Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crackdown in Bahrain

Over the past few days, Bahrain has emerged as a country whose anti-government protests are fairly serious, as demonstrators camped out at the Pearl Roundabout in what was probably a conscious imitation of the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt. Last night, the regime cracked down:
"Troops and tanks have locked down the Bahraini capital of Manama on Thursday after riot police swinging clubs and firing tear gas smashed into demonstrators in a pre-dawn assault, killing at least four people.

"Hours after the attack on Manama's main Pearl Roundabout, the military announced a ban on gatherings, saying on state TV that it had "key parts" of the capital under its control.

"Khalid Al Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, justified the crackdown as necessary because the demonstrators were 'polarising the country' and pushing it to the 'brink of the sectarian abyss'...

"The pre-dawn raid was a sign of how deeply the Sunni monarchy fears the repercussions of a prolonged wave of protests, led by members of the country's Shia majority but also joined by growing numbers of discontented Sunnis."

The sectarian split between a Shi'ite majority and Sunni monarchy and minority matters, but not in a straightforward way. The country's rulers have played a game of divide and rule, one which seems to have accelerated over the past few years which have seen an increase in anti-Shi'ite discrimination. Presumably hoping to keep smaller the popular base to which they must dispense patronage while tying that base to them ideologically, the Al Khalifa dynasty has portrayed Shi'ites as potential Iranian catspaws and pointed to Iraq as an example of the negative consequences of Shi'ite democratic empowerment. What you see in the government's rhetoric is an attempt to cast the Shi'ites themselves as the sectarian ones primarily on the grounds of their Shi'ism, much like the Mubarak and Ben Ali regime claimed to suppress Islamic extremism.

Bahrain has also seen major protests before, with a 1990's "intifada" almost exclusively Shi'ite demographically. During that period, the key to the uprisings' longevity was a social base in the winding narrow streets of the Shi'ite neighborhoods in and around Manama that the mostly South Asian police had trouble penetrating.

I'm going to try to follow this more closely in the coming days, but for now here's Mahmood al-Yousif:
"I have never witnessed protests such as these in my life in Bahrain. I’ve most certainly did not witness the level of determination to wrest those demands either. And from what I can personally see, people no longer care if they’re killed while trying, so much so that they are more than happy to get their wives, sisters, mothers and children accompanying them while protesting. I’ve personally seen disabled people at the Pearl Roundabout, some on crutches, in wheelchairs or pushing their Zimmer frames. All of whom didn’t come out to have a picnic, they, instead firmly believe in the sanctity and genuineness of their rightful demands.

"Yes, the demands of the protestors are understandably more resolute. They’re no longer calling for the reform of the government, but its removal. Such is the effects of brutatlity against unarmed civilians. Although the situation is very serious and tense, heightened no doubt by the army taking to the streets with their armoured personnel carriers, we are not yet beyond the abyss. Or at least I fervently hope not. This “conflict” cannot and will not be solved with military or police force. It will only be resolved with genuine dialogue and the offering of concessions, which, ironically, is going to ensure that longevity of the ruling family in Bahrain.

"Al-Wefaq, the largest political bloc in parliament with 18 of 40 seats have announced the suspension of their parliamentary membership and strongly denounced the violence and killings, but people see that this is not enough and they demand a stronger stance, nothing less than their immediate resignation from parliament will satisfy them. That and the resignation of the full government as it is fully their responsibility for the deterioration of the situation. That is, if the country is genuinely to be saved."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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