Protesters in Bahrain take their demonstrations outside Pearl Rounabout

March 5, 2011

As the debate on the merit of the national dialogue in addressing Bahrain’s crisis rages on, protesters on Friday afternoon gathered in front of the information affairs authority (ministry of information) to press for a stronger voice in the state-run television and radio.

Small groups of students from nearby schools and a training institute have been holding demonstrations in front of the ministry building in Isa Town, next to the education ministry, another focal point of protests.

However, the demonstration on Friday was staged to attract a large number of people in a show of strength.

At the Pearl Roundabout, , the epicentre of the protests, organisers were telling people over loudspeakers that there would be buses to take them to the protest site, some 12 kilometres to the south, at around 2.30, as young volunteers were giving away rice packets to the people visiting or camping at the site.

According to the protesters, Bahrain TV was not fair in its coverage of the events and focused almost exclusively on the demonstrations held under the banner of national unity.

However, Bahrain TV officials contend that a crew they had sent to cover developments at the Pearl Roundabout was kicked out by young protesters who did not allow them to carry out the assignment.

The battle over the performance of the local and international media is set to take centre stage amid sharp divergences between those who support and oppose the Pearl Roundabout protests.

The demonstration in front of the information ministry is in line with a new strategy by the protesters to go beyond the confines of the Pearl Roundabout to reach all sensitive buildings in the country.

On Wednesday, protesters marched to the interior ministry to ask for the release of more prisoners. People breathed a deep sigh of relief after the long queue of white thobes and black abayas left the ministry’s perimetres without clashes or confrontations.

The protesters said that they would hold a similar march on Sunday to the area where the government will be holding its weekly meeting.

The authorities have already set free 308 detainees and convicts, including the 23 people arrested in August on the charges of forming and belonging to a terror network plotting to undermine Bahrain’s stability and security.

However, the protesters said there were more people who had to be released.

Tension was high in the country on Friday morning following news of clashes between Bahrainis in Hamad Town, a large government-built dormitory town (bedroom suburb), 15 kilometres south of Manama.

Versions about what sparked the violence are not clear yet, but most agree that a brawl broke out in the morning near Hamad Town girls’ school and developed in the evening into a brawl involving dozens of people after mobile messages spread sect-based news calling for assistance in the standoff.

At least two people were injured in the violence and the police needed some time to bring the situation under control.

“Lawmakers and the Northern Governor were present and contributed to calming emotions down,” the interior ministry said.

Schools are increasingly becoming the scenes of protests with many students boycotting classes or taking part in rallies in front of the education or information ministries or at the Pearl Roundabout. University students have also started making their voices heard.

The education ministry said that it would not tolerate abuses of learning institutions and warned it would take action to ensure compliance with the rules. Several parents have exerted pressure on the ministry to keep political protests away from schools.

“Traditional family lunch gatherings on Friday in Bahrain were about family and some work anecdotes,” Adel Jubara, an office clerk, said. “Now, the protests and the offers and counter-offers top the talks. People are tense and fed-up. They really want an end to all this,” he said.

Moves to end the deadlock were given a boost on Thursday when six opposition societies presented a set of demands as their precondition to the national dialogue offer launched by Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

The leaders of the societies – Ebrahim Sharif (National Democratic Alliance Society), Ali Salman (Al Wefaq), Hassan Madan (Progressive Tribune), Fadhel Abbas (National Assembly Association), Humood Al Ghasra (Nationalist Democratic Association), and Moosa Al Ansari (Brotherhood Association) – said that they had received an invitation from the Crown Prince’s Court for the talks four days ago.

Their demands which included the formation of a new government, amending the Constitution promulgated in 2002, the release of the remaining prisoners and a “proper and independent” probe into the death of seven people who were killed during the unrest since February 14.

Prince Salman’s Court confirmed that it “received correspondences from the six political societies as well as other political groups” and that it is “still receiving other official correspondences from other parties in the Bahraini society.”

On Thursday afternoon, Jeffrey Feltman, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, reiterated his country’s support for national dialogue in Bahrain and paid tribute to King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa for his moves to ease the tension gripping the country.

Feltman also lauded the decision by Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa to start a national dialogue, pulling security forces off the streets, releasing prisoners and making a cabinet reshuffle.

“There is a need for all parties to work immediately to begin a dialogue that answers the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people. In our view, to be successful, the dialogue should include the full spectrum of Bahraini society, without exception. The dialogue will need to quickly produce concrete actions and reforms,” he said.

The US official said that the dialogue “must be a Bahraini process with ‘made-in-Bahrain’ solutions,” stressing that Bahrainis have the best ideas for Bahrain.

“We call on all of Bahrain’s friends and neighbours to support fully a Bahraini process and to refrain, as we are, from interference or trying to impose a non-Bahraini solution from outside Bahrain,” he said, adding that Bahrainis can count on US support to back a Bahraini consensus on the way forward.

However, Feltman said that dialogues required compromises. “Negotiations lead to certain results. We cannot start with results,” he said.

“The message is to encourage dialogue and not allow extremists to set the agenda. All sides have extremists and they must not impose the agenda. The goal is that the majority of Bahrainis feel they have a stake in the outcome,” he said.

Feltman said there was confidence in sincerity of Prince Salman who “understands opportunity and follow-up”.

“This dialogue is different from the previous ones. It is real and seeks to meet the aspirations of the people,” he said.

In comments on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks that Iran was working on shaping events in the Arab world and that it was reaching out to the opposition in Bahrain, Feltman said that the US had no illusion about the role of Tehran in the region. “We are not naive,” he said.

In Riffa, Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) said that Mohammad Yusuf Al Bouflasa, a BDF affiliate, would stand trial for breaching the BDF law. “Legal procedures have been taken in this regard,” an official from the BDF General Command told Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

Al Bouflasa was detained after giving a speech at the Pearl Roundabout. As expected, his detention waded into controversy.

Those who support it argue that as an army man he was fully aware he had no right to get actively involved in the public protest, while those who oppose it see as a stance against freedom of speech.



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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