This latest turn of events comes two years after the Bahraini monarchy crushed protests with the help of Saudi Arabian troops.
Two years after the start of pro-democracy demonstrations, citizens in Bahrain took to the streets en masse to mark the anniversary of the failed Pearl Revolution protests that swept the nation. Organizers from the newly formed Tamarod — “rebellion” — movement called upon the U.S. to cut ties with the Al-Khalifa monarchy and remove its naval fleet.
For years, Washington has lent military and diplomatic support to the Bahraini government despite reports of widespread human rights violations and crackdowns on free speech. In response to the announcement, the U.S. embassy in Manama was closed Wednesday in anticipation of protests.
“Opposition groups have called for demonstrations and protests in the vicinity of the US Embassy on this date,” said a U.S. Embassy advisory. As a precautionary measure, the U.S. Embassy was closed August 14.
The ruling monarchy issued a warning that participants could face extended prison sentences and loss of citizenship in what the government considers illegal demonstrations.
The Guardian newspaper reports that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa issued the warning amid intensifying security measures including arrests and raids on 100 homes.
“The government will forcefully confront suspect calls to violate law and order and those who stand behind them through decisive measures,” Khalifa said to the Bahrain news agency.
Although Bahraini troops were already deployed Wednesday, protesters began rallies with chants of “Rebellion! Rebellion!” according to one Associated Press report.
Maryam al-Khawaja, of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said that more than 100 homes in the Manama area had experienced nighttime raids recently “to spread terror.”
“They are closing off entire residential areas so they can control who comes in or out,” Khawaja said. “The regime is preparing for a very violent crackdown.” Villages had been “caged in with barbed wire.”
During the peak of protests in February 2011, at least 100,000 citizens took to the streets in a country with a native population of just 550,000. The majority of Shi’a population has been ruled by a minority Sunni monarchy dating back at least 229 years.
The ensuing crackdown by the monarchy led to the deaths of roughly 80 protesters and the arrests of key opposition leaders.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is in the midst of serving a three year prison sentence for organizing and participating in what the government calls “illegal demonstrations.”
Bahrain enjoys broad military support from the U.S., providing $11.2 million in annual foreign assistance to the government. The U.S. Navy also has its 5th Fleet stationed in Bahrain, a major base used by Washington to keep tabs on the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
Bahrain’s Tamarod movement has called upon the U.S. and the U.K. to suspend support for a government it sees as suppressing the political rights of the country’s Shi’a majority.
Among neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia has also provided ample support for Bahrain’s monarchy by sending 1,000 troops to militarily intervene and help crush the mostly peaceful, pro-democracy rallies in 2011.