On the 1-year anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain, protesters and activists took to the streets to demand an end to the monarchy and the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. Police fired back tear gas to disperse the crowds. The Pearl Square roundabout that was the center of the protest movement was blocked off and people turned away.
Since the violence began a year ago, over 60 civilians have died with 120 injured this week alone. Bahrain has been in turmoil with clashes between the Sunni-ruled monarchy and the Shi’a protesters. Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain’s population of some 525,000 people, but say they have faced decades of discrimination and are blocked from top political and security posts. Each accuse the other of rejecting dialogue.
Jasim Husain, a former lawmaker from the Shi’ite Wefaq party, the largest opposition faction, said Wefaq members had met Royal Court Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed, seen as a powerful figure in the ruling Al-Khalifa family.
“There is fresh attention now, but the authorities have to show seriousness,” he said, without giving details. “The new thing is that the government is increasingly becoming a partner and realizing that the security cannot solve the issue.”
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel on Monday, King Hamad dismissed the opposition’s complaints.
“We have made political reforms. We have just passed a number of amendments to the constitution which allow parliament to dismiss the government,” he said. “We invited everyone with openness. But some people boycotted the election and certain people just walked out of parliament. If you want a better system you have to join.”
Bahrain is a strategic ally for the U.S. The Fifth Fleet is stationed there and is responsible for patrolling the Persian Gulf in this heavily trafficked area where much of the world’s oil is transported. Bahrain is also allied with the Saudis and serves as crucial partner to U.S. interests in the region.
America Abroad talked with Kristin Smith Diwan, assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service, and an expert on the Gulf on Iranian influence in Bahrain and U.S.-Saudi interests. Read more »