Bahraini security forces detained four Shiite leading activists ahead of the upcoming elections. Among them was Abduljalil al Singace, the spokesman of a Shiite political group called the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy. Three more Shiite activists were arrested later for belonging to a network “created to undermine security and stability of the country”, a source from the National Security Apparatus told the Bahrain News Agency. Two of the men, Mohammed al Muqdad and Saeed al Nouri, are outspoken clerics, and the third, Abdulghani al Kanjar, heads a human rights group that supports victims of torture.
The arrests fuelled sectarian riots in Bahrain, and the government was quick to impose a total media ban. Reports that came out indicated that there were clashes in seven or eight places between riot police and villagers, and that some highways were blocked by protesters.
Mr al Singace has been charged with “inciting acts of violence and destabilising the country.”
The main Shiite political group, Al Wefaq, currently holds 17 of the chamber’s 40 seats. Mr Rajab said that by targeting groups such as the Haq movement and increasing sectarian tension, hard-line parties will be emboldened at the expense of Al Wefaq, the only Shiite party participating in the election.
August 23, 2010
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
Bahrain appears to be heading towards one of the most serious crisis it has faced in decades. The elections, planned for 23 October, are being viewed as a test of how well the current regime in Bahrain is able to maintain civil peace, in the only GCC state with a majority Shiite population.
The fact that the government imposed an usual media ban and the reports of continuing unrest indicates that further episodes of unrest will be expected, particularly as the election date nears.
If the situation is not resolved peacefully and the Shiite leaders not released, the government may be forced to postpone the elections. If this happens, violence is likely to escalate further. If the elections do go ahead, they are likely to be marred by violence and accusations of fraud and misrepresentation. This can only lead to further pressure on Bahrain as it struggles to address a rapidly deteriorating economy.
Bahrain’s estimated (local) Shiite population in 65%, with the rest being Sunnis. The majority of parliament members, government ministers as well as the ruling family are all Sunnis.