Bahrain

Police crack down on peaceful protests

 Police cars and army tanks appeared for the first time in Manama’s Pearl Square Thursday after four days of non-stop protests left four demonstrators dead. The Square has turned into a symbol of resistance for the nation’s Shiite majority, which is demanding reforms in the tiny Gulf kingdom.  

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Pearl Square in Manama. Photo sent in by Eric@bahrain. 

 

Police cars and army tanks appeared for the first time in Manama’s Pearl Square Thursday after four days of non-stop protests left four demonstrators dead. The Square has turned into a symbol of resistance for the nation’s Shiite majority, which is demanding reforms in the tiny Gulf kingdom.

 

Although Shiites account for 75 percent of the kingdom’s approximately 800,000 residents, government control has long rested in the hands of a Sunni monarch, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. For years, Bahrain has favoured the immigration of Sunnis from other countries such as Syria, Jordan and Yemen. In order to increase Sunni numbers, immigrants are offered jobs as policemen or soldiers. On the other hand, many Shiites have fallen short of economic opportunities, often living in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Bahrain.

 

Many demonstrators at the square want to reform the current power vacuum created by the majority Sunni government. Protestors claim the systemic discrimination in Bahrain has impoverished Shiites for decades. In order to calm demonstrators’ demands, the king announced on February 11 that every family in the dynasty would receive 1,000 dinars, roughly 2,000 euros.

 

Following in the footsteps of Egypt and Tunisia, young people also used Facebook as a means to convene protestors and demand the liberation of 450 political prisoners. Like his counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa, Al Khalifa has clamped down on anti-kingdom rebels. Over 25 militants are currently waiting to be tried for treason over an alleged conspiracy to "overthrow the state".

 

Bahrain is a key US ally, a fact that has once again put the Obama Administration in an uncomfortable position. First it lost Egypt's Hosni Mubarak—one of its most strategic peace allies in the Middle East. Now it could lose Bahrain, which hosts one of the largest US Navy fleets in the Persian Gulf.

“We will continue to protest every day until our demands are met”.

Adnan Alaoui is an English teacher in Manama. He was present at the funeral of one of the demonstrators killed in clashes with the police.

 

The Shiites' demands are political above all. We no longer accept the 2002 Constitution that established a constitutional monarchy with a limited parliament. The royal family monopolises all of the strategic political posts. The legislative branch is extremely weak because the high chamber is controlled by Sunnis. We only have 18 members of parliament out of 40, when we represent three-quarters of the total population. We demand a new Shiite prime minister be elected in order to establish a balance of power. We will continue to protest every day until our demands are met.

 

Image taken from TwitPic by @alla_bahrain of tanks from a building close to Pearl Square
Image taken from TwitPic by @alla_bahrain of tanks from a building close to Pearl Square

 

“Foreigners are given jobs as policemen or soldiers because the king does not trust his own people”.

 

The regime gives passports as handouts to Syrians, Bedouins, Jordanians, and Pakistanis. These foreigners are given jobs as policemen or soldiers because the king does not trust his own people! When a Bahraini makes a housing request, he can wait up to 20 years for a placement, but foreigners find lodging in less than a week. Shiite salaries continue to decrease and unemployment is rampant.

 

“Above anything else, we see ourselves as Bahraini citizens”

 

The authorities and international media are framing this as an ethnic uprising. It’s true that the majority of demonstrators are Shiites, but if they are protesting, it’s because they are poor. Above anything else, we see ourselves as Bahraini citizens.”

 

 Post written with Peggy Bruguière, journalist at FRANCE24.

"People were setting up camp in Pearl Square; you would have thought you were in Tahrir. I've never seen anything like this in Manama".

Eric is a Frenchman currently living in Bahrain.

 

Bahrain Protest Live Video Guns Blood Tear Gas Feb 16.11

 

Our Observer Eric confirmed that the above video was shot by a witness in Pearl Square on Wednesday night. The video shows demonstrators dispersing after being hit by teargas. Gunshots are heard throughout the video.

 

 

On Tuesday, Eric also sent us this video taken with his mobile phone. The video shows anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Pearl Square.

 

Tuesday was Bahrain’s ‘Day of Anger’. There were anywhere between 2,000-3,000 people gathered. People were setting up camp in Pearl Square; you would have thought you were in Tahrir. I have never seen anything like this in Manama.

 

This morning I went to pick someone up at the airport, then went back and ran some errands. I didn’t run into any traffic jams or any problems. You just have to avoid Pearl Square. Apart from that, life is going on as normal”.