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Monday, February 14, 2011

Another domino?

In Bahrain on Monday, there are pro-democracy protests scheduled. Will Bahrain be another domino?
Cyber activists in Bahrain have declared Valentine's Day a "day of wrath" in the kingdom. It is also the 10th anniversary of a referendum in which Bahrainis approved a national charter promising a new political era after decades of political unrest.

Organisers chose this date to signal their belief that the authorities had reneged on the charter's promise. Taking a cue from the protests in the wider Arab world, their stated aim is to press the authorities on their political and economic grievances.

The day of wrath's Facebook page passed 10,000 supporters within a few days, and a declaration in the name of Bahraini Youth for Freedom is being widely circulated online. The authorities have already moved to counter any possible repercussions from the tumultuous events in region. The leadership held talks with President Hosni Mubarak shortly after the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, and plans to pump in hundreds of millions of dollars in food subsidies have been announced. Many web forums and Facebook pages have been blocked, and the British embassy has issued a notice to UK citizens regarding 14 February.

With a landmass about the size of Malta and citizens barely numbering half a million, Bahrain is not usually a centre of attention in the Arab world. Its regional significance, however, outweighs its small size. A former British colony, it is only a 15-minute drive from Saudi Arabia, and Iranian claims to the island date back centuries. Its history of activism makes it one of the most politically vibrant countries in the region, with developments on the island seen as precursors to changes in other Gulf Arab states.

Thousands attend regular political rallies on issues ranging from unemployment to Palestinian solidarity, with pundits joking that Bahrain holds the world record in demonstrations per capita.

The political situation has been simmering since last summer. The authorities, shortly before parliamentary elections, began a crackdown on those it accused of being involved in a plot to overthrow the regime and planning acts of terrorism. The count of detainees has reached 300, and allegations of torture have been widespread.

Add to that a cocktail of grievances that have been aired more and more forcefully over the past decade, and observers are wondering whether Bahrain might be the first of the Arab Gulf states to see protests in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt.
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The rulers of Bahrain are clearly worried about the possibility that revolution will spread to their domain.
Leaders in Bahrain are promising to expand media freedoms in the tiny Gulf kingdom in apparent attempts to quell calls for protests inspired by Egypt.

The pledges Sunday to loosen state media controls come after Bahrain's king announced gifts of nearly $2,700 to each family in Bahrain - a key Western ally and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Opposition groups are calling for street protests Monday to demand a greater voice in state affairs. It would mark the first major demonstrations in the Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bahrain's majority Shiite's have long complained of discrimination by the Sunni rulers. Clashes erupted last year after the arrest of Shiite activists.
What could go wrong?

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At 4:30 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The freedom virus keeps infecting Arab dictatorships. Its going to be interesting to see if the Bahrainis vast oil wealth allows them to buy off their opponents.


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