Bahrain Rising Without Notice
Bahrain, a small island country near the western shores of the Persian Gulf, has been going through its own unique revolution for the past two years. Thousands of people have been demonstrating on the streets for the end of Al-Khalifa dynasty which has been ruling the country since 1783.
While under the Al-Khalifa rule, the country became a territory of the United Kingdom in the late 1800s. After its independence from the British rule in 1971, it was declared a kingdom in 2002.
Initial protests have begun on February 14, 2011. The main opposition group, Al-Wefaq, wants an end to the absolute power of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty which appoints all the key government and military posts. They also demand political liberties, social equality and an end to corruption, reforms including an elected prime minister to replace Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has held the job since 1971.
Saudi troops have helped the Al-Khalifa regime to put down the initial uprising and remain in Bahrain since March, 2011. The intervention was enacted under the protection of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation regional coalition of Arab states, bordering the Persian Gulf and located on or near the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi officials say they plan to remain in the country and “Bahrain will get whatever assistance it needs. It’s open-ended.”
Oil rich nation, despite being identified as a high income country by the World Bank ranking, has many problems with human rights violations. Human Rights Watch annual report on Bahrain states that the human rights conditions in Bahrain deteriorated sharply since the late 2010 when ‘torture’ began to be employed again by the government security forces.
Country also has limited free speech and free press, often prosecuting and imprisoning journalists and human rights activists. In December 2012, International Federation for Human Rights Deputy Secretary General and President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, was arrested and given a two years prison sentence for participating in a peaceful demonstration and using his Twitter account to call on others to join.
Vice-President of the board of International Federation for Human Rights Katherine Gallagher says “Rajab’s case is the norm rather than the exception for human rights defenders working in Bahrain.”
The United States has close relations with the country. U.S. bases its Fifth Fleet at a Bahraini base and granted the emirate a free-trade agreement which many on the opposition viewed it as an open support for the ruling family, even after Obama administration pushed for a bilateral dialogue between the opposition and the Bahrain government. Meanwhile, Obama administration continued to allow sales of arms to the nation despite the widespread unrest. Administration officials say that the weapons sales do not include arms used for crowd control like tear gas.
Opposition forces claim that the people who created the crisis want them to separate from each other on a sectarian basis, but that will not be the case.
Many human rights organizations have been calling for Bahrain Government to release the political prisoners, lift restrictions on freedom of expression and prosecute those responsible from human rights abuses.
Although reconciliation talks have begun on February 10, shooting death of a 16 year old protestor by the government security forces on February 14, could derail the negotiations, critics say. Ali Ahmed Ibrahim Aljazeeri died about an hour after being shot on the streets of Diya, a small near the capital Manama.
It is unclear if the country will be able to stabilize its turmoil through dialogue amid the roadblocks and barricades set up by protesting youth, and the teargases and bullets sprayed at them the by the government forces; but one thing is clear that the Bahrainis are rising up to demand more liberties and equality.
Photo Credits: www.gc4hr.org, www.hrw.org