Bahrain Protests Gain Momentum
Protesters in Bahrain convened for the third day in a row Wednesday, adding this small monarchy’s name to the growing list of Middle Eastern nations experiencing populist unrest. Bahrain’s protests were originally organized as a “Day of Rage” on February 14th by youth using media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, as their counterparts in Egypt, Iran and elsewhere have done. They have steadily gained momentum, spurred in part by the death of two protesters who clashed with police. Mourners gathered in the morning hours Wednesday, following the coffin of Fadhel Matrook, killed yesterday during a procession for Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, who was killed in a similar fashion on Monday.
The demands of Bahraini protesters convening in capital city Manama’s Pearl Square echo calls across the Middle East for representative government. Sunnis and Shiites march together, despite a divisive history. Bahrain’s king and much of its ruling class are Sunni, in a nation which is 70% Shiite. Shiites have long accused the king of employing discriminatory policies to keep Shiites from economic stability. Among demonstrator’s demands are a new constitution, a representative Parliament, and an end to the 40 year rule of the Prime Minister, who is King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalif’s uncle. There have not yet been any overt calls for the resignation of al-Khalif, whose family has ruled for over 200 years.
The mood in Pearl Square lifted perceptibly as the day wore on, following signs that protesters’ demands were not falling on totally deaf ears. In an unprecedented move, the king ordered police to allow a gathering of thousands today, issuing an official apology and declaring an intent to form a committee to investigate the killings. “We express our regret over those who died or were injured in the latest incidents and extend our sincere condolences to their families and to the people of Bahrain,” a statement on the ministry’s website read.
US officials are watching the events in Bahrain closely. The US counts this tiny oil rich country a key ally in the region. Bahrain is secular, moderate, and relatively stable. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is stationed there, and the country has strategic significance in US efforts to combat threats from terrorists and from Iran’s growing power.
A large gathering in Pearl Square is scheduled for Saturday. Protesters expect as many as 50,000 to convene.
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