Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday Protests in Bahrain

Yesterday was a day of protest in Bahrain. Part of the background to this is Shaykh Isa Qasem's warning to the royal family that they could face the same fate as Muammar Qadhafi if they fail to reform:
"The sermon by Sheik Isa Qassim was attended by thousands of worshippers, and was a show of defiance after Bahrain's justice minister accused the cleric of promoting unrest in the strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

"A police helicopter hovered low over the crowds spilling from the mosque after the service. Some worshippers unfurled banners saying 'We will never submit to anyone but God' and warning that government pressure on Qassim is 'political suicide.'

"Qassim vowed he would never be silenced, and said it was his religious duty to support demands by Bahrain's majority Shiites for greater rights and a stronger voice in how the country is run...

"'Can't they learn from the fall of dictatorships and see what happens to those who denied their people basic rights?' Qassim told worshippers. 'We now see what happens to the Libyan dictator, just as what happened to Tunisian and Egyptian despots.'"

In addition, the government banned protests for Quds Day, an annual day of solidarity with Palestinians sometimes associated with Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. My sense from Twitter traffic is that the frequency of protests in Bahrain diminished after the regime crackdown began, but that they never really ceased in the rural areas, especially Bani Jamra. Yesterday's reports, however, placed demonstrations in Manama, in Shi'ite neighborhoods such as Ra's Rummaan. I don't have good, detailed sources on the scene, but I suspect two factors are converging to cause an uptick in demonstrations at this time. One is the demonstration effect of Libya, which was mentioned in Qasem's sermon. The other is the government threat against Qasem, which called to mind the government's suppression of Shaykh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri during the 1990's. Al-Jamri was and remains posthumously a popular figure in Bahrain. I don't know if Isa Qasem, who is the highest-ranking cleric associated with the al-Wifaq opposition party, is in that league yet, but he could be moving in that direction. The AP calls him the top Shi'ite leader in Bahrain, and he has clearly been making a play for ayatollah status, but he shares the limelight with Abdullah al-Ghurayfi, whom some trumpeted as a possible successor to late Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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