Bahrain’s interior minister has vowed to extinguish what he termed the “fire of terrorism” as protests by Shiite Muslims in the Gulf state went on for a second week.
Acts of sabotage, including an Aug. 20 attack on power facilities that caused a blackout, will be stamped out, Al Ayyam yesterday quoted Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa as saying. The newspaper is controlled by the king’s media adviser. Since the disturbances started, youths from the majority Shiite community have been rioting and burning tires daily.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has faced riots since authorities rounded up dozens of Shiite opposition activists in a series of arrests that began Aug. 13. Shiites complain of discrimination by Sunnis, who make up 30 percent of Bahrain’s citizens. Forty protesters have been injured, said Nabeel Rajab, head of the independent Bahrain Human Rights Center.
The country’s rulers are attempting to shore up control ahead of parliamentary elections on October 23, said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “The elites don’t want any change,” he said.
The island kingdom is a close ally of neighboring Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter and a regional rival of Shiite-ruled Iran. Many among Bahrain’s poor, mostly Shiite communities retain family and cultural ties to Iran.
Like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies, Bahrain is ruled by Sunni Muslim royals. The lower chamber of parliament, which has been elected since 2002 by order of the monarch, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has limited authority and is dominated by Sunnis.
Bahrain’s sovereign credit ratings were lowered on Aug. 23 by Moody’s Investors Service, which said the smallest Gulf oil producer needed higher crude prices to balance its budget. Moody’s also pointed to “domestic political tensions, which may rise in the run-up to parliamentary elections,” as well as “elevated regional geopolitical risk,” as factors weighing against the Bahraini credit rating.
The official Bahrain News Agency on Aug. 21 quoted an unnamed security official as saying that those arrested had been planning to carry out acts of terrorism and violence with a view to spreading chaos and disrupting national security. Major- General Abdul Latif Rashed al-Zayani, Bahrain’s chief of public security, couldn’t be reached on his cell phone.
Sheikh Ali Salman, who heads the Shiite bloc in parliament, al-Wifaq, warned Aug. 21 that the clampdown had set back sectarian relations by a decade. A previous wave of protests took place in 2009 after similar arrests. More than 30 people died and 1,000 were arrested in violence between 1994 and 1999 and many were held in prison without trial.
“The way the ongoing security campaign has been handled and the rights violations that accompanied it has in one week destroyed 10 years of progress in this country,” the Associated Press quoted Salman as saying.
More than 60 people have been taken into custody over the past 10 days and remain in undisclosed locations without access to their families or lawyers, said attorney Mohammad al-Tajer, who represents around a dozen of the detainees. These include Abduljalil al-Singace, the head of the human rights section of the opposition Haq movement, who was arrested on July 13 as he flew back to Bahrain from London.
London-based Amnesty International criticized the arrests in an Aug. 18 statement that said the activists may be “prisoners of conscience.”