2010 saw the birth of one of the most transformative chain of events in Arab history. From Tunisia to Syria, virtually every country in the Near East saw widespread protest, and revolts against authoritarian regimes. Despite being a small island nation, Bahrain was not immune to the coming wave that was the Arab Spring. However, unlike the successes in Tunisia and Egypt that inspired Bahraini citizens to take to the streets and occupy the Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama, the Bahraini government, led by the House of Khalifa, brutally quashed the revolt. Over the coming months in 2011, in a bid to preserve his family’s seat of power, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa used violence to intimidate, silence, arrest and kill his own subjects. While Bahrain still bears the scars of this period of unrest, King Al Khalifa’s swift, systematic retaliation against protesters ended their stand, and destroyed any attempts towards democratic reform for the small island nation.
After witnessing successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, many Bahraini citizens became emboldened and starting demanding governmental and constitutional reform in their own country. Among these demands were a new, democratically-elected Parliament, and a new constitution (McEvers). Bahrain is a small island nation comprised mostly of Shia Muslims, and is ruled by a Sunni-minority family (The World Factbook: BAHRAIN). Many of the minority-Shia citizens felt oppressed, and when demonstrations began, government forces opened fire on the protesters, killing many. Following this event, tens of thousands of protesters occupied the Pearl Roundabout, one of the most prominent landmarks in all of Bahrain, centered in the capital, Manama (Andoni). State TV news sources quickly labeled the protesters at the Pearl Roundabout as “traitors and agents of Iran”, and used both internal security forces, and security forces from neighboring Gulf kingdoms, including Saudi Arabia, to crush the revolt (McEvers). Security forces were successful in their crackdown, breaking up the entrenched protestors, and driving them out of the Pearl Roundabout. To prevent the monument at the center of the Pearl Roundabout becoming a symbol of protest against the Al-Khalifa family, they had it destroyed, and with it, any hopes of reform for the small Gulf nation.
Despite their attempt at revolution, and to have the right to elect their own leaders, the Bahraini uprisings never again reached the level of intensity that was seen in 2011. The government’s organized, methodical, ruthless approach, combined with support from their Arab allies and the United States helped to dissolve any illusions of successfully implementing any governmental reforms. As Kelly McEvers of NPR states, “…Bahrain differs from the other Arab uprisings. In Bahrain, the wall of fear hasn’t been broken. People realize they have a lot to lose.” Knowing that the government is willing, and capable of committing torture, abuse, and even murder of its own citizens, combined with little foreign support for protests has, for all intents and purposes, eliminated any prospects of further mass uprisings. Perhaps one of the biggest blows to Bahraini hopes came from President Barrack Obama at his 2011 speech to the United Nations. As Max Fisher of The Atlantic states, President Obama simultaneously gave his support for “popular uprisings in Libya, Syria, Côte d’Ivoire, and even Yemen”, while giving tacit support for the Al-Khalifa government, and only urged for peaceful dialogue between the government and the country’s main opposition bloc (Fisher). Qhelile Nyathi of TIME Magazine reports that tensions in Bahrain remain high to this day. In 2013, two years after the failed revolution, Nyathi quotes Amnesty International figures, stating that “over 1,200 people including protesters, social0media activists and ordinary citizens suspected of dissident activities” have been arrested.
· McEvers, Kelly, “Bahrain: The Revolution That Wasn’t.” NPR, 5 Jan. 2012
· Nyathi, Qhelile, “Away From Egypt, Bahrain’s Own Arab Spring Uprising Heats Up Again.” Time, 14 Aug. 2013
· “The World Factbook: Bahrain.” Central Intelligence Agency, 27 Oct 2016
Student Author(s): Peter Fonda – I am a
Computer Networking & Cybersecurity student at Champlain College
Faculty Evaluator(s): Dr. Rob Williams (CORE Division; Champlain College)