BASIC DATA (From BBC)
- King Hamad, 61, a Sunni, has been in power since 1999
- Population 800,000 (70 per cent Shias); land area 717 sq km, or 100 times smaller than the Irish Republic
- Ranks 48 out of 178 on corruption
- A population with a median age of 30.4 years, and a literacy rate of 91%
- Youth unemployment at 19.6%
- Gross national income per head: $25,420 (World Bank 2009)
Latest reports from Bahrain speak of considerable tension marked by anti-King and anti-Government slogans shouted by thousands of Shia mourners attending the funerals of seven persons killed during a crack-down by the riot police on a group of young people demonstrating against the Government from the Pearl Square since February 14,2011.
“Justice, freedom and constitutional monarchy,” “victory for Islam”, “death for Al Khalifa [the ruling family]“, “we are your soldiers”, “Revolution till victory.”
The protest movement started as a movement of solidarity with the Egyptian youth on February 14, turned into an anti-Government movement on February 15 after the death of two Shias due to alleged use of force by the Police and then turned into an anti-King movement on February 17 after the brutal dispersal of the protesters from the Pearl Square by the riot police on the night intervening February 16/17.
Initially, the demonstrators were mainly shouting pro-democracy slogans calling for reforms and action to remove economic hardships. There was no religious or sectarian colour , but after the crack-down by the riot police it is tending to take a religious colour. Some of the slogans shouted during the funeral ceremonies on February 18 were : “Justice, freedom and constitutional monarchy,” “victory for Islam”, “death for Al Khalifa [the ruling family]“, “we are your soldiers”, “Revolution till victory.” Many Shia women have participated.
The Government initially allowed the demonstrations to take place, but as they gathered strength the riot police moved in on the night of Februaty 16/17 and forcibly dispersed the demonstrators in the Pearl Square. This was followed by a ban on meetings, fencing of the Square to prevent demonstrators from gathering there again and deployment of the Army with tanks and armoured personnel carriers at key points in the capital Manama.
The Bahrain authorities have sought to project the demonstrations and the incidents of violence as largely organised by mischievous elements in the Shia community instigated from outside, meaning Iran. Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told a press conference on the evening of February 17 that the police intervention was justified to prevent “a sectarian conflict and an economic crisis.” He accused the demonstrators of “polarizing the country” and pushing it to the “brink of the sectarian abyss.”
The island nations Sunni rulers unleashed a heavy crackdown, trying to stamp out the first anti-government upheaval to reach the Arab states of the Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
However, there have been some reports of the involvement of some Sunni youth also in the demonstrations. The BBC reports that the Shias formed “the bulk of the protesters” on February 18. Al Jazeera’s correspondents in Bahrain have reported as follows:”Hospitals are full of injured people after Wednesday night’s police raid on the pro-reform demonstrators. Some of them are severely injured with gunshots. Patients include doctors and emergency personnel who were overrun by the police while trying to attend to the wounded.After several days of holding back, the island nation’s Sunni rulers unleashed a heavy crackdown, trying to stamp out the first anti-government upheaval to reach the Arab states of the Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In the surprise assault, police tore down protesters’ tents, beating men and women inside and blasting some with shotgun sprays of bird-shot. The pre-dawn raid was a sign of how deeply the Sunni monarchy fears the repercussions of a prolonged wave of protests, led by members of the country’s Shia majority but also joined by growing numbers of discontented Sunnis.”