Bahrain’s king declared martial law on Tuesday as his government struggled to
quell an uprising by the island’s Shi’ite Muslim majority that has drawn in
troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbor Saudi Arabia.
state of emergency will hand wholesale power to Bahrain’s security forces, which
are dominated by the Sunni Muslim elite, stoking sectarian tensions in one of
the Gulf’s most politically volatile nations.
US urges restraint by Gulf nations in Bahrain
Saudis, UAE send troops to Bahrain to help quell protests
The US expressed concern
about spreading violence in the kingdom.
“The United States is deeply
concerned by rising tensions and increasing incidents of violence throughout
Bahrain,” a State Department official said. “The violence perpetrated in recent
days by various vigilante groups in Bahrain who seek to interfere in efforts to
move forward peaceful and meaningful dialogue is completely
The official urged the government to “uphold its
commitment to the human rights standards it has set for itself,” and called on
all parties to “exercise maximum restraint and refrain from violence... to
support meaningful and peaceful dialogue.”
The US noted it was
particularly concerned about attacks on civilians and humanitarian targets,
including ambulances and hospitals, by the riot police.
assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is currently in Bahrain
and holding contacts with officials in the government as well as opposition
activists and NGO workers.
Egypt urged Bahraini protesters to keep their
demonstrations peaceful and follow the example of Egyptian activists who toppled
Hosni Mubarak in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“Egypt totally supports any
nation demanding more liberty,” Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said in his first
public remarks since his appointment.
“All that we ask for is [that] as
the youth in Tahrir have done... that this happens peacefully,” Elaraby said at
a news conference alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in
Disturbances shook Bahrain through the day. A hospital source said
two men, one Bahraini and the other Bangladeshi, were killed in clashes in the
Shi’ite area of Sitra and more than 200 people were wounded in various
incidents. State television said a Bahraini policeman was also killed, denying
media reports that a Saudi soldier had been shot dead.
Over 60 percent of
Bahrainis are Shi’ites, and many complain of discrimination at the hands of the
Sunni royal family. Calls for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed the
Sunni minority, which fears that unrest could serve non-Arab Shi’ite power
Iran, which sits across the Gulf from Bahrain, criticized the
decision to send in Saudi troops.
“The presence of foreign forces and
interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further
complicate the issue,” an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Bahraini Foreign Ministry official called the remarks “blatant interference in
Bahrain’s internal affairs,” the state news agency BNA said, adding that Manama
had recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations. The largest Shi’ite
opposition group, Wefaq, condemned the imposition of martial law and urged
The United States, a close ally of both
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, said it was concerned about reports of growing
sectarianism in the country, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
thing is clear, there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain,” said
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
“In order for the situation to return
to normal we have to establish order and security and... stop the violations
which have spread disturbances among the people of our dear country,” said
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed al-Khalifa. It was not clear if a curfew would
be imposed or whether there would be any clampdown on media or public
Bahraini state media have said Shi’ite opposition activists,
who complain the state has been naturalizing Sunni foreigners to tip the
sectarian balance, are targeting foreigners.
The opposition says the
security forces are full of naturalized foreigners willing to use force against
On Monday, more than 1,000 Saudi troops rolled into the
kingdom at the request of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers, flashing victory signs as they
crossed. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have said they would also send
Thousands of Bahrainis marched on the Saudi Embassy in Manama on
Tuesday to protest against the intervention.
“People are angry, we want
this occupation to end. We don’t want anybody to help the al-Khalifa or us,”
said a protester, referring to the royal family. Analysts said the troop
movement showed concern in Saudi Arabia that any concessions in Bahrain could
inspire the kingdom’s own Shi’ite minority.
The United Nations and
Britain echoed the US call for restraint and the Group of Eight powers expressed
concern, though analysts said the escalation showed the limits of US influence
when security was threatened.
In a sign that security could deteriorate,
the US State Department advised against all travel to Bahrain due to a
“breakdown in law and order.”