40% Of All Bahrainis Join Latest Protest


In by far the largest protest yet to hit the Kingdom of Bahrain, upwards of nearly 200,000 mainly Shi’ite Bahrainis – nearly 40% of the entire country’s population – converged in Manama’s Pearl Square seeking dramatic political concessions from the ruling monarch. Security forces made no attempt to halt the marches.

Among the key demands of protesters are that King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa dissolve the government and agree to a transition to a true constitutional monarchy.

The al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, and the family dominates a cabinet led by the king’s uncle, who has been prime minister since independence in 1971.

Unlike previous protests organized by opposition groups, Friday’s demonstration was called by religious figures, including the most revered Shi’ite cleric in Bahrain, Sheikh Issa Qassem.

“We don’t want dialogue for the sake of dialogue,” Imam Isa Qassim, a senior Shiite cleric, told worshippers. “We want a meaningful, viable and sustainable process…We seek a fundamental change to the current political process based on legitimate demands.”

Over the course of the crisis, the government’s response has evolved. First the king unleashed his armed forces, who killed seven protesters and wounded dozens. Then, under international pressure, he withdrew the police and military from the capital, called for a national dialogue, released 300 political prisoners and pointed to the protests as evidence of his government’s tolerance.

But the government has continued to deny there is discrimination against Shi’ites in Bahrain – who make up about 70 percent of the population but are a minority in Bahrain’s 40-seat parliament because of an electoral process they say shuts them out – and the King has only slowly moved to meet protesters’ demands.

Late Friday, he fired three cabinet ministers, but not the prime minister – one of the opposition’s top demands. He also has not addressed the issue of democratic change.

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