50,000 Protest in Bahrain Before Another Bloody Crackdown

Breaking News: Bahrain security forces appear to have run out of ammunition at the downtown Pearl Roundabout, as thousands of Shiite protesters flooded in Saturday morning. The demonstrators took the square and a festive mood settled in. The Wifaq Party, which had represented the majority Shiites in parliament until its members resigned en masse on Thursday, had announced that it would not enter talks with the Sunni monarchy as long as police were attacking peaceful protesters.

In Bahrain, Friday began with funerals for three protesters killed by security police during earlier demonstrations. The funerals turned into protest rallies. Some 50,000 Bahrainis took part, about 10% of the population.

Shiite Friday prayers sermons were full of calls for ‘ a real constitutional monarchy’ or even for the overthrow of the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy.

Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qasim said in his Friday Prayers sermon at the Diraz Mosque that Thursday’s massacre at the Pearl Roundabout was “a premeditated massacre intended to kill and shed blood, not simply to disperse the crowd.” He wondered, “Why this despotic killing?” The congregation began chanting “Bahrain, Free, Free!” and “Sunnis and Shiites are Brethren– We will not sell out our Country!” Sheikh Isa replied, “We will not accept this humiliation!” again and again. He said that the Bahrain government was now the chief threat to the security of Bahrain citizens. He added that the world needed to shoulder the responsibility of rescuing the Bahraini people. He called on Bahrainis to cling steadfastly to national unity, saying, “Do not kill yourselves with sectarianism.”

In contrast, at the Grand Mosque, Sunni Bahrainis and Sunni Pakistanis and Indian Muslims showed support for the embattled king. Although Shiites are 70 percent of the citizen population, over half of Bahrain’s 1.2 million residents are expatriate guest workers, and most of them are Sunni Muslim.

Then in late afternoon, a small crowd walked toward the Pearl Roundabout downtown, from which protesters had been driven by force on Thursday morning. As they approached, security forces opened fire on them, killing one and wounding another 50 or so. The local hospital was overwhelmed with arrivals.

ABC has video

On Friday evening, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa called for calm and a dialogue between the government and the demonstrators. The erratic behavior of the Bahrain government, with its oscillations between calls for talks by the king and his son and brutal repression by the security forces caused long time Gulf watcher Gary Sick to wonder if there is a split between the palace and the officer corps, with the latter far more militant and more than a little insubordinate. Me, I think the palace is probably both calling for dialogue and ordering that troops fire into the crowds of protesters.

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6 Responses

  1. The BBC’s “Have Your Say” program was on the topic of the Arab protests and there were more than a few calls from Bahrain. The points of view were kind of split down the middle – with one group of Bahrainis – especially an expat in Britain taking the position that the protesters were vandals and ingrates – destroying malls and the like and ignoring the fact that the regime had provided economic growth, healthcare and housing for all Bahrainis. The others obviously were all “the regime must fall”.
    Are the Al Khalifa family better at media management than Mubarak? Are the pro regime people right about growth and housing and healthcare? Or is it just that the Sunni population are more articulate? Is there an Iranian hand here and the protests an attempt to unseat the Al Khalifa family?

    The BBC link is link to bbc.co.uk

  2. .
    The US Navy has a large investment in its Manama-based 5th Fleet. Folks will inevitably read hidden meaning into that.
    I hope, for the time being, that the Commander has ordered all ships out to sea, so that we are not seen as propping up an unpopular dictator.

  3. Much of the media has been saying that ShiiItes Bahrain are close to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran with the implication that if the Shiites gain political power they would shift the geopolitical balance towards Iran, triggering the Saudis to intervene. Is this a proper reading of the Shiite feelings in Bahrain or would they be Bahraini nationalists with regard to Iran?

  4. In the first part of the post you say 50,000 Bahrainis came out to protest, or 10% of the population. later on you cite the figure of 1.2 million residents, albeit half of them are not citizens. The relative percentage should then be about 5% coming out to protest against the gov’t. This is a necessary distinction to make, especially as it seems some of the non-citizen residents appear to being rallying in support of the monarchy.

    • 50,000 is ten percent of Bahrainis. The guest workers with 2-year visas are not Bahrainis.

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