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Bahrain: An Island in Turmoil

posted Mar 29, 2011, 8:44 PM by Golden Knight

Posted in World

By Sean McCreary


Bahrain, a small oil-rich island nation in the Persian Gulf, is not particularly well known to most Americans.   Recently, this has changed as the chaos in the Middle East has spilled over into another Arab nation with a tremendous youth bulge.  Not only are the young protesters in the streets of Bahrain bitter over the lack of economic opportunities for themselves, there is also an added layer of ethnic tension with a Sunni Muslim minority ruling over the Shia majority. 

Such an ethnic imbalance is reminiscent of Saddam Husain’s Iraq and present-day Saudi Arabia, with the latter taking extensive precautionary measures to prevent a similar situation from developing within its borders.  Sunni-Shia animosity has flared up before in Bahrain between 1994 and 2000, tensions which left over forty dead and many hundreds wounded.

During the current protests, the international community has been genuinely shocked at the brutality displayed by the Bahrain Defense Force, which is primarily equipped with American weapons systems. The nation is also the base for the Navy’s 5th fleet with reports of shooting into massive crowds of protestors at the Pearl Roundabout, Bahrain’s version of Egypt’s Tahrir Square.  

After funeral services were held for several demonstrators killed on the 15th of February, police fired on mourners and even emergency personnel that were attempting to load the wounded into ambulances.  The drain on medical resources led to the halting of practice sessions for the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix Formula One race, with the event having since been postponed indefinitely due to the deteriorating security situation. 

On the 22nd of February a crowd of anti-government protestors was estimated to number in excess of 250,000, more than 12% of the entire nation’s population. As of press time, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators continue to demand the release of political prisoners with many more extreme groups demanding the abolishment of the monarchy. 

The situation on the ground continues to be uncertain, with the monarchy maintaining a strong hold on power while demonstrators refuse to back down.  As a major oil-producing power, the outcome of the Bahrain protests carries global significance and the rest of the world is sure to be watching closely.