- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2011

Seizing momentum from popular revolt in Egypt and Tunisia and Arab uprisings elsewhere, opposition activists in Bahrain staged their own “Day of Rage” on Monday as thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand greater political reform.

Security forces in the Persian Gulf island nation, home to the U.S. Navy’s fifth fleet, fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. A 27-year-old male demonstrator was rushed to the hospital, with witnesses claiming that he was killed by live ammunition.

In an official statement, the Bahraini interior minister “extended sincere condolences to the family” of the dead protester and “ordered a probe into the incident,” saying that “the party involved in the incident will be referred to the Criminal Court should the investigation reveal that the use of the weapon was legally unjustified.”

The day of protests comes roughly 10 years to the day after Bahrainis overwhelmingly approved the National Action Charter, an agenda of political reform introduced by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

The king has used the occasion to order the payment payment of 1,000 dinar — roughly $2,700 — to every Bahraini family. The move by the Sunni-dominated government, however, is unlikely to appease the country’s Shiite majority — nearly seventy percent of Bahrainis — which has long demanded a greater voice in Bahraini affairs.

Abdul-Jalil Khalil, head of the Shiite-dominated Wefaq bloc in parliamant, told The Washington Times that “nobody wants to overthrow the king or the government.”

“This is not Egypt,” he said. “Our demands are different. Everybody is just asking for political reform.”

Wefaq won a plurarality in Bahrain’s October 2010 elections, earning 18 of 40 seats in the Council of Representatives. But its power is balanced out by a coequal legislative chamber, the Shura Council, whose members are — like the cabinet — appointed by the king, which opposition leaders say violates the intent of the National Action Charter.

Mr. Khalil met with the king on Saturday as part of delegation of members from both chambers.

The king was talking about the National Charter era, and his views on the progress of reform,” one of the other participants, first vice-chairman Khalil Al-Marzooq, told The Washington Times. “He said, ‘we started reform prior to anyone in this region and we have reached a good level of democracy.’”

Messrs. Khalil and al-Marzooq, however, said that the government can go further, investing the Representative Council with full legislative authority, giving the people or the parliament the power to elect government officials, and releasing all “political prisoners.”

Hundreds of opposition activists were arrested in August and September after an upsurge in street riots from Shiite youths — an anti-government struggle that has been going on for years.

Bahrain isn’t a newcomer to all this,” said Toby Jones, a Rutgers University professor of Middle East history who served as a Bahrain-based consultant for the International Crisis Group from 2003 to 2006. “Bahrainis have been struggling to both find a political voice and to achieve some pretty concrete political objectives. I think the reason it’s significant now is that [the opposition] is trying to capitalize on what they have identified as a regional moment.”

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