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Bahrain square new centre for Arab anger

Thousands of protesters took over a main square in Bahrain’s capital Tuesday — carting in tents and raising banners — in a bold attempt to copy Egypt’s uprising and force high-level changes in one of Washington’s key allies in the Gulf.

world Updated: Feb 16, 2011 23:53 IST

Thousands of protesters took over a main square in Bahrain’s capital Tuesday — carting in tents and raising banners — in a bold attempt to copy Egypt’s uprising and force high-level changes in one of Washington’s key allies in the Gulf.

The move by demonstrators capped two days of clashes across the tiny island kingdom that left at least two people dead, parliament in limbo by an opposition boycott and the king making a rare address on national television to offer condolences for the bloodshed.

Security forces — apparently under orders to hold back — watched from the sidelines as protesters chanted slogans mocking the nation’s ruling sheiks and called for sweeping political reforms and an end to monarchy’s grip on key decisions and government posts.

The recent political mutinies in the Arab world show the wide reach of the calls for change spurred by the toppling of old-guard regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Jordan, hundreds of Bedouin tribesmen blocked roads to demand the government return lands they once owned. Saudi activists are seeking to form a political party in a rare challenge to the near-absolute power of the pro-Western monarchy.

Yemen is another region facing anti-government protests. But Yemen’s grinding poverty and tribal complexities also stand in contrast to the relative wealth and Western-style malls and coffee shops in Bahrain’s capital of Manama.

But many in Bahrain still boiled down their discontent to a cry for economic justice as well — saying the Sunni rulers control the privileges and opportunities and the Shiite majority struggles with what’s left over and are effectively blackballed from important state jobs.

Protesters quickly renamed it “Nation’s Square” and erected banners such as “Peaceful” that were prominent in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Many waved Bahraini flags and chanted: “No Sunnis, no Shiites. We are all Bahrainis.”

Someone used stones to spell out the message in Arabic: “The real criminals are the royal family.”