Two huge rallies mark growing divisions in Bahrain

March 2, 2011

Bahrain on Wednesday afternoon appeared an increasingly divided nation as two massive demonstrations with different purposes covered different areas of the capital.

Protesters walked out of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Roundabout, popularly known as the Pearl Roundabout, in the western outskirts of Manama, to the interior ministry.

Waving white and red flags, the long human carpet of white thobes and black abayas moved slowly towards the ministry, locally known as the Fort, to press for the release of prisoners.

Bahraini authorities last week allowed 308 convicts and prisoners to go home in a gesture of appeasement by King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa. Included in those pardoned were the 23 men arrested since August on charges of belonging to a network that plotted to undermine Bahrain’s stability and security. Two other men, Hassan Mushaima and Said Al Shihabi, who allegedly were members of the group, but were living in London at the time of the trial were also pardoned.

Mushaima flew back to Bahrain, made a stop-over in Beirut where he was barred from boarding the plane until his name was cleared by Bahraini authorities, and gave a speech at the Pearl Round, the epicenter of the protests launched in Bahrain on February 14.

At the other end of the sprawling city, the National Unity Rally, a newly formed group serving as an umbrella for people claim that their voices have been long ignored in the country, organised a massive rally, mainly to assert their presence.

Following prayers at Al Fateh Mosque, the country’s largest place of worship, the demonstrators, waving the serrated flags of Bahrain, said that their message was to promote Bahrain as an undivided country where Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Jews and others could live in peace as their fathers had done for decades.

In a rally where size is as important as the message, the demonstrators had all day long urged people to join them in the Juffair area.

It was the second show of strength by the Rally and its supporters in as many weeks and insisted that they should be consulted on all decisions affecting the nation.

Demonstrations have been held on a daily basis in Bahrain and while people breathed a deep sigh of relief when the rally to the interior ministry ended without clashes or confrontations, mass expressions have not always been peaceful in the country.

On Monday, girls in a high school were involved in a brawl after an exchange of criticism with sectarian overtones degenerated into a physical fight. The school used all its resources to separate the protagonists and parents promptly pulled their daughters from the school in Hamad Town, one of the most sect-mixed areas in Bahrain.

Other schools were also impacted by the growing sectarian tension. Parents and several columnists have urged the ministry, families and the protesters to avoid involving students in the highly-mediated activism.

The education ministry on Wednesday formed a panel to investigate the incident and to take action.

Another investigation committee was on Tuesday formed by the newly-appointed health minister to probe the controversy about the role of the ministry and doctors in the protests.

Several doctors have accused the former minister and his assistants of hampering assistance to protesters injured at the Pearl Roundabout on February 17.

However, reports have surfaced claiming the allegations were not true and that medical staff exaggerated events to win the compassion of the international media.

Each side worked on flooding social networks with video clips, pictures, statements and comments to support their claim and discredit the other.

In Kuwait, a Kuwaiti daily said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is to launch a massive Marshall-style plan to assist Bahrain and Oman who have been hit by security unrest.

According to Al Qabas, the GCC plan will seek to improve economic conditions and living standards in Bahrain and Oman and includes four major points.

Under the plan, the GCC will work on improving economic, social and living conditions of Omani and Bahraini citizens.

It will also provide houses to needy citizens in both countries and will seek new employment opportunities for young men and women seeking jobs.

The plan will also work on enhancing services offered by Bahrain and Oman to their citizens, the daily said.

The sources said that the labour markets in the other four GCC countries will be used to employ Bahrainis and Omanis who will be given employment priorities and benefits.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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