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The Arab Spring Never Quite Ended in Bahrain

After the initial 2011 uprising against the king in Bahrain, sectarian violence continue to rock the small island nation three years later.
March 24, 2014, 7:25pm
Photo by AFP

Bahraini security forces reportedly attacked a Shia mosque today, firing tear gas at funeral goers in a village near the capital of Manama.

The attack, first reported by Press TV, comes after protests took place near Manama on Friday, when thousands of mostly Shia Bahrainis, led by the opposition Al-Wefaq party — shut down the Budaiya Highway, which is a major link between the surrounding Shia villages and the capital. Protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and petrol bombs.

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Today Bahraini state media said that it will be launching an investigation "into what has been circulating in some newspapers and mass media about a Ministry of Interior's vehicle that fired a tear gas bomb near a religious building." Legal measures will be taken against the violators should they are held accountable, the report said.

According to local reports, an investigation is being conducted into the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior after tear gas was fired on a mosque in Sanabis on March 24.

This is the latest attempt by the regime to crack down on dissent in the small island kingdom, where simmering anger remains in the largely unresolved conflict that started with the 2011 uprising against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah.

“Bahrainis are still insisting on seeing a change three years after [the 2011 uprising],” Matar Ebrahim Matar, a former member of Bahrain's Parliament and political activist for the opposition, now based in Washington, D.C., told VICE News. “Many thought that this would be an issue of time, but clearly this wasn’t the case."

The Bahraini government is still repressing its critics

The protesters called for an end to sectarian discrimination toward the majority Shia population at the hands of the minority Sunni ruling party. The protests on Friday took place on the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Police clashed with protesters who tried to block the Budaiya Highway with petrol bombs on March 21.

The opposition claims that the Shia majority faces marginalization in the form of employment and housing discrimination and exclusion from the political system that is dominated by the Sunni monarchy.

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Protests are nearly a daily occurrence in the capital, even in the face of increased measures taken by the king to control pro-democracy activism. These include recent laws that ban protests and a seven-year jail sentence and fine up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500) to anyone who publicly insults the king.

Chatting with Two Exiled Dissident Bahraini Politicians

The government’s brutal crackdown on opposition leaders and anyone involved in the anti-government protests was widely documented in 2011. The most notorious incident was the violent nighttime raid in Pearl Roundabout in Manama, known as Bloody Thursday, that killed four and injured nearly 300 protesters.

Although sectarian conflict is behind the current unrest in Bahrain, the causes of the ongoing political stalemate has deeper geopolitical roots.

The financial and military support the current regime in Bahrain receives from the surrounding countries, including the US, plays a direct role in preventing any solution from being reached.

“The issue is more than just a Sunni-Shia conflict,” Matar said. “The regime in Bahrain is facilitated through backing from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and most importantly the US government. The US is satisfied by all the advantages the Bahraini regime offers as a strategic ally.”

Matar said the US government should take “some risk and some cost because getting whatever they want from the current regime is not sustainable,” he said. “Even if the regime is providing the US with what ever they want, this is undermining the credibility of the US government and affecting the image of the US government in the region.”

The opposition has called for a political solution that would leave lawmaking up to the Parliament rather than the monarchy, which currently has complete control in the country, and a limit on the powers that the king holds.

But three years after the initial uprising, a political solution has yet to be reached and both the opposition and ruling parties remain locked in a stalemate.