When our family lived in Bahrain, we drove past Bahrain's Pearl Monument many times. It's the closest thing to a national symbol, hearkening back to the days when pearl fishing was one of the two major industries of the country, alongside fishing.
Thus, anti-regime protestors made a strategic choice to emulate Cairo's Tahrir Square here. They were striving to make this a national debate, employing a unifying national symbol. Although the protestors mostly came from the Shiite majority of the population, they repeatedly stressed the non-sectarian nature of their demands (see earlier posts on this blog for details). And they pressed for specific reforms toward a constitutional monarchy. Meanwhile, the government side claimed this was a sectarian matter and rallied Sunnis against the protestors. They showed their true colors by pulling down a national symbol to make sure they didn't have to share power.
The sad part is that the crisis could have been resolved, and now it's only inflamed. Had the government agreed to the resignation of the sitting prime minister (who's been there over 40 years) and new parliamentary elections without gerrymandered districts, ensuring a majority of seats for the majority of the population, the protests would likely have ended. Instead, the government has made only minor concessions.
And then, this past Monday, they invited at least 1,000 Saudi National Guard troops into the country to intimidate the opposition, reinforce the government, and enable a harsh crackdown.
And then, yesterday, the government tore down the Pearl monument to erase a "bad memory" (in the words of Bahrain's foreign minister). For a sense of how this is playing in the Shiite world, check out this video:
For anyone who's been tracking developments in Bahrain over the past six weeks, including our friends in Bahrain, the only bad memories are of the Al Khalifa regime's crushing of non-violent protestors. First, the regime cleared the Pearl Monument area in a brutal crackdown in the middle of the night on February 16. And then it cleared the area in broad daylight on Wednesday.
I was hopeful that this could be resolved peacefully, but now I'm afraid that this situation will only get worse. So, in good Lenten fashion, I pray for mercy: mercy for those suffering in Bahrain, mercy for those suffering in Japan, and mercy for the whole world.
Tomorrow's prayer from the Book of Common Prayer goes like this:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.