Bahrain’s Reckoning

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The small, but strategically significant kingdom of Bahrain moved one step closer toward complete civil anarchy when thousands of anti-government protesters clashed with security forces in what was the fiercest confrontation to date between the ruling monarchy and opposition groups. The encounter also led neighboring Gulf states to send military troops into Bahrain in an effort to help restore order.

Over the weekend thousands of protesters in the capital of Manama took control of the main highway into the city’s financial district before they were dispersed with tear gas launched from government security forces.

However, Bahraini authorities were not as successful when–using a combination of tear gas and rubber bullets–they tried to dislodge demonstrators from their tent compound in Pearl Square, the focal point of the protest movement since it began one month ago.

While government officials pledged that “the right to security and safety is above all else,” they also grimly warned that the escalation in civil disorder had placed the nation’s “social fabric” in serious jeopardy.

If protesters did not understand the warning, Bahrain’s neighbors certainly did. One day after the violent encounters, a contingent of military troops were sent into Bahrain by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-nation group whose members are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The role of the estimated force of 1,000 GCC soldiers was reportedly to protect key buildings, roadways, and oil facilities in the kingdom.

The GCC deployment highlighted how profoundly concerned Gulf leaders have become over Bahrain’s escalating internal unrest and the threat it poses to their own rule. With large Shiite populations themselves, they fear any crack in Bahrain’s ruling system could embolden other challenges to the family dynasties that hold power throughout the region.

However, the GCC deployment also brought harsh rebuke from Bahrain’s opposition groups who called it “an occupation and a conspiracy against the people of Bahrain.”

These latest events had been preceded only days earlier by a call from a coalition of intransigent Bahraini Shiite groups for an end to the reign of Bahrain’s Sunni royal family and the establishment of a republic in its place.

Three Shiite groups—Haq, Wafa and the Bahrain Freedom Movement—calling themselves the “Coalition for a Bahraini Republic,” wrote in a joint statement: “This tripartite coalition adopts the choice of bringing down the existing regime in Bahrain and the establishment of a democratic republican system.”

Included in the coalition is the popular Shiite leader of Haq, Hassan Mushaima, who, upon his recent return from self-imposed exile in England, initially had hinted he would be in favor of a settlement with the ruling al-Khalifa regime. However, Mushaima has now appeared to place the fate of the royal family into the hands of the people in Bahrain’s growing anti-monarchial movement.

Saying he would support the ouster of the monarchy if that was the wishes of the protesters, Mushaima declared: “Our demands will be what the street demands. We can’t impose any demands on the street — not me or any leader of the opposition. It’s the people protesting on the streets who will unite with demands.”

Those demands come chiefly from Bahraini Shiites, who make up over 70 percent of the kingdom’s population. They are rebelling over what they say is long-term discrimination at the hands of the ruling Sunni minority, policies which include granting citizenship and employment preferences to Sunnis from other Sunni Arab countries.

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  • Mr. X

    Its doubtful that the USA is any counterweight to any movement threatening her interests anymore. We are in a state of rapid self liquidation with a view towars a global state. Its the endof the United States being in the right side of history. That being said, there is a litmus test, what is the body politic of the Shiites saying about "the Jews," and "Israel." What are their plans for the existing freedom and protection of their remaining Jewish minoirty? If the rebels are discussing the killing of jews as they are in the uprisings in Egypt, Libia and Algeria, the world community's predictable abandonment of Jews aside, revolutions predicated on Jews hatred have not been successful and costly to the appeasing world. We were better off with Ghaddafy, Mubarek and Bharian's al-Khalifa dynasty. Whether the revolution is by Shia against Sunni or Sunni against Sunni, they are going to mobilize and jump start the stagnant Jihad which is what these uprisings are really about. The world will plunge into darkness again.

  • akbar khan

    Hopefully the democratic movement in the middle east would not blead to the endangerment of the Jewish people. If Muslims have a right over the Middle East the Jewish people have a right over their ancient homeland now called the State of Israel…Grasdually this has dawned in to the Middle Easterners. Moreover Israel is powerful enough to defend itself so nobody is going to mess with it.
    With democracy i the Middle East, it perhaps would be easier for Israel to sign agreements with the Middle Easstern neighbors as they would carry an acceptance by the people too and not just govts.

  • John Little

    Israel's right to exist lies in its ability to defend that which is theirs.

  • John Rutley

    I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Oman for 30 years. The news that Saudi troops had crossed into Bahrain to 'maintain order' came as no suprise. I was in Saudi Arabia when the 'King Fahad' causeway linking Saudi to Bahrain was built in the mid 1980's. We expats said at the time that its main purpose was military. The Saudi response to recent disturbances in Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia was also no suprise either. In the early 1980's Qatif (being the one of the main Shia areas) was continually attacked by the military and police. At the time the fear was the spread of Khomeini's revolution. Nothing has changed. Quotes by the grand mufti's of Saudia Arabia both past and present continually harp on about the Shia being heretics and should be killed!
    Dont expect any change in that policy and dont let us hear any more rubbish being spouted by western leaders about democracy in the Arab world! It doesnt exist in Islam and thats what matters.

  • Mr. X

    Hi Akbar,

    Sounds like you are giving me "hope & change." no thanx