Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bahrain - An Uprising on the Verge of Revolution

Robert Fisk in Manama:


Bahrain - An Uprising on the Verge of Revolution


    The protesters who are calling for an end to

    royal rule are in no mood to compromise


By Robert Fisk

The Independent (UK)

February 22, 2011






Bahrain is not Egypt. Bahrain is not Tunisia. And

Bahrain is not Libya or Algeria or Yemen. True, the

tens of thousands gathering again yesterday at the

Pearl roundabout - most of them Shia but some of them

Sunni Muslims - dressed themselves in Bahraini flags,

just as the Cairo millions wore Egyptian flags in

Tahrir Square.


But this miniature sultanist kingdom is not yet

experiencing a revolution. The uprising of the

country's 70 per cent - or is it 80 per cent? -Shia

population is more a civil rights movement than a mass

of republican rebels, but Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad

al-Khalifa had better meet their demands quickly if he

doesn't want an insurrection.


Indeed, the calls for an end to the entire 200-year-old

Khalifa family rule in Bahrain are growing way ahead of

the original aims of this explosion of anger: an

elected prime minister, a constitutional monarchy, an

end to discrimination. The cries of disgust at the

Khalifas are much louder, the slogans more incendiary;

and the vast array of supposedly opposition

personalities talking to the Crown Prince is far behind

the mood of the crowds who were yesterday erecting

makeshift homes - tented, fully carpeted, complete with

tea stalls and portable lavatories - in the very centre

of Manama. The royal family would like them to leave

but they have no intention of doing so. Yesterday,

thousands of employees of the huge Alba aluminium plant

marched to the roundabout to remind King Hamad and the

Crown Prince that a powerful industrial and trade union

movement now lies behind this sea of largely Shia protesters.


Yet Crown Prince Salman talks more about stability,

calm, security and "national cohesion" than serious

electoral and constitutional reform. Is he trying to

"do a Mubarak" and make promises - genuine ones for the

moment, perhaps, but kingly pledges do tend to fade

with "stability" and time - which will not be met?


In an interview with CNN, he acknowledged the Belfast

parallels, exclaiming that "what we don't want to do,

like in Northern Ireland, is to descend into militia

warfare or sectarianism". But the crazed shooting of

the Bahraini army on Thursday evening - 50 wounded,

three critically, one already pronounced brain dead -

was a small-size Bloody Sunday and it didn't take long

for the original civil rights movement in Northern

Ireland to be outrun by a new IRA. Clearly, the royal

family has been shocked at the events of the last week.

Sultan al-Khalifa's admission that "this is not the

Bahrain I know, I never thought I would see the day

that something like this would happen" proves as much.

But his words suggest that this huge manifestation of

public fury was merely provoked by television pictures

of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. For the

record, the Shia rebellion against the country's Sunni

rulers has been going on for years, with hundreds of

political prisoners tortured in four prisons in and

around Manama, their tormentors often from the

Jordanian army - just as many Bahraini soldiers come

from the Punjab and Baluchistan in Pakistan. Yesterday,

there were repeated demands for the release of

political prisoners, banners carrying photographs of

young men who are still in jail years after their

original sentencing: they run into the hundreds.


Then there are the disturbing stories of the

refrigerated trucks which reportedly took dozens of

corpses for secret burial, perhaps in Saudi Arabia.

These could be part of the carapace of rumour that has

settled over the events of the past few days, but now

some of the names of the disappeared - men who were

present at the shootings near the Pearl roundabout last

week - are known.


Twelve of their names have just been released. So where

is 14-year-old Ahmed Salah Issa, Hossein Hassan Ali,

aged 18, Ahmed Ali Mohsen, 25 and Badria Abda Ali, a

woman of unknown age? And where is Hani Mohamed Ali,

27, Mahdi al-Mahousi, 24, Mohamed Abdullah, 18, Hamed

Abdullah al-Faraj, 21, Fadel Jassem, 45, and Hossein

Salman, 48? English residents of a nearby apartment

block were warned before the shooting that if they took

photographs of the soldiers, they would be shot.


Matar Ibrahim, one of 18 Bahrain Shia MPs, agrees that

there is an increasing gap now between demonstrators

and the official political opposition that is being

sought out by Crown Prince Salman.


"We are waiting for an initiative from the Crown

Prince," he told me. "He has not mentioned reform or

constitutional monarchy and a fully elected parliament.

If people have a properly elected government, including

the prime minister, they will blame their

representatives if things go wrong. Now, they blame the King.


"What we are suggesting is a removal of the barriers

between the people and the ruling family. When Hillary

Clinton came to Bahrain, I told her that we don't want

to see the US 5th Fleet in Bahrain [its military

headquarters] as an obstacle to change, but currently,

Bahrain is the worst strategic ally for the US."


The head of the Alba factory trade union, Ali Bin Ali -

who is a Sunni - warned that his members could go on

strike if they wanted to. "Now that people have been

shot down on the roads, we will be political," he said.


Which, of course, is not what the Crown Prince wants to hear.




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