At least two people were killed and dozens wounded in two days of continuing protests in Bahrain. The demonstrators say they want political prisoners to be released, more jobs and housing, the creation of a more representative and empowered parliament, a new constitution written by the people, and a new cabinet that does not include Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been in office for 40 years. The second day of riots followed the funeral of a 30-year-old who was allegedly killed by police.
King Hamad, who went on state TV – with a message for the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad – to express his condolences to the families of the two victims and to promise to verify the circumstances of their "regrettable" deaths.
The civil unrest were accompanied by major political crisis when Al Wefaq – the country’s Shiite party, announced that it was withdrawing from parliament, where it has 18 of the 40 seats. "We decided to suspend our membership until further notice, after the aggressive attacks by the police on civilians demonstrating and carrying the kingdom's flag and calling for political and constitutional reforms," the party announced.
Thousands of protesters descended on Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama and set up tents in echoes of Cairo's Tahrir Square, pledging to stay until their demands are met. Mass protests are expected after Friday prayers.
Internet connections were reportedly slow in a probably attempt by the authorities to restrict social media communications by protest organizers.
Prior to the demonstrations, and in an apparent attempt by the regime to have them abandoned, the King announced that he was paying 1000 Dinars (about US $2600) per family as a gift. The opposition fiercely rejected this as “a bribe”.
February 13-15, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
This is not the first time that Bahrain has witnessed civil unrest. The country regularly faces episodes of violence including serious riots prior to the October 2010 elections.
However, the riots this time are very different. They come on the heels of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and general unrest in the Arab World. They are unlikely to be stopped by gestures, like financial handouts and are very likely to eventually lead to substantial political reform. The demonstrations, while not calling for complete regime change yet, are demanding the ousting of the main face of the old guard – the prime minster. This may be well be the outcome of the unrest, however, unless rapid response is made by the regime, including the ousting of the prime-minister, it is likely that the riots will continue and lead to further demands by the protesters.
What makes the situation more complicated is that the rioters are predominantly from the Shiite majority– making the demonstrations also ethno-religious in nature. The support by the main Shiite political party for the demonstrations give them further credibility that they are not entirely driven by youth or fringe groups.
The situation in Bahrain is as risky as it has been in recent years and unless a compromise is found, it is likely to become more complicated, threatening economic growth and continued civil unrest.
Below is a figure showing the make-up of the Bahrain population and the underneath the make-up of the Bahraini parliament.