A huge protest for democracy took place in the Middle East recently. But you won’t have heard about it from the Western media, and there won’t be stirring speeches in its support from George Bush or Tony Blair.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Bahrain on 25 March to demand democratic reforms.
Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, is home to the US 5th Fleet. The ruling family supports George Bush’s “war on terror” and the king, Sheikh Hamad al-Khalifa, was one of the first Arab rulers to congratulate George Bush on his election victory last year.
Over 80,000, one in ten of the population, defied a ban on protests on 25 March. The protests were called by the Islamic National Accord Association — a Shia opposition movement — and supported by the left wing National Democratic Action Association and Arab nationalist groups.
Shia Muslims, who make up 70 percent the population, face widespread discrimination from the ruling Sunni regime. Shia demands for civil rights have fused with wider calls for change and for an end to links with the US.
Bahraini human rights campaigner and author Abdul Nabi Alekry told Socialist Worker, “The demonstration was part of the opposition movement for constitutional reform.” The constitution was suspended in 1975 after mass protests threatened the regime.
The state of emergency was in force for 25 years. Dissidents and opposition activists were regulary rounded up and tortured. After the death of the king in 1999, his son released political prisoners and promised reforms. But little changed.
In April 2002 the Gulf state erupted in protest and the US embassy was set ablaze after the US ambassador called on students to observe a minute’s silence for Israelis killed in suicide attacks. One protester was killed by a rubber bullet. A similar protest by school students was teargassed, hospitalising over 50.
According to Abdul Nabi Alekry, “The US has persistently defended the regime’s repressive nature and its abuse of human rights, and has blocked any condemnation of the regime by the UN.”