Robert Fisk in
The protesters who are calling for an end to
royal rule are in no mood to compromise
By Robert Fisk
The Independent (
February 22, 2011
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
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
the original aims of this explosion of anger
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
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
parallels, exclaiming that "what we don't want to do,
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
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
Jordanian army - just as many Bahraini soldiers come
from the Punjab and Baluchistan in
there were repeated demands for the release of
political prisoners, banners carrying photographs of
young men who are still in jail years after their
Then there are the disturbing stories of the
refrigerated trucks which reportedly took dozens of
corpses for secret burial, perhaps in
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
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
headquarters] as an obstacle to change, but currently,
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.