Small protests mark 10th anniversary of Bahrain uprising

The number of demonstrators was limited compared with previous years due to heavy police presence and COVID restrictions.

An anti-government protester gestures in front of police as demonstrators reoccupy Pearl roundabout on February 19, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain [File: John Moore/Getty Images]

Small and sporadic demonstrations took place in Bahrain on Sunday amid a hefty police presence, marking 10 years since the Gulf nation’s Arab Spring-inspired uprising.

On February 14, 2011, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand an elected government and other reforms, briefly threatening the monarchy’s grip on power, before a deadly crackdown.

The protests were attended mostly by the country’s majority-Shia residents who have long accused the Al Khalifa monarchy of political persecution.

However, the movement was crushed weeks later after the ruling family brought troops from neighbouring Gulf states. The iconic Pearl Roundabout monument – the epicentre of the protests – was demolished.

Commemorating those events, activists on Sunday posted pictures of small-scale demonstrations on their social media accounts from the outskirts of the capital Manama.

Some waved Bahraini flags, while others held aloft banners against the Al Khalifa family.

Marches had been organised from Saturday evening in Shia-majority neighbourhoods near Manama as well as in the north and west of the country.

But the number of demonstrators was limited compared with previous years due to tight security as well as strict measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Social media users circulated the hashtag in Arabic “Perseverance until victory” and shared photos of protests from villages including al-Shakhoura and al-Diyya. The images posted online showed a tight police presence in the capital and at other Shia villages.

Translation: Bahrainis march in rallies marking the 10th anniversary since the start of the February 14 revolution in Abu Saiba and Shakhoura villages.

Maryam Alkhawaja, a Bahraini activist, told Al Jazeera that the tiny Gulf kingdom holds a lot of significance to regional and international countries.

“Because of Bahrain’s geopolitical importance being [located] between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and hosting the [US Navy] Fifth Fleet and now also [hosting] a base for the United Kingdom, there are a lot of interests that are based in Bahrain,” she said.

“When we took to the streets in 2011 we knew that we weren’t just up against the Bahraini government, but rather the six GCC countries plus their allies – the United Kingdom and the United States.”

The 2011 uprising, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, ended in a bloody crackdown with the help of Saudi and Emirati forces.

Dozens are believed to have been killed in the unrest, although the exact toll remains unclear.

The government denounced the protest movement as a plot by regional Shia power Iran.

It banned opposition parties, put civilians in front of military courts and jailed dozens of peaceful political opponents, triggering substantial international criticism.

“Ten years after Bahrain’s popular uprising, systemic injustice has intensified and political repression … has effectively shut any space for … freedom of expression,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Ibrahim Fraihat, a professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, said there are three reasons why Bahrain’s uprising was cracked down upon.

“One is that the revolution was crushed in its early days by Operation Peninsula Shield [the GCC’s military arm] sent by Saudi Arabia,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Second is that Bahrain is linked to a regional conflict with Iran and Saudi Arabia. So for that reason, Bahrain protesters did not receive any support from outside. And the third reason seems to be that royal political systems seem to be more resilient and stronger in facing protests compared to republican political systems.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies