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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bahrain Experiencing Unrest and Violent Protests

Bahrain is yet another country in the Middle East embroiled in civil unrest.

"Thousands of protesters poured into a main square in Bahrain's capital Tuesday in an Egypt-style rebellion that sharply escalated pressure on authorities as the Arab push for change gripped the Gulf for the first time.

"Security forces have battled demonstrators calling for political reforms and greater freedoms over two days, leading to the deaths of two protesters and the main opposition group vowing to freeze its work in parliament in protest.

"In a clear sign of concern over the widening crisis, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa made a rare national TV address, offering condolences for the deaths, pledging an investigation into the killings and promising to push ahead with reforms, which include loosening state controls on the media and Internet.


"Oppositions groups aren't calling for the ruling Sunni monarchy to be ousted, but they do want an end to its grip on key decisions and government posts.

"Other demands — listed on a poster erected in the square — included the release of all political prisoners, more jobs and housing, an elected Cabinet and the replacement of longtime prime minister, Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.


"The nation's majority Shiites — about 70 percent of the population of some 500,000_ have long complained of discrimination and being blackballed from important state jobs.

"Many in the square waved Bahraini flags and chanted: 'No Sunnis, no Shiites. We are all Bahrainis.' It also appeared they were planning for the long haul. Some groups carried in tents and sought generators to set up under a nearly 300-foot (90-meter) monument cradling a giant white pearl-shaped ball that symbolizes the country's heritage as a pearl diving center.

"Bahrain is one of the most politically volatile nations in the Middle East's wealthiest corner despite having one of the few elected parliaments and some of the most robust civil society groups. A crackdown on perceived dissent last year touched off weeks of riots and clashes in Shiite villages, and an ongoing trial in Bahrain accuses 25 Shiites of plotting against the country's leadership.

"A prolonged showdown could draw in the region's two biggest rivals: Saudi Arabia, as close allies of Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, and Iran, whose hard-liners have spoken in support of the nation's Shiite majority [emphasis mine]."

The last sentence is especially important. It's hard to say exactly what will happen in Bahrain, but the possibility of long, violent protests that escalate into a full-scale revolution is very possible. Clearly the king of Bahrain senses the possibility as demonstrated by his appearance on TV.

The Muslim Brotherhood exists in Bahrain as the Al Eslah Society, the president of which, Isa bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, is a member of Bahrain's royal family. The political wing of the Al Eslah Society is the Al-Menbar Islamic Society. In the Dec. 2010 election, the Al-Menbar Islamic Society won only 2 seats in the Council of Representatives which has 40 members. However, the Al-Menbar Islamic Society is very well organized and, as noted, has associates within the royal family of Bahrain. They could flourish with a little chaos.

If a violent Revolution should happen (which could happen with or without the support of the Muslim Brotherhood), Bahrain could become a key battleground in a proxy war. The Saudis and Iranians could turn the country of Bahrain into something like Beirut from the 1980s with various factions with foreign support fighting for dominance.

It is a place worth watching, and the implications of a weakened and violent Bahrain are significant for the region. Given that the Obama Administration had no contingencies for a revolution in Egypt beyond trotting out Obama to give speeches desperately trying to back the right horse, Bahrain will receive little advice and no help from the US should the situation escalate.

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU for posting this! I really like your blog!!

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