By Whitney Jones
Sparked by the successful demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Bahrain began calling for a constitutional monarchy Feb. 16, but unlike the former protests they have faced major acts of violence from their government.
Police shot rubber bullets and cans of tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, which caused several deaths.
The police fired at protesters during the night while they were sleeping in Manama’s Pearl Square, and while they marched toward the square mourning the deaths of the previous day’s martyrs.
Greg Perreault, program coordinator of the Washington (D.C.) Journalism Center and scholar in Pan-Arab media, said that like the Egyptian demonstrations the people of Bahrain used social media to make their voices heard.
The people’s desire for the ousting of the current government in Bahrain stems partly from a deep religious divide that exists between the people and their rulers.
The members of the ruling family are Sunni Muslims, but the majority of the nation’s people are Shiites.
The small island’s current leader, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, is part of the Khalifa family, which has ruled the land for more than 200 years.
According to a White House statement from Feb. 19, the United States reiterated that the Bahraini government must respect its people and listen to their concerns.
According to the statement, “As a long-standing partner of Bahrain, the United States believes that the stability of Bahrain depends upon respect for the universal rights of the people of Bahrain, and a process of meaningful reform that is responsive to the aspirations of all Bahrainis.”
King Hamad tried to satisfy the Shiite protesters by releasing some political prisoners, and the Crown Prince Sheik Salman bin Hama al-Khalifa has called for a national dialogue in an attempt to build bridges between the two religious groups. However, no substantive dialogue has been heard yet in Bahrain.
Although Bahrain is quieting down in the wake of more devastating protests in Libya, the cries of both countries’ people show they are tired of oppressive regimes.
“There’s a new spirit in the air in the Middle East,” Perreault said. “The spirit is one of creating something new.”
President Barack Obama addressed the violence that has occurred not only in Bahrain but also in Libya and Yemen.
“The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur,” he said in a Feb. 18 statement.