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Days of Arab Rage Spread to Bahrain

Bahraini Shi'ites, complaining of discrimination and economic privation, are demanding that their king follow Hosni Mubarak into history.
By David Lev
First Publish: 2/15/2011, 10:50 AM / Last Update: 2/15/2011, 12:39 PM

With Egypt's “Days of Wrath” having such a successful outcome, the spirit of revolt is spreading ever more quickly around the Middle East. This week, demonstrators in Algeria and Yemen, inspired by the departure of Hosni Mubarak, turned up the pressure, as did protestors in Iran, who faced off against Iranian police on Monday, with at least one person killed by police. And now, protests have reached the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, where long-standing tension between between Shi'ites and Sunnis and demands for more freedom came to the fore.

On Tuesday morning, Bahraini security forces shot and killed a protestor at the funeral procession of another person killed in protests the day before. As a result, Bahraini groups issued a Facebook call for a mass march at the upcoming funeral of Tuesday's victim, Fadhel Ali Almatrook.

On Monday, protestors marched in several villages outside Bahrain's capital, Manama, demanding that the regime be removed, as it was in Egypt. Among the demands of protesters, said the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was “the start of serious dialogue with civil society and opposition groups” by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on a laundry list of complaints. These include more access to jobs and benefits, and especially to equal rights for Bahrain's majority Shi'ite population, which has complained for years of being discriminated against by the country's Sunni ruling family. The group has also urged the government to release Shi'ites who have been imprisoned in previous protests.

Although it is a Gulf state, Bahrain does not have the resources of oil rich neighbors like Kuwait – and Bahrainis have been suffering from inflation and the world recession. As a result, Bahrain has one of the largest deficits of any Middle Eastern country, economists say. At the beginning of February, the king ordered an increase in food subsidies and social welfare funding, as well as payment of 1,000 Bahraini dinars ($2,653) to each family in the kingdom.

In an interview, Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said that “Bahrain, of any Gulf state, is the most susceptible because of the deep grievances of the majority Shiite population. The Shiite population is excluded from many types of government employment and municipal services in Shiite villages are below standards in other Sunni neighborhoods.”

Bahrain is a key U.S. ally; the Fifth U.S. Naval Fleet, responsible for American naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and coastal East Africa, is headquartered in Bahrain.