Opposition calls for mass protests in Bahrain

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Bahrain, tension is building between the opposition protesters who want to revive last year's marches, and government authorities who are trying to maintain control over protest activities. A planned march by the February 14 Youth Coalition to Manama's former Pearl Roundabout, to mark the beginning of last year's protests, was overwhelmed by the security surrounding the site on the eve of the anniversary as well as the day itself.

Since the Bahraini uprising in 2011, the roundabout became a touchstone of opposition. Authorities responded by clearing the site and renaming it al-Farouq Junction. Whilst initially blocked to traffic to prevent any more protests, Bahrain's police now occupy the area and are demonstrably equipped to repel opposition.

Over 10,000 Bahrainis attended last week's "sit in" protests for reforms.
Image: Bahraini Activist.

Clashes around the site between security forces and Bahraini youth took place Monday as one of the largest crowds yet moved close to the symbol of last year's protest movement. Again, on Tuesday, crowds were repelled from Pearl Roundabout with police using tear-gas and arresting protesters throughout the city. Security forces also detained six U.S. citizens who took part in the protests; the activists, who entered the country on tourist visas, agreed to leave the country without charges being pressed.

With activists and political parties called for mass protests a few days prior to the one-year anniversary, the government now says it may bring charges against organizers for encouraging the disorder.

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain, announced his intention to take part in marches to the Pearl Roundabout. He led several hundred pro-democracy activists in Manama's old market area before suddenly marching towards the Pearl Roundabout. The protest ended a few hundred meters away from the roundabout with police firing tear gas and stun grenades after using megaphones to warn protesters the march was unauthorised and they should disperse. Two women from US-based rights group Witness Bahrain taking part in Sunday's march were arrested and deported.

We will return. We will return.

—Ayat al-Qormozi

Five opposition political groups headed by Al Wefaq, Bahrain's largest political opposition party, organized an authorized sit-in in a yard, dubbed 'Freedom Square', in Al Muqsha village outside of Manama. This is the same location as the opposition's week-long 'sit-in' for political reforms. At that sit-in last week, Ayat al-Qormozi, a Bahraini female poet and visible leader in the opposition movement, called for the crowd in Al Muqsha to march to the symbolic roundabout and chanted, "We will return. We will return."

Most clashes between police and protesters occurred in the Shia neighborhoods. About 70 percent of Bahrainis are Shia and they form the base of the youth activists and Al-Wefaq protesters.

The Sunnis have organized counter-demonstrations in support of the ruling Al Khalifa family. They control the government's cabinet, and are also Sunni. The formation of the cabinet is one of the key debates between the opposition Al Wefaq and the Sunni minority in country. Al Wefaq wants elected politicians to name the cabinet, whilst the Sunnis prefer the royal family to retain that power.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa denied that there was an opposition in his country similar to those in Western nations but accepted that there are "people with different views."