Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tiananmen on the Gulf

It's not very often that Bahrain, a country our family lived in for a year, makes the top headlines. But, sadly, it did today.

In the middle of last night (late night on the East Coast of the US), Bahrain's security forces cracked down on a peaceful encampment of protestors at the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, shooting tear gas, shotguns, and rubber bullets into the crowd. At least three people were killed and hundreds injured, some of them seriously.

Yet again, al Jazeera's coverage is a bit behind the story, while CNN offers better reporting--including images that remind one very much of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. Armored personnel carriers were seen rumbling down one of the main highways toward the site of the now-disbanded demonstrations.

The question now is whether the opposition forces will respond with more protests. They have already announced a day of protests on Monday, but I also think that people will pour out into the streets tomorrow after midday Friday prayers.

Toby Jones, a historian at Rutgers University and a family friend of ours, offered an insightful analysis on last night's PBS NewsHour program. Even as he was being interviewed, the security forces were mobilizing to crack down on the peaceful demonstrators. Toby noted, as I did in my previous post, that this is now very serious. The seriousness has multiplied after last night's crackdown.

I continue to be very concerned about the dangers of the situation in Bahrain--and across the region. If things get uglier in Bahrain, as seems likely, this will have implications for the Shia population across the straits in eastern Saudi Arabia, which is the primary oil-producing region in the country. Kuwait, too, has a Shia minority (roughly 25% of the population) with ties to those in Bahrain. Meanwhile, across the Gulf, the Iranians are watching closely, as they feel a kinship with their fellow Shia. Libya, Algeria, Yemen, and Jordan are also facing unhappy young people who demand an end to corruption and a start to political power-sharing.

We are seeing a wave of revolutionary pressures that rivals 1848 or 1989. And it's not clear when that wave will crest or whether peaceful protesters can win out. As China showed, sometimes violent repression can keep a regime in power. The Al Khalifa family of Bahrain is banking on that, but they may overdraw on their account. I pray that they will see the wisdom of power-sharing and a peaceful end.

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