They charge that the predominantly Shiite opposition is inspired and even aided by Iran, although most Bahraini Shiites are Arabs, unlike Iranians, and associate themselves more closely with Iraqi Shiites.
Bahrain’s Rulers Tighten Their Grip on Battered Oppositionhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/
SAAR, Bahrain — Thousands of weeping mourners filled the streets of this dusty village on Wednesday, pumping their fists and calling for the death of the royal family.
The protesters did not seem intimidated by the presence of police cars and an army helicopter overhead. “We only bow to God,” they chanted as they carried a coffin draped in Bahraini flags.
The funeral march was for Sayed Hameed Sayed Mahfood, a 60-year-old plumber, who was found dead in a garbage bag, 100 feet away from his car.
Doctors said that there was no sign of trauma and that it appeared that he had died of a heart attack, but no one here believed them. Only the week before, a 15-year-old boy in the village was bludgeoned to death by the police, several villagers said, for doing nothing more than running away from them.
With Saudi troops now in the country to support King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Bahrain has taken on the likeness of a police state. There have been mass arrests, mass firings of government workers, reports of torture and, on Sunday, the forced resignation of the top editor of the nation’s one independent newspaper.
Emergency laws give the security forces the right to search houses at will without a warrant and dissolve any organization, including legal political parties, deemed a danger to the state. Even two members of the national soccer team were arrested this week, despite apologizing on television for attending antigovernment rallies last month.
In response, a once joyous but splintered opposition has been forced to come up with new strategies. The intensity of the repression is pushing some toward militancy, while others are holding back, at least for now.
“People are in shock because of the intensity of the crackdown,” said Aqeelah Wahab, the daughter of Abdul Wahab Hussein, the leader of a militant Shiite party, Al Wafa, who was pulled out of his home and imprisoned last month. She is an activist herself. “With this government, you don’t know what they will do. The people are taking a break to see what the government will do with the prisoners.”
There have been signs of wavering. Protest leaders who have not been imprisoned keep their followers informed by Facebook and Twitter, but some recent calls to action have received little response. The 10 Shiite members who protested by quitting the appointed Advisory Council, the upper house of Parliament, have returned to their desks in recent days, as have several Shiite judges who had stepped down.
Only last month, euphoric crowds appeared on the verge of shaking serious concessions from the monarchy. Thousands filled Pearl Square in Manama, the capital, to listen to a cacophony of speeches calling for freedom.
But ever since troops cleared the square in a cloud of tear gas and bullets three weeks ago and then bulldozed the Pearl monument, the area around it has been empty of everything but tanks and armored cars.
The protesters were inspired by the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, but their struggle and challenges were different. They are predominantly Shiites, who make up 70 percent of the population, in a country whose monarchy and much of the business elite are Sunnis. While their struggle is tinged by ethnic animosity, their chief opponents in the streets are an army and security force who are predominantly foreigners, principally Pakistani, Yemeni, Iraqi and Jordanian.
The demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people last month have given way to small marches and protests at funerals. The centers of rebellion are now in villages outside Manama like Saar and Shahrakkan, where residents have set up barricades of stones and bricks so police officers on patrol need to leave their armored cars and walk through the narrow stone pathways. Every night at 10, residents climb to their roofs and anonymously cry in protest, “God is great!”
“The people will not give up,” said Jawad F. G. Fairooz, a leader of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, a moderate Shiite party, who resigned in protest last month from the elected Council of Representatives. “The government can keep people silent for a time, but they cannot guarantee that another uprising will not come at any moment.”
The government and pro-government media are celebrating the relative calm in downtown Manama as a return to the kind of normality that has made this tiny island nation an important banking center and regional tourist destination. They charge that the predominantly Shiite opposition is inspired and even aided by Iran, although most Bahraini Shiites are Arabs, unlike Iranians, and associate themselves more closely with Iraqi Shiites.
The Bahraini government had originally appeared willing to compromise with the opposition, particularly the more moderate faction that wants the country to evolve into a true parliamentary monarchy that gives elected lawmakers more power. At one point last month the king even apologized for the deaths of demonstrators on television, and government officials say they are still open to reform.
“Reform is continuing and will never stop,” the prime minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, was quoted in the Bahraini media as telling members of the royal family on Monday. “The determination to carry on with it will never diminish, for it is a means to achieve a sublime goal, which is the national interest.”
Despite the calls for reform, by the accounts of Bahraini human rights activists, 26 people have been killed, most in the past three weeks since Pearl Square was cleared. More than 300 have been imprisoned, and at least 35 people are missing.
Two political prisoners who were released have said that many detainees have been tortured with electric shocks, beatings and sexual abuse, said Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. As many as 800 workers have been fired from the government and companies partly owned by the government, apparently on the suspicion that they had attended the rallies, said the lawmakers who resigned in protest. And scores of university students have lost government-sponsored scholarships.
“They are leaving no oppressive stone unturned,” said Dan Williams, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch who is in Bahrain. “They enter the homes of people already detained and ransack their homes; they are keeping people in detention with limited access to their lawyers and families.”
The Obama administration, which considers Bahrain a crucial ally, has issued tempered criticisms of the crackdown but has not pressed for a change in government. Bahrain hosts the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and its Sunni monarchy is strongly backed by Saudi Arabia.
As the mourners in Saar marched in their village, they called for the death of the Saudi and Bahraini royal families.
Members of the dead man’s family insisted that he had never been involved in politics, unlike many others in the village. “Maybe they killed him because he is Shiite, no other reason,” said his cousin Mohammed Saeed.
Whatever the man’s politics, he was hailed as a martyr of the cause. Members of the crowd called out for revenge.“Whether you participate or not, this is what happens,” Mr. Saeed said. “Now, we have to fight for our rights.”