Saturday, March 26, 2005
People Power Bahrain
"Mass March Urges Reform in Bahrain," Reuters, 26 March 2005, http://xtramsn.co.nz/news/0,,11965-4230769,00.html (from Informed Comment).
The Shia Nova rolls on, this time in an important U.S. ally. A large Shia demonstration against the government of Bahrain gathered a crowd of 80,000, this in a country as populous as South Dakota.
Tens of thousands have marched in one of Bahrain's largest opposition demonstrations to demand democratic reforms in the pro-Western Gulf Arab state.
Bahrain is a small Kingdom in the Persian Gulf
Nearby are predominately Shia Iran, Iraq,
and Saudi-Occupied East Arabia
Friday's peaceful march, called by the Shi'ite-led opposition, follows unsuccessful talks with the government on constitutional reforms to give greater powers to parliament's elected assembly, which is on an equal footing with a state-appointed chamber.
Bahrain, the Gulf's banking hub and home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has introduced some reforms, but the opposition, led by the country's majority Shi'ite Muslims, want more rights in the small Sunni-ruled island state.
As ghastly as it is, I have to agree with Ur-Left blogger Juan Cole. This is great news. Cole gives some background, showing it to be basically a disagreement over the last election and its rules. And the rally leaders seem like good guys.
Shaikh Ali Salman, the clerical leader for the rally, addressed the crowd and demanded that parliament be permitted to legislate on its own account and that there be a genuine separation of powers.
Salman emphasized that the reform movement is peaceful and has the best interests of the nation at heart. He said it wants Bahrain to go ahead with hosting the Formula 1 race early in April, and will refrain from demonstrating during it.
My kind of Muslims!
Now, how will America respond? Bahrain is a stable state and a good ally, so we have to treat the government well. But no one can deny the rights of the people. Dr. Cole explains
The US has a naval base in Bahrain and its king has been a helpful ally. Will George W. Bush support Shaikh
Salman or King Hamad? Bush spoke out forcefully against the Syrian presence in Lebanon and in favor of Lebanese democracy. Will he speak out in favor of majority rule and popular sovereignty in Bahrain?
And if he doesn't, won't the rest of the Middle East assume he is just hypocritically hiding behind catch phrases like "democracy" to make trouble for the countries in the region like Syria and Iran, which Bush does not like, and which are seen as threats by his expansionist friends in Israel's Likud party?
I hope Bush uses this to further democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, and East Arabia. This may be very good news.
Update: Dawn's Early Light links to Publius's reaction. Publius, in turn, sends his users over to Chan'ad Bahraini's protest pictures. Sadly, no Bahrain protest babes.