In Bahrain uprising, there’s no turning back

Bahraini special police stand guard inside the Interior Ministry as thousands of mainly Shi'ite protesters demonstrate outside in Manama March 2, 2011. Protests in Bahrain are starting to make forays away from the central square in Manama and into different parts of the city, pressing the Sunni-led government for swift democratic reform.

Bahraini special police stand guard inside the Interior Ministry as thousands of mainly
Shi’ite protesters demonstrate outside in Manama March 2, 2011. Protests in Bahrain
are starting to make forays away from the central square in Manama and into different
parts of the city, pressing the Sunni-led government for swift democratic reform.

Photograph by: Hamad I Mohammed, Reuters

MANAMA – Bahrain’s ruling dynasty and an anti-regime movement are locked in a deepening
standoff, and both sides agree there is no turning back as protesters continue to hit the streets
in their thousands.

The Shiite-led opposition said it wants to join the dialogue proposed by Crown Prince Salman following deadly protests, but only after the government resigns.

An official said on Wednesday the government’s patience “has its limits.”

“The situation in Bahrain is now irreversible. The regime knows it cannot turn back, and the opposition will certainly not back down,” Ali Fakhro, a political analyst and former education minister, told AFP.

“I think the government is well aware that there is a problem that must be dealt with and that ignoring the demands of protesters . . . will only give rise to the same problems again.”

A string of popular uprisings against regimes across the Arab world has spilled over into the majority Shiite kingdom of Bahrain, a strategic U.S. ally that is just a boat ride from Iran.

Since February 14, thousands of mainly Shiite protesters have daily taken to the streets of the capital Manama, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, to demand the fall of the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty which has ruled unchallenged for 200 years.

They are also calling for major reforms to end what they say are decades of oppression and rights deprivation.

The tiny archipelago carries special significance as it neighbours Saudi Arabia, which has its own Shiite minority concentrated in Eastern Province, close to Bahrain.

The Shiite-led coalition of Bahraini opposition groups is adamant in demanding the resignation of the government before the wide-reaching talks offered by Crown Prince Salman.

“Our primary demand is the resignation of the current government and its replacement with a government of national salvation,” said MP Jalil Khalil, head of the Shiite Al-Wefaq parliamentary bloc which is spearheading the seven-group opposition alliance.

Such a government should be “formed of technocrats representing both the Sunni and Shiite communities,” he told AFP.

“The opposition has not refused dialogue,” said Khalil, whose bloc resigned from parliament in protest at the killing of seven demonstrators last month.

“It is seeking guarantees before heading to the table, including a deadline and the clear outlining of the steps that will be taken, such as the implementation of the national charter.”

Bahrain’s National Action Charter was passed in 2001 following a referendum, as part of a package of reforms introduced by King Hamad, ending a 1990s Shiite uprising and restoring the country to constitutional rule.

But a year later a new constitution was adopted by royal decree, expanding the king’s powers and establishing the Shura consultative council, an upper chamber in parliament appointed by the king with the right to block legislation passed by the lower elected chamber.

In response to demonstrations, King Hamad charged his son, Crown Prince Salman, with launching dialogue, a move the anti-government camp has dismissed as insufficient.

Abduljalil al-Singace of the opposition Haq movement, who was among a group of political activists freed in a royal pardon last week, has warned of more bloodshed if the government ignores the protesters’ demands.

“My anticipation is that the situation will lead to more bloodshed if they continue to turn a blind eye on the protesters in the street,” he said.

But a government official accused the opposition of refusing to respond to the regime’s attempts to reach out and of seeking to split Bahrain’s Sunni and Shiite communities.

“Continuing this sit-in and refusing to respond to the government’s calls for dialogue will exhaust our patience and is causing losses in trade and the economy,” said the official, requesting anonymity.

“We have been calling for dialogue for 15 days and the opposition has not heeded that call,” the official told AFP.

“Our patience has its limits.”

© Copyright (c) AFP
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