Politics & Policy

Pearl Square Cleared; Bahrainian Opposition Leaders Arrested

The beginning of the end for the Shiite protesters in Bahrain?


A day after hundreds of Bahraini troops forcefully cleared out a central square of reform-seeking protesters, the authorities arrested major opposition figures early Thursday, the next stage of a crackdown that has the opposition in a tailspin.

State television said the leaders were arrested for having “communicated with foreign countries” and because they “incited killing of citizens and destruction of public and private property,” Reuters reported.

Hassan Mushaima, a Shiite and Islamist dissident politician, who arrived here last month from London to great fanfare as a potentially charismatic leader, was among those detained overnight, officials from his party said. In addition, Ebrahim Sharif, leader of a secular party, was taken in by the police, his associates said.

A number of other political opponents were also detained by security officials as it became clear that the Bahraini government, which sought last month to mollify protesters clamoring for democratic reform, had decisively shifted tactics to forceful repression.

“We feel cornered and are trying to find a way out,” said Jalal Fairooz, a leader of the Wefaq opposition party and one of 18 members of the Council of Representatives from the party who resigned en masse last month.

The streets remained littered with rubble and tanks held positions at intersections and outside the main hospital. Traffic was light and most shops remained shuttered although the government announced that the stock market had reopened.

These steps followed the military’s retaking of Pearl Square in central Manama, the capital, on Wednesday and the arrival on Monday of 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring allies. Popular protests here modeled on the hopeful events in Egypt took on the darkness of those in Libya on Wednesday as hundreds of Bahraini troops, backed by helicopters and tanks, cleared Pearl Square of demonstrators. Three protesters and two security officers were killed.

Security forces roared through downtown Manama, wresting it from the protesters who had in recent days taken charge of neighborhoods and nearby villages. As skirmishes continued into the evening, a curfew was announced for the center of the city.

…The crackdown placed the United States in an awkward bind. The United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet here, has struggled to balance its strategic interest in placating Bahrain and its ally, Saudi Arabia, its fears that Iran is exploiting the anger of Bahrain’s majority Shiite protesters, and American democratic principles. American officials have held off backing the protesters while urging Bahrain’s leaders to exercise restraint. That advice was ignored.

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