Bahrain: forgotten member of the Arab Spring
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In 2011, Bahrain saw mass protests and an uprising that threatened to topple its oppressive monarchy - as did the many other nations witnessing an 'Arab Spring'. Back in the present day, the government survives - its human rights record shady as ever - and the protesters are still fighting. Prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was recently sentenced to three years in prison for participating in illegal gatherings, reigniting fears about the Bahraini government’s supposed commitment to reform. Protests in Bahrain have been ongoing for eighteen months. The unrest that began in 2011 made headlines because the country is a former British protectorate and remains a key US ally in the Middle East against countries like Iran. The country has been ruled by the Khalifa family since 1783, only becoming independent thirty years ago. Since then it has been relatively stable and prosperous, benefitting from vast oil reserves within its borders. In February of last year though, protesters exploded in anger at what they deem a lack of political freedom, widespread poverty, and employment discrimination favouring the ruling Sunni minority. Bahrain consists mostly of Shia Muslims, like its neighbour Iran; Bahrain’s King, Hamad bin al-Khalifa, has said these protests are being orchestrated by Iran’s leaders. Pro-democracy opposition to Khalifa rule initially centred on wide-ranging reforms, rather than regime change as in other Gulf states during last year’s Arab Spring. Nevertheless, the government response was forceful. A state of emergency was declared and government troops brutally clamped down on opposition in an effort described by the UN as “shocking”, as the ruling family feared a coup. Protesters faced tear gas and rubber bullets, leading many formerly peaceful activists to push for an overthrow of the monarchy.
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