On my first nighttime visit to Pearl Square I couldn’t help but notice the immense number of youth amongst the huge gathering of tens of thousands of people in the midst of an atmosphere of joy and victory. University students and teenagers who were able to organize themselves by resorting to the latest trend of social media in the Arab world told me that what they were demanding were basic rights and equality.
What I also noticed is that this is not something related to religion or an attempt to create some kind of wilayat al-faqih Shiite rule. Many of the women and teenage girls participating are not headscarfed and some participants are members or supporters of the leftist movements (one of the three main opposition parties is the leftist Waad society led by Sunni figure Ibrahim Al-Sharif).
As I noted above, the main demands of these people were about being granted civil rights. However, take note of the word “were”: now many of these protesters say they will not settle for anything less than the ouster of the regime including King Hamad Bin Issa following the bloody events of Thursday morning when the army and police opened fire on the civilians who were asleep in Pearl Square. The attack on the protesters by the army is related to the fact that Bahrain is the first country in the Persian Gulf to witness such protests.
The decision to spill the blood of protesters was not an independent Bahraini decision but one that also involved other Persian Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia, which is a close ally to the ruling Khalifeh family in Manama. The Saudis and even other states fear the domino effect Bahrain could have in the Persian gulf where the lack of rights and discrimination is common (take note of Saudi Arabia and the discrimination towards the Shiite population there).
However the reaction of the Bahraini protesters to the crackdown and their returning in huge numbers to Pearl Square should send a clear message to other Persian Gulf countries that violence will not settle the situation. What must also be clear is that these societies speaking out against discrimination are doing so out of frustration due to the absence of rights and not out of religious enmity (even if those being discriminated against are Shiites).
So other regimes in the Persian gulf would do well to begin with real reforms that get rid of discrimination instead of walking on a path which will lead to people insisting that only a revolution and an ouster of the regime will give them their civil rights.
This article was first published in Moqawama.org (the official Web site of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon) on 21 February 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. See, also, “Bahrainis Won’t Budge from Martyrs’ Roundabout, Friday the Big Day” (Al-Manar TV, 23 February 2011).