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Bahrain's Latest Uprising Meets Security Clampdown

  • Henry Ridgwell

Activists in Bahrain are stepping up their two-and-a-half-year-old campaign to push the Sunni ruling family into making democratic reforms in the Shi'ite-majority state.

While the authorities appear to have kept a lid on the demonstrations for now, analysts say the opposition is trying to emulate the mass anti-government protests in Egypt.

Bahraini security forces have been deployed across Manama and surrounding villages for weeks, and opposition calls for mass anti-government rallies Wednesday ended in only minor clashes.

The renewed drive to get protesters on the streets is being led by a group called "Tamarod" or "Rebellion," named after the Egyptian movement that helped organize huge protests leading to the military ousting of democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi last month, and which have been followed by the deaths of hundreds of his supporters.

But according to analyst Jane Kinninmont of London-based Chatham House, there are key differences in Bahrain's uprising.

"You wouldn’t have anything like the same scenario in Bahrain because the army in Bahrain doesn’t play the same role, and many of the security services don’t include Shi'ite Bahrainis, so you don’t get that same sense of solidarity," she said. "Egypt has proven though that people power is still a force."

With the army on its side, the Bahraini government is successfully suppressing all forms of dissent, she says.

“There’s been a pre-emptive crackdown going on for some weeks with house raids, arrests — including arrests of some bloggers — and an atmosphere of great tension."

In Bahrain, where Shi’ites form the majority, protesters want Sunni King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to step aside, but the Al Khalifa government insists it is listening to the opposition and is already undertaking democratic reform.

Bahrain is an important U.S. ally in the Gulf and home to the United States Fifth Fleet. In May, Britain was one of 40 nations that sent naval forces to the region for joint military exercises.

Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker in Britain’s upper house, says his government is putting trade ahead of democracy.

"Since human rights have been an issue, we have tended to ignore them and concentrate on business. That’s the same now," he said. "Whilst the repression is getting more and more intense, there’s no response to it from the Foreign Office, and we see them trying to get more sales of arms and business generally."

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he has discussed human rights with Bahrain’s King Hamad — and pressed the need for ongoing democratic reforms.

A national dialogue between the Bahrain government and the opposition is due to resume at the end of this month.

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