September 18, 2011

LET OUR PEOPLE GO:

Bahrain Boils Under the Lid of Repression (ANTHONY SHADID, 9/15/11, NY Times)

In the revolts that have roiled the Middle East this year, toppling or endangering a half-dozen leaders, Bahrain, an island kingdom once best known for its pearls and banks, has emerged as the cornerstone of a counterrevolution to stanch demands for democracy. While the turmoil elsewhere has proved unpredictable -- the ascent of Islamists in Egypt, the threat of civil war in Syria and the prospect of anarchy in Yemen -- Bahrain suggests that the alternative, a failed uprising cauterized by searing repression, may prove no less dangerous.

The crackdown here has won a tactical and perhaps ephemeral victory through torture, arrests, job dismissals and the blunt tool of already institutionalized discrimination against the island's Shiite Muslim majority. In its wake, sectarian tension has exploded, economic woes have deepened, American willingness to look the other way has cast Washington as hypocritical and a society that prides itself on its cosmopolitanism is colliding with its most primordial instincts. Taken together, the repression and warnings of radicalization may underline an emerging dictum of the Arab uprisings: violence begets violence.

"The situation is a tinderbox, and anything could ignite it at any moment," said Ali Salman, the general secretary of Al Wefaq, Bahrain's largest legal opposition group. "If we can't succeed in bringing democracy to this country, then our country is headed toward violence. Is it in a year or two years? I don't know. But that's the reality."

For decades, Bahrain's relative openness and entrenched inequality have made it one of the Arab world's most restive countries, as a Shiite majority numbering as much as 70 percent of the population seeks more rights from a Sunni monarchy that conquered the island in the 18th century. But February was a new chapter in the struggle, when the reverberations of Egypt and Tunisia reached Bahrain and, after bloody clashes, protesters seized a landmark known as Pearl Square, where they stayed for weeks.

The toll of the ensuing repression was grim: in a country of about 525,000 citizens, human rights groups say 34 people were killed, more than 1,400 people were arrested, as many as 3,600 people were fired from their jobs and four people died in custody after torture in what Human Rights Watch called "a systematic and comprehensive crackdown to punish and intimidate government critics and to end dissent root and branch."


There won't be stability until there's self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2011 8:58 AM
  
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