|2011 Bahraini protests|
|Date||14 February 2011 – ongoing|
The 2011 Bahraini protests are a series of demonstrations in the Persian Gulf country of Bahrain. Part of the 2010–2011 Arab world protests, the Bahraini protests were initially aimed at achieving greater political freedom and respect for human rights, and expanded to a call to end the monarchy following a deadly night raid on 17 February against protestors sleeping at Pearl Roundabout in Manama.
Bahrain’s Shia majority has often received poor treatment in employment, housing, and infrastructure, while Sunnis have preferential status. The government of Bahrain even imports Sunnis from South Asia, the Baluch tribal areas and Syria in an attempt to increase the Sunni percentage. Shiite Muslims are blocked from serving in important political and military posts. Bahrain does have a popularly elected parliament, but it is not powerful. Occasional protests have flared up since the reign of Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, and 25 Shiite activists are currently on trial for subverting state power.
Bahrain hosts the United States Fifth Fleet and is thus crucial to US Department of Defense attempts to counter Iran's military power in the region. The government of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf region governments strongly support the King of Bahrain, and Iran, a majority Shiite nation, has little influence with Bahrain's Shiite majority despite some radical Iranians referring to Bahrain as Iran's "14th province".
Bahrain was ranked 13th in the Economist Intelligence Unit Shoe-Thrower's index, which is an attempt to gauge "unrest" in Arab World countries.
Aims and early protests
On 4 February, several hundred Bahrainis gathered in front of the Egyptian embassy in Manama to express solidarity with anti-government protesters in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. According to The Wall Street Journal, this was "one of the first such gatherings to be held in the oil-rich Persian Gulf states." At the gathering, Ibrahim Sharif, the secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Society (al-Wa'ad), called for "local reform."
Al Jazeera reported that a protest is planned for 14 February, just a few months after the controversial 2010 election. The date 14 February was chosen because it is the tenth anniversary of a referendum in favour of the National Action Charter of Bahrain. Bahraini youths described their plans as an appeal for Bahrainis "to take to the streets on Monday 14 February in a peaceful and orderly manner" in order to rewrite the constitution and to establish a body with a "full popular mandate to investigate and hold to account economic, political and social violations, including stolen public wealth, political naturalisation, arrests, torture and other oppressive security measures, [and] institutional and economic corruption." They referred to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as motivations for their appeal. The Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, which won a plurality in the recent parliamentary election, participated in the planning for demonstrations on 14 February. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights described authorities' preparations for the 14 February planned demonstrations as "a state of confusion, apprehension and anticipation". On 11 February, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa ordered that 1,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. US$2,600 as of February 2011) be given to "each family" to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter referendum. Agence France Presse linked the BD1,000 payments to the 14 February demonstration plans.
On 12 February, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) sent an open letter to the King, seeking to avoid a worst case scenario by "releasing more than 450 detainees including human rights defenders, religious figures and more than 110 children, dissolv[ing] the security apparatus and [prosecuting] its official[s] responsible [for] violations and to start serious dialogue with civil society and opposition groups on disputed issues." BCHR President Nabeel Rajab stated: "The dissolving of the security apparatus and the prosecution of its officials will not only distance the King from the crimes committed by this apparatus especially since 2005, such as systemic torture and the use of excessive force against peaceful protests, but will avoid the fatal mistake committed by similar apparatuses[clarification needed] in Tunisia and Egypt which [led] to the loss of lives and hundreds of casualties and eventually resulted in the fall of the regimes who created these 'double edged swords'".
Following the 3am deadly raid against the Pearl Roundabout on 17 February, the protesters started calling for an end to the monarchy.
On 14 February, clashes were reported from parts of Bahrain. Helicopters circled over Manama, where protesters were expected to gather in the afternoon; there was also a greater police presence in Shia villages. At least 14 people were injured in clashes overnight and with police having used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse marchers in the mostly Shia village of Newidrat in the country's southwest. The marchers were demanding the release of those detained during earlier protests. After clashes that resulted in one death, of a young Bahraini male named Ali Abdul Hadi Mushaimai protesters were said to have moved to another location with 600-700 continuing protests in the evening. The ministry of Interior expressed its regrets at the incident and announced that the death of the Bahraini citizen will be investigated.
|The Pearl Roundabout, Manama's main square, with the Pearl Monument in the centre|
Police reportedly opened fire during a funeral of a protester killed on 14 February, killing one person and injuring at least 25 others.
The number of protesters increased, and Al Wefaq, the political party that won the largest number of seats (18 out of 40) in the 2006 parliamentary election, officially joined the protests. Al-Wefaq declared it had suspended its participation in the national parliament.
Thousands of protesters managed to gain control of the Manama Pearl Roundabout. Tents were put up to help protesters stay through the night in an effort to copy the scenario in Tahrir square during Egypt's revolts.
Thousands of protestors continued to occupy Pearl Roundabout. A funeral procession for the protestor killed on 15 February was held, without any police interference. The protests size had increased by several hundred on this day, and parliament members announced their intentions to remove the royal family from their office positions.
At about 3:00 am local time, riot police moved in and, using tear gas and batons, dispersed thousands of anti-government protesters in Pearl Square. According to the opposition, three people died in the police operation while 231 sustained injuries. Sporadic clashes broke out around Manama hours after the riot police's attack on the makeshift encampment in the centre of the city. There were also reports of dozens of armoured vehicles moving towards the Pearl Roundabout. According to an Al Jazeera correspondent, hospitals in Manama were full of people injured during the police raid, including "doctors and emergency personnel who were overrun by the police while trying to attend to the wounded."
Saeed al-Shahabi, a leader of the opposition in London, warned the Saudi National Guard against interfering in the country. Reportedly, tens of thousands of Saudi military had entered Bahrain in 1995 to quell an uprising.. Later in the day, a state of emergency was imposed.
On 18 February, government forces used live ammunition against protesters, mourners and news reporters, with multiple casualties reported. Security forces fired on medics loading the wounded into ambulances. At least five people died and at least 66 were wounded. The protesters moved into the centre of Manama from the funerals of protesters killed in a security crackdown earlier in the week, and then were fired on by Bahraini police. Some protesters held their hands up high and shouted, "Peaceful! Peaceful!"
Censorship and arrests
Main article: Internet in Bahrain
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said that Bahraini authorities were blocking a Facebook group being used for planned protests on 14 February, and that its own website had been blocked for many years. Nabeel Rajab said that the group was "only asking for political reforms, right of political participation, respect for human rights, stopping of systematic discrimination against Shias."Several bloggers were arrested prior to 6 February.
At least ten people have been reported killed and 380 wounded.
King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa's announcement of giving BD1,000 to each family was interpreted by Al Jazeera as an attempt to prevent protests. The King also offered to increase social spending and to release minors jailed after August 2010's protests.
On 15 February, on television King Hamad offered condolences for the deaths of two protestors, said that a parliamentary committee to investigate the deaths would be created, and stated that peaceful protests are legal. The following day the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab said that the King's response was not enough to satisfy protesters' demands.
On 17 February, it was announced that the second round of GP2 Asia Series, which was to be held at Bahrain International Circuit on 17-19 February 2011, had been cancelled due to security and safety concerns surrounding the protests.
Abdul Jalil Khalil, an Al Wefaq member of parliament, described the 17 February pre-dawn police raid on the Pearl Roundabout encampment as "real terrorism", stating that "whoever took the decision to attack the protest was aiming to kill."
Al Jazeera stated that Bahrain is considered to be the most vulnerable country to unrest amongst Gulf Arab states. On 3 February, the British Embassy in Bahrain stated that it was aware of plans for protests on 14 February but did not advise British citizens to "take any special steps" beyond its standard advice that included a request to "maintain a high level of security awareness" and to "avoid large gatherings, crowds and demonstrations, as a number of them have turned violent." The British government has been accused of providing arms for Arab regimes while government are suppressing the pro-democracy demonstration. It has also announced that in light of the current unrest it has decided to revoke some arms export licenses to Bahrain and Libya, while also reviewing the export policy for Yemen, stating that "licenses will not be issued when officials judge that there is a risk that the exports may provoke regional or internal conflicts or be used to facilitate internal repression".