoid the defense force's role. We; however, are talking about the general wording and the general results, especially the final results and recommendations, even though it failed to follow through the implementation of the recommendations. The process was left to be implemented domestically, so the government was able to avoid it.
Bahrain Mirror: Why did Ibrahim Sharif choose to visit Al-Wafaa Secretary-General Abdulwahab Hussein's family as a first step after his release from prison and then the rest of the families of detained figures?
Sharif: The families of all figures are on my list. I have a very special relationship with Abdulwahab Hussein. I had a one-hour walk with him regularly over the past three years in prison. This means that we had 365 hours we spent together every year, but my relationship with him was strong before 2011. I was a bridge between him and the societies.
During the first protest that was staged on February 14, 2011, after morning prayers in Nuwaidrat village, which was targeted by the security forces, I was the first person in the opposition who paid him a visit to check on him. During the whole period of the uprising, I was the link between the opposition societies and movements and Abdulwahab Hussein primarily. Our relationship grew stronger in prison.
One of the issues I am dedicated to is the issue of detainees, in general, and the case of detainees who were with me over the past four years in particular. They were the best company to have in prison. Besides the general commitment to this cause, I have a sentimental and emotional relation with them.
They were my companions and family over four years. I lived with these brothers more than I lived with anyone in my life, except my wife, children, and parents. Since my days in the university, I never lived with a group of people and spent all my time with them, eating, sleeping, tortured, insulted, and tried together as much as them. Even though we weren't affiliated to the same groups and societies, the same charges were raised against us, we were all sentenced between 5 to 25 years in prison, we suffered together in prison and we went on strikes together.
We tried to continue our strife that we began outside prison. Part of our strife is to continue protesting.
Bahrain Mirror: How did you protest inside prison?
Sharif: We issued statements and were in contact with human rights organizations and the organizations that visited Bahrain. This continued until the end of last March and April, during the period which we called "The Mini National Safety" period when Jaw Prison events took place. There was a severe crackdown inside prison. The only block where prisoners didn't received beatings was block 7 where we were already isolated. We heard the other prisoners' screams and sufferings, but we couldn't see them.
Bahrain Mirror: What is the secret of your positive vibe you give off when talking about the group you spent four years with despite your different views? Usually in prison, many disputes take place yet you talk very positively about your companions in prison, why is that?
Sharif: You have to know that most of us are in their fifties. There are no youths among us, who are enthusiastic or fanatic. The only disagreement we have is when we have heated debates. Any misunderstandings like these can be resolved easily. Our age plays a role. Our political maturity plays a role. The number of prisoners is also essential. During my college years, I lived with students who had closer ideological views to me, but we used to have many disagreements. Despiet the differences in our ideological views, especially to me, I used to discuss with them controversial issues, especially that related to the Islamic movement.
Bahrain Mirror: You talked about the parties in power and that there is a party that wants reform yet it is weak, could you discuss this point at length?
Sharif: I was part of the negotiations that took place in 2011, so along with Sheikh Ali Salman, I met with the US secretary of state at the time, Jeffrey Feltman, and others. There was a group in power, represented by the Crown Prince that wanted to reach a political solution to the crisis, but there were other parties that found this as an opportunity to reinforce their position that has faded away in the past 10 years until 2011, by making extremist stances; I mean the position of parties in the ruling family who do not want to reach a political solution and who have limited popularity among the people.
We talked since 2001 about the old National Guard and the new one, The new National Guard was able to win over the old National Guard, yet this new National Guard has turned with time into the old one.
The conflict was reborn in 2011, the same groups were emerging again and had a massive role in making the process of reaching a reconciliation fail. This doesn't mean that the other side of the regime was prepared to make vast concessions. I think the other side was also not prepared to make concessions and launch the dynamics that I mentioned before. All we got from the authorities at that time was general statements saying that they are prepared to discuss a certain issue, yet these issues aren't specified.
In my opinion, for example, changing the prime minister won't solve the problem, because it is a nominal change. When you change the structure of the political system, you should change the old faces in power and bring new ones. Changing the prime minister will ultimately happen. We didn't want our demands to be limited to changing the prime minister. We are talking about electing a prime minister. If the principle of electing a prime minister is agreed upon then after that we discuss schedules and the transitional period. It is not a problem if it takes two or four months as long as we agreed in the principle.
The first aim is the election. The second is the schedules and the third is the other small nominal details. This is the dynamics I talked about. There should be someone held accountable for what happened on February 17, 2011 since the first raid on the pearl roundabout. It is unacceptable to have the same government and make minor employees in the ministry of interior take the blame.
Bahrain Mirror: Do you think that the societies made mistakes in dealing with the Crown Prince's initiative?
Sharif: What I witnessed personally is that there wasn't a clear plan adopted by the government. The authorities presented main points that are more like negotiation headlines rather than specific concessions. For example, they said: "Reforming the electoral districts so that they would be fairer". How can I benefit from this? How can this be implemented? Let any international institution come and tell us if this could be implemented or not. If not, then there should be an international institution I could complain to and have it give me something that can be implemented.
Bahrain Mirror: Tell us about the night you were arrested. What do you remember about those moments?
Sharif: I expected being arrested. I had delivered an address at the Pearl (LouLoua) Roundabout a few before my arrest, on March 3, 2011, in which I said that raising the ceiling of demands won't let us accomplish anything and I listed the reasons: sectarianly divided society, unlimited regional support granted to the regime and a massive united military force. We are not Egypt, where the military force was separated from the government. Here, the military institution is part of the government. The ruling family controls the military institution. I knew we were going to be arrested and that there will be victims and
martyrs. On the other hand, we had no choice, we couldn't back down. The people we making sacrifices. We had to carry on and hope for the best. The best won't come at the time of the attack. Those will be your worst days, yet it will come later on. That was what we were betting on. I believe that part of the opposition was aware of that. We had no doubt, especially us, the political societies.
Maybe the other thought that the regime will fall, yet this wasn't an option for the societies. I heard this before from people in the opposition movement and I tried to convince them as much as possible that their view is wrong and that the possible options are available on the ground. The regime will not be overthrown. The regime ruled by the family will remain. They only differ on the ways to suppress the opposition and nothing else. The regional power is providing the highest level of support and this could make the
suppression reach its highest levels. International pressure is not enough to change the balance of power. If there wasn't a regional power supporting Bahrain, then the government would have made big
concessions because it cannot take this much pressure by itself. However, when Bahrain is supported by the Gulf States, It can take it. This analysis proved to be right at the end of the day.
I expected my arrest. I didn't tell my mother about this so she wouldn't feel down but I was prepared. What I didn't expect; however, was the charge raised against me. I was accused of calling for the establishment of an Islamic republic and of being one of the "Supreme Leader's" followers and false charges as such.
After 54 days of detention and torture, they showed me the list of charges in prison. We were four detainees, each held in solitary confinement. We weren't able to see anyone as the cells were closed from all sides. The other detainees weren't put in solitary confinement cells but they were each held alone in a cell. We weren't allowed to speak to anyone, even if we spoke to the wall, we were beaten. Even if we prayed with a voice that could be heard, we were beaten. If you wanted to fast, you were beaten.
When they came for me on March 17, 2011, at dawn and rang the doorbell, they told me they want me, so I didn't open the door. Before they came, I had returned home late after checking out the Pearl Roundabout following the raid and the previous night, the Wa'ad society headquarters was set ablaze. I went down to the door and my mother was with me. The officer said to me: "Open the door." I said: "No I won't. Do you have an arrest warrant?" "It is a National Safety state, an arrest warrant isn't required," he replied. In the court, they didn't say that, they said they had an arrest warrant. I opened the door. They were masked. They had climbed the wall, entered my house and arrested me.
One of the funny things is that they took me to have a medical exam so I laughed, The officer asked me, why are you laughing. I said: because the group you arrest last August like Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace told me that before being subjected to torture, you undergo medical examination. The officer laughed and said: "No Ibrahim. You will not be tortured." Only 15 minutes passed and they began to torture me. At first it was mild torture, like slaps and insults while being filmed, and then it escalated in prison.
Bahrain Mirror: What are the hardest times you spent in prison?
Sharif: The first days of torture were hard, yet after a month, everything got easier. Torture is harsh and being insulted is harsh, but what is even harsher is that you have no one to complain to and share your grief with. We were not allowed to speak to one another. Sometimes, we would know that there were no guards and take that opportunity to talk but we were caught once. We used to whisper. I was in the middle. Sheikh Abdulhadi Al-Mokhawsar was on my right and Al-Hor Al-Sameekh was on my left, and on the other side was Abduljalil Al-Singace. Al-Singace used to whisper in a very quiet voice so they wouldn't hear him because he was closer to outside. I barely understood what he was saying and everytime Al-Hor used to ask: "Mokhawsar...What is Abu Hussein saying?" and we would all laugh,
Those were the times we used to talk, only a minute or two. These times used to charge us like a battery. In these circumstances, a minute or two were enough to raise the spirits of an entire group. You feel like you are not alone and have someone sharing with you your agony. Sometimes we used to feel better when we heard one of us beginning his prayer with "In the Name of Allah The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful". This moment used to make us feel alive. We weren't allowed to raise our voices even during prayers.
Sheikh Abduljalil Al-Moqdad used to always raise his voice during prayer and made them get used to it. In these moments we used to feel relaxed.
There were certain shifts we knew were the worst in terms of torture, insults and obscenity. I heard from them the most obscene language that I have never heard before in my entire life. The hardest thing was solitary confinement.
Bahrain Mirror: What are the most important books you read in prison?
Sharif: One of first books I got there was Nelson Mandela's memoirs in english and then I got it in Arabic so that my brothers would read it too. the first book I read in prison was a tale about "Tazmamart prison" in Morocco during the reign of the former King Hassan II. Imagine that if you read this book outside prison, you will feel down but when you read it inside prison, you will feel that what you are experiencing is nothing compared to what others' have faced. These people were buried alive. These books were inspiring and calming. Some of them were emotionally inspiring like Mandela's memoirs.
I created a civil library of my own and my brothers had their Islamic library. We made a good library in prison, especially that we didn't have a library because we were isolated from the others. In 2011, we requested a special library for us. I was one of the things we gained from the Bassiouni commission. We were allowed to have one at the end of August a few days after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's report was published. The political situation at the time was beginning to witness some ease. We tried to attain some of our rights during that period and maintain them.
Bahrain Mirror: Did you make use of your time in prison to learn or train?
Sharif: In Al-Qurain Prison, we had a very enriching program from the morning until the evening, everyone taught what he was specialized in. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja gave us a seminar on human rights. I gave a seminar on financial management. Sheikh Said Al-Nouri gave Persian language lessons while Sheikh Abduljalil Al-Moqdad, established an Islamic school of higher learning (Hawza). Maybe it was the first prison in the world to have an Islamic school. Of course, I didn't join the school but I only attended some of the lessons at the beginning. He was one of the most humble Sheikhs I've ever met and a lovable person as well. He is the type of person who befriends you even if you differ with him on your opinions. I was the only one who was with me during all my phases in prison and was my cellmate. In general, all the detainees were wonderful. No matter what I do to serve their cause, it won't be enough.
I was the only one who was affiliated to different movement, yet they were like my family and beloved ones. Whenever we used to argue during a discussion, we used to hug each other and it would end at that.
Bahrain Mirror: Is there a moment when you cried?
Sharif: Yes, I cried when Wa'ad society issued a statement apologizing from the military in June 2011. It was very painful. I received the news about the statement through Dr. Abdulkhaliq Al-Oraiby, when I was being taken to the National Safety Court. They had brought the doctors there too. Al-Oraiby met me and said: "There was a coup in Wa'ad". I was informed before but I didn't hear the news like this. I couldn't believe it at first and doubted the news until I was sure of it. I was very ashamed. I cried. That was the only time I cried in prison.
Bahrain Mirror: What was your reaction to the society afterwards?
Sharif: In political activism, mistakes are made. Everyone makes mistakes. I know the reasons, but it doesn't justify it according to me. I understand the pressures of the National Safety period. To me, the matter ended when they realized they made a mistake. Maybe these lessons are necessary so that people would learn from them. I believe that whenever you have a big fall, you will come out of it stronger. There is divine aid that helps the human being move on.
There are times in prison when you feel very weak, especially when subjected to torture. However, when you feel the weight of the responsibility on your shoulders, you will be determined to never be weak. I didn't represent myself. If I did represent myself, it would have been possible to allow myself to be weak. I am a secretary-general, heading not any society. It is the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Bahrain]. It is Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi. I cannot allow myself to be weak. You will not have any dignity after that. There is nothing more precious to a human being than his dignity. You tell yourself, how will I face the people if I become weak.
Bahrain Mirror: How did you see Sheikh Ali Salman when you met for the first time after all this time?
Sharif: I swear to God, Sheikh Ali is a great man. Sheikh Ali is the leading figure in the Islamic movement in terms of openness to others. There are many people in the Islamic movement who are distinguished in a lot of things, but when it comes to Salman's understanding of the way the Shiite opposition should deal with the Sunni factions, his understanding of what could be accomplished and his understanding of the consequences of not tolerating the other side and sensitive issues, he is way ahead.
Bahrain Mirror: How did you welcome him in prison?
Sharif: We were making guesses about what Sheikh Ali Salman's sentence would be. I predicted that he would be handed down a jail term between 5 and 10 years. The general opinion was that he was going to get a harsh sentence. Sheikh Ali was brought at 3:30 in the afternoon. We were all sleeping since we were tired from fasting. I was the first one to wake up. Before I washed my face, I heard that the Sheikh had arrived, so everyone stood up to welcome him. No one believed that Sheikh Ali Salman was going to stay with us. Everyone welcomed him with hugs and overwhelming joy. We won't forget that Sheikh Ali was isolated for five full months too. When he was brought to us, it was a relief to him as it was to us. On that day, they prevented us from calling our families so that we wouldn't tell anyone that he arrived. I belive that Sheikh Ali Salman's presence in prison now with this group of opposition figures is very significant and will create an enriching experience for everyone.