Violent Crackdown Against Pro-Democracy Protests in Bahrain
A march on the US Embassy in the small Gulf kingdom was designed as cry for support, but will US policy-makers listen?
Update (1:54 PM EST):
While most eyes of the international press were focused on the dramatic and unfolding violence in Egypt on Wednesday, a security crackdown on pro-democracy activists was also underway in Bahrain with police firing birdshot and teargas on protesters hoping to reinvigorate their struggle against the ruling US-backed monarchy.
The Associated Press reports:
Bahraini protesters clashed with riot police in neighborhoods around the capital Wednesday and stores shut their doors amid opposition calls for a general strike, but a tight security clampdown appears to have stopped large-scale demonstrations in the city.
Anti-government activists, inspired by the mass movement behind the military coup in Egypt, said they hoped to gain new momentum by calling for nationwide protests including a march into upscale districts near Manama's city center.
Bahrain has seen over two years of unrest linked to the Shiite majority's demands for a greater say in the affairs of the Sunni-ruled kingdom, but in recent months security forces have mostly kept protests away from the center of the capital.
Ahead of Wednesday's planned marches marking the 42nd anniversary of independence, authorities warned they would "forcefully confront" protests.
Demonstrators marching toward the center met barricades manned by security forces who fired tear-gas and stun grenades to disperse them.
And this is nothing new in Bahrain.
As Bahrain expert Marc Own Jones writes for CNN:
Despite a lack of media coverage, state sponsored repression has been going on for the past two years. Skirmishes in villages between groups of youths and the riot police occur almost daily, and while the former burn tires and throw Molotov cocktails, the latter fumigate the villages with tear gas, a tactic so virulent that one NGO accused the Bahrain authorities of "weaponizing toxic chemical agents."
The skirmishes in the villages are symptomatic of over two years of repression by the Bahraini authorities. Peaceful demands for political reform put forward by thousands of Bahrainis in early 2011 have been ignored, and legitimate attempts to protest have been brutally repressed.
Renewed calls for demonstrations on August 14 have prompted the government to initiate a fresh swathe of repressive measures. Bahrain's opposition-less parliament recently passed reactionary laws banning peaceful gatherings in Bahrain's capital city and checkpoints, roadblocks and barbed wire fences have been erected around villages to stop people getting to protests.
And this blog powered by Storify, was collecting and sharing social media concerning Wednesday's protest:
Planned anti-government protests in the country of Bahrain on Wednesday are an opportunity for the US government to prove it could use its influence in the small Gulf state to support the pro-democracy movement there, say human rights advocates.
While the Sunni-led royal government has vowed to "forcefully confront" the opposition protests, observers say that events in Bahrain have far-reaching consequences for the way the US is perceived around the region and the world.
As the Associated Press reports:
Anti-government activists, inspired by the mass movement behind the military coup in Egypt, say they hope to gain new momentum by calling for nationwide protests and a general strike. But harsh warnings from the government are raising fears of more violence in the strategic Gulf kingdom.
Most shops appeared to be shuttered, and the largest Shiite political group Al Wifaq claimed in a statement that the strike was successful.
Helicopters hovered over empty streets in Manama. Security checkpoints surrounded by barbed wire guarded roads leading to the city from outlying neighborhoods populated by the Shiite majority, which is calling for a greater voice in the Sunni-ruled country.
Small groups of demonstrators have already begun to gather, will small groups of protesters chanting "Rebellion! Rebellion!" But the main marches are planned for later in the day, the 42nd anniversary of the country's independence.
The Tamarod, or rebel movement, which has organized today's protests plan to march on the US embassy in the capitol of Manama in order to draw attention to the symbiotic relationship between the global superpower and the minority-controlled monarchy.
Because of its close ties to the Saudi royal family and its hosting of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has been seen a country where the US could, but has chosen not, exert more influence when it comes to protecting human rights and advocating pro-democracy reforms.
As Jeffrey Bachman and Matar Ebrahim Matar, both experts on the island nation, write this week:
With about 15,000 Americans stationed in Bahrain's capital of Manama, less than 10 miles from Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of Bahrain's 2011 uprising, the United States has a responsibility to use its relationship with the ruling family to ensure the rights of Bahrainis are protected.
It is time for the United States to publicly acknowledge that the Bahraini regime has failed to implement the Bahrain independent commission's agreed-upon recommendations and has perpetrated egregious violations of human rights, possibly constituting crimes against humanity.
As the Tamarod movement protest begins, the Obama administration must not bear silent witness to another massive and violent crackdown that is already being signalled by the Bahraini regime.