Bahraini protests continue despite regime crackdown

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Thousands of peaceful protesters were back in the now-demolished Pearl Square in Bahrain’s capital city Manama on September 23 demanding serious and wide-ranging reforms to give the overwhelming majority the right to vote in free, fair and transparent elections. At the same time, one of Bahrain’s leading opposition figures –” Shaikh Hassan al-Mushaima called in his Jumu’ah (9-23-2011) Khutbah for people to boycott the sham elections scheduled for the next day to fill the 18 seats that members of al-Wefaq Party had vacated in protest last February over the regime’s brutal crackdown. More than 80% of the voters heeded the boycott call resulting in a mere 17.4% turnout for the poll.

The Bahraini regime’s own elections website, www.vote.bh reported that of the 144,513 eligible voters in 14 districts only 25,130 cast their ballot. In four districts candidates running uncontested automatically won. Al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman said the results showed that Bahrainis rejected the king’s reforms, adding, “There is no such thing as Bahraini democracy. There has to be peaceful rotation of power.” He went on: “If there is no transition, Bahrain will remain in a crisis of security and human rights, this is a historic moment.”

The rally in Pearl Square quickly turned into calls for the ouster of the hated Khalifa regime led by Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. This call has gained increasing currency in recent weeks as the regime has resorted to indiscriminate firing and brutality to crush peaceful protests. At least 41 protesters have been killed since February 14 in the tiny Island state sandwiched between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Given its total population of less than one million, the death toll per capita is exceedingly high. In addition to youth being shot and killed at point blank range, doctors and nurses have borne the brunt of attacks launched by the regime’s troops, many of them mercenaries from Pakistan. Saudi and Emirati occupation troops have also indulged in attacks against villages and towns often for no other reason than the fact that people residing there are Shi’is.

There are disturbing reports of troops –” Bahraini, Saudi and Pakistani –” molesting women, especially nurses because they are considered sympathetic to the protesters, who like them are Shi’is. On the night of September 25, Bahraini regime forces clashed with protesters in several villages including Dair, Sitra, Nuwaidarat and Muqaba. Protests and clashes continued the following day as well with protesters creating massive traffic jams in Manama, ignoring police threats to confiscate drivers’ licenses leading to driving bans for up to four years. The demands of the protesters have now crystallized: they want an end to the Khalifa dynasty that has ruled the country for more than 40 years.

In addition to the mercenaries from Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen hired by the regime, most Bahrainis are adamant that the regime’s violent crackdown is the direct result of support it receives from two external players: the US and Saudi Arabia. The US Fifth Fleet is stationed there with thousands of American sailors prowling the streets of Manama. Taxi drivers in the kingdom have standing orders to pick up American sailors too drunk to walk or drive and deliver them to their base. The Bahraini regime pays the costs. Bahrain is a US colony.

The Saudis, meanwhile are fighting the battle for survival in the streets of Manama. They are afraid that if the Bahrainis succeed in overthrowing the Khalifa dynasty, they would be next. Most Bahrainis are convinced that Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz is behind the brutal crackdown since he is in charge of internal security in his kingdom. Seeing Bahrain as an extension of the Saudi internal security set-up, the Saudis have invaded and occupied the island state. They have also poured billions of dollars into the tiny kingdom and sent troops and tanks to crush people’s aspirations. What the Saudis had not taken into account is the resilience of the Bahraini people that seem to have shed their fears.

Bahraini opposition forces have organized gatherings named the “the Second Dignity Blockade,” and insist they will not be cowed by the brutality of the regime’s forces until they secure their legitimate rights. Despite the mass arrests, the protests continue. Alarmed at the continuing resistance of the people and their defiance of the security forces, Bahrain’s ruler Hamad bin Isa rushed on September 26 to the Saudi capital Riyadh to confer with the ailing Saudi King Abdullah. It is clear both rulers are greatly worried about the ongoing protests, which they had hoped would have died down by now.

Saudi-Bahraini-American hypocrisy is also evident. All three have been involved in attacking the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and are actively supporting the uprising against Bashar al-Assad of Syria but at the same time they are involved in crushing the aspirations of the Bahraini people. Some people are clearly more equal than others.

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