Tuesday night protesters in Bahrain began gathering in Manama, Bahrain’s Pearl Square — some Bahrainians are calling it “their own Tahrir Square.” In a protest organized largely online, citizens gathered for a “Day of Rage” to express their discontent with ruler King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The day was organized in part in response to the shooting death of Ali Mushaima, a 21-year-old student who was shot in the back during a police mêlée the previous night.
Attempting to lead by Egypt’s example, the anti-government protesters are aiming for a nonviolent protest. “The people are angry, but we will control our anger, we will not burn a single tire, or throw a single rock,” said Hussein Ramadan, a political activist and organizer. “We will not go home until we succeed. They want us to be violent. We will not.” At issue are a series of demands — including the transformation of the country from an absolute into a constitutional monarchy. The country’s Shi’ite majority says that the ruling Sunni minority group prevents them from obtaining housing, health care, and jobs.
Why should we care? Bahrain is strategically important to the U.S., and its ruler, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has been instrumental in aiding the U.S.’s anti-terrorism, anti-Iran stance. And so far he’s been attempting to keep the peace. King Hamad expressed contrition for the deaths of Mushaima and another protester, and instructed the police to allow protesters into Pearl Square.
Tuesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley expressed the administration’s concern. “The United States is very concerned by recent violence surrounding protests in Bahrain. We also call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence,” he said.
It’s unclear whether the protests will remain nonviolent. “The government has brought us past the tipping point,” said activist Abd Al Amir al-Jawri.