After hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Bahrain and fought with security services to mark the third anniversary of the Arab spring-inspired uprising this month, there still appears to be no sign of resolving the difference between opposing sides in the tiny Middle East kingdom.
The build-up to the anniversary saw many roads to Shi’ite villages blocked by makeshift barricades, in a bid to protect civilians from the possibility of attack by the many government deployed security forces. Protesters threw stones at the police who retaliated with tear gas rounds and small shots, injuring some of the demonstrators.
Although there were no fatalities in the clashes, Amnesty International had voiced fears that the anniversary demonstrations might provoke a brutal response from the police. The human rights group has long condemned Bahrain's leaders for their "relentless repression" of dissent and violent dispersion tactics.
Fresh in the mind of Bahrainis is the violent night-time raid on the Pearl Roundabout protest camp in 2011, a day remembered as ‘Bloody Thursday’. In the same week, security forces opened fire on a peaceful protest, killing a number of unarmed demonstrators.
The unrest in Bahrain stems from the dissatisfaction of the Shi’ite majority, who are demanding democratic reform in the Sunni-led Gulf Kingdom. Shi’ites claim that they have been on the receiving end of discrimination for many years, regarding jobs, housing and other benefits, while the government vehemently denies the marginalisation of the muslim majority sect.
The King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, has continued to infuriate civilians with the introduction of laws, including a ban on demonstrations. Another law imposes jail sentences of up to seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500) on anyone who publicly insults the King. Shi’ite protesters argue that a constitutional monarchy is needed, in which Bahrain has a sovereign who ‘reigns but does not rule’, and where the ability to make and pass legislation would reside with an elected Parliament.
Three years after the initial uprising, Bahrain remains a scene of chronic political conflict, with no foreseeable end in sight. Street protests are a daily occurrence, but mainstream opposition leaders have failed to advance a political settlement that would grant Shi'ites more of an influence in government. The breakdown of dialogue between the government and opposition is unsurprising given the varying interests of both sides.
"Each of the country's three main political conflicts - opposition versus government, Sunnis versus Shi'ites and reformists versus obstructionists within the ruling family - continues unabated," said Justin Gengler, a Bahrain expert Bahrain at Qatar University in Doha.
Bahrain’s authorities have been castigated by a range of human rights groups and NGOs. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has urged Bahrain "to take immediate measures to restore the rule of law, to put an end to ongoing human rights violations and to comply with their reiterated pledges before the population of Bahrain and the international community". Figures released from the FIDH show that at least 89 people have been killed since the uprising began three years ago.
A substantial factor which contributes to the political stagnation in Bahrain, is the wealth of international support for the current rulers. While fellow conservative Gulf Arab states and the West have a vested interest in the stability of the Sunni monarchy, there can be little hope of progress for the opposition.