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Monday, February 21, 2011

Bahrain at a standoff

In Bahrain, protesters and the government have been at a standoff since the government - apparently under pressure from the United States - put its weapons away and allowed the protesters to occupy Pearl Square in the center of the country's capital, Manama.
The crown prince, Sheik Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, continued to call for a national dialogue and period of mourning as a step toward reconciliation. But officials with the leading opposition party, the Shiite movement called Al Wafeq, said that with six people dead, one brain dead in the hospital, hundreds injured and many still missing, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa would first have to convince them that he was willing to compromise after repeatedly unleashing his security forces on civilians.

The party called for the dismissal of the long-serving prime minister, Sheik Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, and the appointment of an interim unity government.

“You can’t send your troops with machine guns, kill people and then expect to start a dialogue,” said Abdul Jalil Khalil Ebrahim, one of the 18 party members to withdraw from Parliament in protest over the deaths. “The cabinet has to go. This government has failed. How can we trust them in a dialogue?”

The government has repeatedly declined requests for comment or to make an official available for an interview. The crown prince’s office also did not respond to an interview request.

There are three main players besides the king in the royal family, part of the Sunni minority that controls the country. They are the crown prince, known as the most moderate among the group; the prime minister, who is said to be wealthy, but whose power has ebbed as popular anger at him has peaked; and the minister of the Royal Court, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, known as the hard-liner of the three, opposition leaders say.

At the moment, the crown prince apparently has the upper hand in discussions among the king’s close aides, but opposition leaders say that the king has been known to play members of his inner circle against one another and that the dynamic could change at any time.
The longer this continues, the more tempted the government is going to be to start shooting protesters again.

What could go wrong?

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