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After bloodbath in Bahrain, protesters return, take over square

Published Feb 26, 2011 10:30 AM

Manama, Bahrain, Feb. 20.

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain swarmed back into a symbolic square on Feb. 19, putting riot police to flight in a striking victory for their cause.

Crowds approached Pearl Square in Manama from different directions, creating a standoff with riot police who had moved in earlier to replace troops withdrawn on royal orders.

Suddenly police raced to their buses and drove away, rolling over curbs in their haste to get away.

The protesters, cheering and waving national flags, ran to the center of the traffic circle, reoccupying it even before all the police had left. The crowd waved fleeing policemen through.

“We don’t fear death any more, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of brutes they are,” said Umm Mohammed, a teacher wearing a black cloak. (Reuters, Feb. 19)

“I am happy we are back; I told you we would be back,” 23-year-old Ibrahim told a Reuters reporter in the square from which protesters were driven in a deadly police raid on Feb. 17 and the army occupied with threats of strict measures to enforce security.

“To consider dialogue, the government must resign and the army should withdraw from the streets,” added parliamentary leader Abdel Jalil Khalil Ibrahim.

The crowds in Pearl Square soon swelled into the tens of thousands, celebrating a triumph for the protesters who had taken to the streets on Feb. 14, inspired by popular revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s main labor union had called an indefinite strike beginning Sunday, Feb. 20 to protest police violence and demand the right to demonstrate peacefully.

“The general union calls upon the workers of Bahrain to a general strike starting Sunday, unless the army is pulled out from the streets and peaceful demonstrations are permitted without any attacks from security forces,” it said. (SkyNews.com) Seven people have died so far, according to the opposition and families. The U.S. supplies the weapons and ammunition to the Bahraini Army.

The union rescinded its call after the army withdrew and demonstrations were allowed to continue without the police. A call was issued for a mass demonstration on Feb. 22.

The authorities had been determined to prevent protesters from turning Pearl Square into a base like Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of a revolt that ousted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. On Feb. 17, unarmed people, including women and children, were clubbed, gassed and shot at close range with live ammunition, leaving the streets littered with the bodies of the dead and wounded and overwhelming nearby hospitals.

An uprising of poor & oppressed people

A former British colony and the current home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has been touted by big business in the United States and Europe as a model of economic and social development in the Mideast. Rich in oil, the island nation of nearly 1 million people is the home of many multinational corporations. Bourgeois economists have pointed to a rapidly growing economy and increasing per capita income. But these statistics cover up a much grimmer reality for the masses of workers and poor.

Most of the mainstream media coverage has tried to focus on sectarian Sunni/Shia differences as a cause of the uprising. The Bahraini government, which despite pretenses is still an archaic absolute monarchy, has tried to use these differences as a justification for its murderous crackdown. But while there is rampant discrimination against the Shia majority by the Sunni al-Khalifa family, which has ruled since 1782, other forces are at work.

In 2004 the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, quoting official statistics, stated that over half of Bahraini citizens are suffering from poverty and poor living standards. Most of the wealth flowing into the country goes to 5,200 individuals whose average wealth is $4.2 million.

Sixty percent of the workers are low-wage foreign workers who are not citizens. There is no minimum wage. (2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. Dept. of State)

Beginning in 2007, and continuing through the world economic crisis to the present, the Bahraini government has carried on a systematic campaign of arbitrary arrests, torture, discrimination and repression. Through it all the U.S. maintained a public posture of praising the “progressive” nature of the Bahraini regime — until the U.S. was exposed by the current uprising.

The Bahraini revolution, like others in the Middle East and around the world, needs and deserves solidarity.