Massive pro-democracy protest rocks Bahrain

Tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters occupy four-lane highway. Photo: LA Times

Related post: Shouting in the dark: Al Jazeera’s documentary on Bahrain

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis demonstrated on Friday (9 March 2012) to demand democratic reforms, stepping up pressure on the U.S.-allied, Saudi-backed Bahrain’s government with the biggest protest yet in a year of unrest.

They began marching along a highway near Manama in response to a call from leading Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who urged people to renew their calls for greater democracy. “We are here for the sake of our just demands that we cannot make concessions over and we stick with them because we have sacrificed for them,” Qassim said before the march in his weekly sermon in the Shi’ite village of Diraz.

Qassim along with several Shia and Sunni politicians led the march.

“It is the biggest demonstration in the past year. I would say it could be over 100,000,” said a Reuters photographer after protesters filled up the main Budaiya highway in the area of Diraz and Saar, west of Manama.

Majority Shi’ites as well as some Sunnis were in the forefront of the protest movement which erupted in February 2011 after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Backed by Saudi Arabia, the ruling Salafi (Wahhabi) Al Khalifa family crushed the protests a month later, imposing martial law and bringing in Saudi and United Arab Emirates troops and Pakistani mercenaries to help restore order. As is usual tradition of Arab kingdoms which discriminate against their own Shia and Sufi population, Bahraini regime accused Shi’ite power Iran of fomenting the unrest.

Iraqi demonstrators hold up pictures of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Bahraini flags during a protest rally in Sadr city to condemn the presence of troops from Arab states in Bahrain, March 18, 2011.

On Friday, Iraqi followers of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in Basra in support of the Bahraini opposition. Around 3,000 people chanted anti-Saudi slogans and carried Bahraini and Iraqi flags.


News report in The Financial Times

By Simeon Kerr in Dubai
Source: FT

Bahraini protesters held a huge rally demanding democratic change in the largest anti-government demonstration since unrest destabilised the strategically important Gulf kingdom last year.

Activists estimated that more than 200,000 people on Friday flooded a suburban highway in an area populated by the majority Shia, who have been demanding political reform from the minority Sunni-led monarchy.

The government said the protest, encouraged by the island’s most senior Shia cleric, numbered closer to 100,000.

Consisting of a significant portion of the country’s 600,000 citizens, the march was a riposte to government claims that the 13-month uprising is subsiding ahead of April’s scheduled Formula 1 Grand Prix. The race was cancelled last year because of protests.

At the protest, which ended peacefully, men and women chanted for the downfall of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. They also called for the release of political leaders imprisoned after Saudi Arabia led Gulf forces on to the island last March, providing cover for the ensuing brutal government crackdown on dissent.

Later, police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths who attempted to march on to the site of Pearl roundabout, the focal point of last year’s demonstrations, saying the protesters had hurled rocks at them.

“The people, full of anger about the rights violations, are united in their demands for an elected government – there is no way back,” said Jalil Khalil of the main Shia opposition group al-Wefaq.

The protest comes amid rising speculation that a dialogue may soon be launched after the royal court minister made contact with opposition leaders in February.

“The protests could be a message of pressure ahead of talks, so the Shia opposition has made their point,” said Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, government spokesman. “However, the call for dialogue has always been made available.”

But Mr Khalil says the opposition has had no contact with the ruling family since those preparatory talks in February.

The government, seeking to revive its status as a financial hub, says it is reforming, claiming that the protests are fomented by neighbouring Iran.

An independent royal commission documented 46 deaths between last February and October, slamming the security forces for excessive use of force and systematic torture.

But opposition groups, who now estimate the death toll at more than 60, say reforms are half-hearted box-ticking, lacking intent to change facts on the ground.

Police continue to beat youths regularly amid slow progress in reviewing sentences passed down by a military court in the aftermath of the crackdown, they say.

In the political vacuum, youths have increasingly turned to violence as they challenge the status quo, throwing petrol bombs and rocks that have injured policemen.

Video: تصوير جوي للحشود في مسيرة لبيك يا بحرين 9 مارس 2012


Crimes of Saudi-Pakistani mercenaries in Bahrain: Saw 7, Let it spread +18

Human right violations in #Bahrain after BICI report
Human right violations after 23 November 2011 till 20/4/2012

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Shouting in the dark: Al Jazeera’s documentary on Bahrain

9 responses to “Massive pro-democracy protest rocks Bahrain”

  1. ens of thousands of people have joined an anti-government march just outside the Bahraini capital, Manama.

    Video posted online showed protesters with Bahraini flags in a line stretching back hundreds of metres.

    The security forces fired tear gas at a small group of protesters, but the rally was mostly peaceful.

    Activists had called for the biggest rally since the Bahraini authorities quelled a popular protest with help from Saudi troops more than a year ago.

    Next month, the Bahraini Grand Prix is due to be held in what the authorities are trying to promote as a return to normality in the country.

    ‘Biggest rally’
    Protesters carried banners denouncing the government and calling for the release of political detainees. They chanted “Down, down Hamad”, referring to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

    Many women were among the thousands who attended the march
    Sheikh Isa Qassim, a leading Shia cleric, made a speech at the start of the march in the village of Diraz before joining in.

    Reports say the march stretched for more than 1.5km (a mile). Opposition leaders estimated the crowd at nearly 100,000, which would make it one of the largest protest gatherings since the street rallies erupted in February 2011.

    Police used tear gas to drive back a small group of demonstrators who attempted to approach Pearl Square, which was the heart of the 2011 protests before it was stormed by security forces in March 2011.

    Bahrain’s majority Shia community has long complained of deep discrimination. They make up about 70% of the country’s 525,000 citizens.

    Protesters, most of them Shia, are seeking the end of the rule of the Al Khalifas, a Sunni dynasty that controls politics and all the main posts in Bahrain.

    The government has offered some political concessions, but insists on controlling all the main appointments and ministries.

    Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and it is a significant oil and gas producer.

    At least 50 people, including five police officers, have been killed, and hundreds arrested since the unrest began in February of last year.

    The government commissioned a report into the political unrest by the Egyptian human rights expert, Cherif Bassiouni. He concluded that security personnel had used excessive force and that there had been systematic torture of detainees.

    The government has claimed that Iran is behind the unrest in Bahrain, but has offered no proof of this. The claim was rejected by the Bassiouni report.

  2. Thousands of Iraqis have marched in the eastern Sadr City area of the capital, Baghdad, to express supports for the revolution in Bahrain, Press TV reports.

    Carrying flags of Bahrain and Iraq, the demonstrators also condemned Manama’s brutal crackdown on protests and called for the release of political prisoners in Bahrain.

    They also chanted anti-Riyadh slogans, criticizing Saudi Arabia for assisting Manama in suppressing protests.

    Iraqi demonstrators also called on the government to put the Bahrain uprising on the agenda of the next Arab League summit, which is scheduled to be held in Baghdad later this month, and to prevent the Bahraini king from attending the meeting over his brutal crackdown on protesters.

    A number of Iraqi officials, tribal leaders and clerics also attended the rally which was organized by the Sadr movement.

    Since the beginning of anti-regime protests in Bahrain last year and the subsequent Saudi-backed crackdown, Iraqis have held several demonstrations in support of Bahraini protesters.

  3. Press TV: Maybe Americans are seeing that their allies are dropping, we saw what happened in Tunisia and Egypt.

    But let’s look at the big picture here, US military cells, let’s focus on that. The six Persian Gulf nations that are being at this point set up to spend 70 billion dollars in US weaponry and equipment, just this year, not counting the 70 billion dollar sell to Saudi Arabia, and as much as 80 billion dollars through to 2015, with Saudi Arabia being the largest purchaser.

    The very same countries that are involved now in suppressing, not only this revolution, but other ones, while arming oppositions in other countries, such as Syria.

    So this is the United States’ way of making sure that these revolutions don’t throw of balance as it has been called the counterrevolution.

    Cavell: You’re right Kaveh!

    The US is supporting financially, militarily and morally these regimes or at least that is what our government is doing.

    However, I can tell you that there are many people in the State Department, the US State Department, who are acting in guilty conscious, because they know this is in direct violation of our country’s support, or at least vial support for democratic principles.

    They know that this is hypocrisy on a scale that is outrages. I mean here we are trying to support the ouster of the Syrian regimes, by having Qatar and Saudi Arabia fund the opposition.

    These are monarchies, these are dictators, and they have absolutely no interest in democracy, whereas in Bahrain, we have a clear indication, of more than half the population on the streets of Bahrain, demanding the ouster of their 128-year old monarchy.

    As you said Kaveh, this is percentage wise the largest opposition, the largest uprising of all of the Arab Spring revolt, clearly supported by the majority of the population.

    And as Mr. Shehabi said, the tactics of the US in supporting the monarchy are not working, they are not working.

    And as Ms. Sarah said the support of John Timothy, or John Yates, these murderous mercenaries of the regime are only adding fuel to the fire and leading the people to be more united in their resolve, in their resolution, and they will not back down.

    Press TV: Saudi Arabia is obviously very paranoid and scared that any change in Bahrainis leadership for example, even any concessions given, would have a ripple effect in their kingdom.

    They’re going around trying to put out fires everywhere, where there’s democracy coming into play.

    Is Bahrainis only saving grace then, for Saudi Arabia to fall?

    Cavell Well Kaveh, it is a regional situation.

    And what happens in Bahrain will also have to happen in Saudi Arabia and the other [P]GCC countries.

    And it’s long overdue, the removal of these outdated regimes, these monarchical regimes which have no place in the modern world, and which only alienate their entire populations.

    Saudi Arabia is basically a fascist state to most Americans that don’t know about it, it is the most repressive on the earth today. And they’re trying to keep the democracy movement from spreading, by crushing it in Bahrain.

    But as Mr. Shehabi pointed out, the sole support today is outstanding, after a year of arrests, of tortures, of murders, of continues tear gases, this shows that the people are completely resolved to oust this monarchical dictatorship.

    Because they realize that there will be no better time to do it then now that they united in their resolve, and especially as the regime is going to target anybody in the opposition.

    So it’s an existential question, they have to come out, stand up for democracy, stand up for their freedom, and they are doing it.

    And the state department, the US state department needs to make a decision, because if they continue as Ms. Marusek says, to support this regime, the US is going to loose all of its interest in the regime, and all of its interest in the region.

    Yes, interest dictates what the US and other countries do, and the US has to realize that they’re interest of keeping the Fifth Fleet base there is at stake.

    So either they’re going to act to support the opposition, or they’re going to go down to a crushing defeat!

  4. Bahrain, a major oil and gas producer, is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. On the southwestern flank of the Persian Gulf, the base would be critical for any US military operation against Iran.
    A Reuters photographer told Al Jazeera that the demonstration, which stretched for miles on a central road leading to Manama, “could be over 100,000.” If so, the protest would involve nearly 10 percent of the country’s population of 1.2 million. Organizers said they estimated as many as 200,000 protesters.

  5. The Kingdom Divided

    MARCH 8, 2012 Elham Fakhro
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    Saudi Arabia’s “day of rage” planned for last March failed to gain ground, and protests concentrated in the Eastern Province fell short of producing a national consensus around demands for political reform. The country’s domestic stability has been attributed to a combination of three factors: the regime’s ability to rely on an influx of oil reserves to buy-off political unrest, its domestic alliance with a conservative religious establishment and powerful tribal groups as a means of dividing and controlling sources of dissent, and the long-standing support of Western powers for external security. While in recent years growing economic challenges have weakened some of the regime’s most reliable pillars of stability and pockets of opposition inside the country have grown, the inability of such groups to mobilize collectively or otherwise offer a unified vision of reform has hindered the growth of serious challenges to the current order.

    The reality for most Saudis is far-removed from the Kingdom’s reputation for extravagance. Official unemployment stands at 10 percent, but unofficial estimates place it as high as 20 percent. The latest official figures reveal that 670,000 families—approximately 3 million out of a total population of 18 million—live in poverty. Nor is hardship restricted to rural areas: a recent documentary on poverty in Riyadh, Maloub Alayna (The Joke’s on Us) recorded testimonies of families living on one meal a day, with as many as twenty people living in the same home.

    Saudi Arabia’s position as the leading exporter of oil is threatened by unrestrained domestic fuel consumption, which grows at 7 percent annually. At this rate, the Kingdom is set to become a net oil importer within the next twenty-five years. Long-term plans to diversify the economy have made little impact: the government derives almost 75 percent of its revenue and 90 percent of export earnings from oil, and the country still has the lowest GDP per capita within the Gulf Cooperation Council—lower than Oman or Bahrain. Economic handouts to quell unrest—such as the $130 billion spending package announced last year to increase welfare benefits and construct 500,000 new housing units—are unsustainable and likely to lead to growing discontent over distribution of the country’s oil wealth.

    While sustained opposition movements continue to battle for their own Saudi Spring, their success hinges on their ability to unite around a common and national set of political demands—and lay to rest the demons of tribalism and sectarianism.

    Among the more successful of the regime’s strategies to maintain power is its historic alliance with the religious establishment. By co-opting the ultra-conservative Wahhabi base, the Al Saud have built a state fused around a single cultural and religious identity, to the exclusion of competing historic identities from the Hejaz and Eastern parts of the country. The benefits of this alliance to the regime are clear: as opposition activists began to mobilize in early 2011, the country’s Council of Senior Scholars issued a fatwa denouncing protests as “un-Islamic,” stating that “Islam strictly prohibits protests in the Kingdom because the ruler here rules by God’s will.” In addition, key ministerial and military positions have been delegated to a core of wealthy tribal families–institutionalizing powerful loyalties within the state and creating a strong elite with vested interests in the status quo.

    These alliances, coupled with harsh punishments towards dissent, have thus far succeeded in suppressing the growth of liberal reformist movements. In November, sixteen men were given lengthy prison sentences after they attempted to set up a human rights organization. The founder of another organization, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, was arrested last May, as were ten founding members of the Islamic Umma Party—which demanded greater representation and an end to absolute monarchy. During the past year, hundreds of citizens were also detained across the country under security-related charges. Moreover, a new anti-terrorism law is reportedly under discussion that will allow extended detention without charge under such broad definitions of terrorism as “endangering national unity” and “undermining the status of the Kingdom in the world.”

    The most vocal constituency of those calling for reform are Shi‘a activists in the Eastern Province. Although home to 90 percent of the country’s oil reserves, the region is one of Saudi Arabia’s most impoverished, and its residents have long complained of sectarian discrimination. Shi‘a are excluded from both cabinet ministries and the armed forces, and educational textbooks routinely refer to them as apostates. Fatwas by senior clerics (such as the one issued in 1991 by former head of the Higher Council of Ulama Abdullah al-Jibrin) have even gone as far as sanctioning their killing. As recently as 2009, religious and community leaders in the region were arrested for participating in ‘Ashura religious ceremonies.

    Institutionalized discrimination has fueled affinity with other Shi‘a abroad. Affinity to Bahrain’s community is strong as a result of a shared sense of victimization and historical connections between the two populations: both come from the Baharna ethnic group, speak the same dialect of Arabic, and historically belong to the extended region of Bahrain (once encompassing areas in southern Iraq and the eastern cities of al-Ahsa and Qatif). In recent years, Saudi Shi‘a have expressed these grievances through petitions, such as the 2003 “Partners in the Nation.”

    The February 2011 protests in Bahrain provided the necessary spark to re-energize activists in the Eastern Province. Facebook pages like “AlQatif and AlHasa are with Bahrain’s noble revolution” and “AlQatif and Bahrain Are One People” attracted thousands and provided a platform to share photos of martyred protesters, revolutionary songs, and Bahraini activists’ speeches. Mimicking Bahrain’s protesters, chants of “no to humiliation” echo during Friday marches in cities such as Qatif, attracting hundreds of protesters. Security forces often swiftly descend on these protests, and activists have accused them of firing live ammunition. At least two demonstrators were killed last month as a result of shotgun wounds in addition to the two killed in January. The state officially denies responsibility for such deaths, claiming they were killed in “crossfire” with armed groups. Like the Bahraini government, the Saudi regime has depicted activists as backed by Iran and accused them of sedition.

    Saudi Arabia’s position as the leading exporter of oil is threatened by unrestrained domestic fuel consumption, which grows at 7 percent annually. At this rate, the Kingdom is set to become a net oil importer within the next twenty-five years.

    While Shi‘a activists and liberal reformists have faced the brunt of the state’s crackdown, the government has also been careful to check the power of even its most loyal constituency. In mid-January, King Abdullah sacked the head of the moral police amidst growing complaints that that organization was growing too aggressive. This follows the sacking of a prominent cleric from the country’s Higher Council of Ulama in 2009 for denouncing the King’s decision to allow gender integration in a new science university. Wary of losing their privileged status, the country’s most conservative elements have also criticized the King for granting women the right to vote in municipal elections, accusing the regime of floundering to Western influence. Occasional public disagreements, however, have not disrupted the roots of the alliance which both sides recognize as critical to checking other potential sources of unrest, including that stemming from militant fundamentalists who question the ruling family’s claim to govern according to shari‘a.

    While Saudi’s opposition remains deeply divided along sectarian (as well as tribal and ethnic) lines, the country faces a host of challenges that may provide the opportunity for the formation of cross-sectarian and cross-political alliances along a common set of demands, as demonstrated in 2003 when a group of liberals and Islamists from various sects signed a petition calling for democratic change. The deteriorating economic situation and growing unemployment are additional challenges atop questions regarding the line of succession, which does not define a process for passing power beyond the first generation of the Kingdom’s founders. Disputes within the second and third generation of the royal family—who have competing visions on the pace and direction of reform—might provide the opportunity for a reshuffle of alliances as new leaders seek to develop their own spaces of power. While sustained opposition movements continue to battle for their own Saudi Spring, their success hinges on their ability to unite around a common and national set of political demands—and lay to rest the demons of tribalism and sectarianism.

    Elham Fakhro is a research associate for international law at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Middle East.

  6. Sultani e jumhoor ka aata he zamana
    Jo naqash e kuhan tum ko nazar aye mitta do

  7. Peter Clifford ‏ @PeterClifford1
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