MANAMA, Bahrian – Angered by a security forces raid on the home of Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassim, hundreds of Bahraini Shi’ite Muslims participated in a sit-in protest against their Sunni-led government on May 24th. Sheikh Qassim, the most senior Shia cleric in the Gulf state, was not present in his home at the time of the raid. Security forces seized documents but made no arrests.
Shias make up the majority population in Bahrain, but most of the money and power is controlled by the Sunnis and the Sunni Royal Family. Tensions and discrimination from this religious sectarianism have long been escalating. Lack of accountability has been regarded as the biggest problem for increasing tensions by Bahrain’s allies.
In February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered in the Capital Manama but were later cleared out by the police force. Those mostly affected by the police brutality were Shia Bahrainis where more than fifty people died, hundreds were jailed, and thousands lost their jobs.
Over the past two years, Bahrain has experienced numerous democracy protests in a battle for influence between Shia power Iran and Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia. Many mass protests have been abolished, but smaller demonstrations continue where the Bahraini Shia majority wants the Sunni rules to raise elections and create a constitutional monarchy.
Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition political society, organized the May 24th sit-in protesting the raid on Sheikh Qassim’s home and announced that it would withdraw from reconcilliation talks with the Bahraini government. Jasim Husain, a senior al-Wefaq member, stated that the raid “deeply offended” the Shia community. The government’s promises to reform the human rights violations and police brutality against protestors have failed, claimed al-Wefaq.
The sit-in was held in Diraz near Sheikh Qassim’s mosque. Protestors waved Bahraini flags and held up images of Sheikh Qassim. The protest was authorized by the government and the police did not attempt to stop protesters from entering the town. However, one witness recounted that violence went on for more than an hour. Protestors threw stones at riot police who then responded with tear gas and water cannons.
Three Sunni political societies issued a statement denouncing a meeting Sheikh Qassim had with Rashad Hussain, a senior U.S. state department official. These societies have claimed that the Sheikh is responsible for the ongoing unrest in Bahrain and that this meeting was evidence that the position of the American government is “increasingly exposed in its support for terrorist operations in Bahrain.”
Bahraini Shias claim that the Sheikh’s meeting with Rashad Hussain was the driving force behind the raid on his home. The police rejected notions of the raid on the Sheikh’s home being targeted and claimed that it occurred during a security operation in the same neighborhood.
For further information, please see:
Aljazeera – Bahraini protesters clash with police – 25 May 2013
Reuters – Bahraini protesters clash with police over raid on cleric’s home – 25 May 2013
BBC – Raid on Bahrain cleric’s home draws thousands to sit-in – 24 May 2013
BBC – Bahrain tensions a trigger for Gulf turmoil – 13 December 2013