Thousands of demonstrators came to support the friends and family of Mahmood Makki Abotakki on Feb. 18. Mahmood was shot and killed during the Pearl Roundabout uprising when police stormed the square at 3 a.m. Photo: Lucas Oleniuk
Mohammed Khalil sits on a curb, his back to the towering monument in the middle of Pearl Roundabout, and takes a long drag on a Marlboro cigarette.
The 22-year-old Bahraini was among the first throng of protesters to rush back into the landmark square on Feb. 19 after riot police retreated. But he hasn’t been able to sleep well since.
“I keep worrying: What happens now?” he said softly.
Two days before the square was reclaimed, a pre-dawn assault by police killed four protesters, their bodies peppered with shotgun pellets.
After criticism from the international community, including its U.S. allies, the crown prince of Bahrain’s Al-Khalifa royal family ordered police and tanks to withdraw from city streets and announced demonstrators would be free to protest. The prince also said he would talk with opposition groups to restore calm in this tiny Gulf kingdom.
But opposition politicians and blocs have struggled for days to coordinate a response to the government’s call for discussions, revealing fissures in the protesters’ ranks. Now that it’s time to make their demands, they have to decide exactly what it is they want.
“We have people who want many things, different things. I’m very scared some people will be here, and here and here and there,” Khalil said, moving his hands in the air, left to right, along some invisible spectrum.
The protesters do have core demands, articulated in a press release by seven main opposition parties, calling for the dissolution of the current government, a constitutional monarchy and democratic reform that will end the nepotism that has seen the prime minister and his cabinet, many of whom are members of the Sunni ruling family, handpicked by the king. They want solutions to unemployment and housing shortages, problems that plague the country’s Shiite majority.
But many of the youth are at the extreme end of the spectrum described by Khalil. They want to oust the monarchy itself. With each demonstrator killed — there have been seven deaths since protests began on Valentine’s Day — the discontent among the youth intensifies, as do their demands. They no longer just shout slogans for the prime minister to resign. They yell, “Death to Al-Khalifa.”
“The strongest card in the hands of the opposition are the youth who are willing to give their lives (for change),” said Ebrahim Sharif, the middle-aged secretary general of the secular-leftist Waad party. “They have to be represented so they don’t feel the revolution has been hijacked by my generation.”
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