Shi’ites form a majority in Bahrain, but Sunnis rule the country. Bahrain has been a reliable U.S. ally under Sunni rule, but a Shi’ite regime would tilt it definitively toward Iran. “Riot police storm Bahrain camp; 4 reported dead,” from ZeeNews, February 17:
Manama: Armed patrols prowled neighbourhoods and tanks appeared in the streets for the first time on Thursday after riot police with tear gas and clubs drove protesters from a main square where they had demanded sweeping political change in this tiny kingdom. Medical officials said four people were killed.
Police cars with flashing blue lights encircled Pearl Square, the site of anti-government rallies since Monday. Barbed wire was set up on streets leading to the square, where police cleaned up flattened protest tents and trampled banners. The Interior Ministry declared the protest camp “illegal” and warned Bahrainis to stay off the streets….
The protesters’ demands have two main objectives: force the ruling Sunni monarchy to give up its control over top government posts and all critical decisions, and address deep grievances held by the country’s majority Shi’ites who claim they face systematic discrimination and are effectively blocked from key roles in public service and the military.
Tiny Bahrain also is a pillar of Washington’s military framework in the region. It hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is a critical counterbalance to Iran’s efforts to expand its clout in the region.
Any prolonged crisis opens the door for a potential flashpoint between Iran and its Arab rivals in the Gulf. Bahrain’s ruling Sunni dynasty is closely allied to Saudi Arabia and the other Arab regimes in the Gulf. But Shi’ite hard-liners in Iran have often expressed kinship and support for Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority, which accounts for 70 percent of the island’s 500,000 citizens….
Demonstrators began camping out on Tuesday on the square beneath the 300-foot (90-meter) monument featuring a giant pearl, making it the nerve centre of the first anti-government protests to reach the Arab Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
The police assault came early Thursday with little warning. Mahmoud Mansouri, a protester, said police surrounded the camp and then quickly moved in.
“We yelled, ‘We are peaceful! Peaceful!’ The women and children were attacked just like the rest of us,” he said. “They moved in as soon as the media left us. They knew what they’re doing.”…
He said the police beating him spoke Urdu, the main language of Pakistan. A pillar of the protest demands is to end the Sunni regime’s practice of giving citizenship to other Sunnis from around the region to try to offset the demographic strength of Shi’ites. Many of the new Bahrainis are given security posts.