Bahrain’s Shi’ites want Sunni monarchy toppled

Protests hit Kuwait for first time; Syria releases dissident judge; Egyptian court rejects Mubarak's appeal against seizure of funds.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 9, 2011 01:14
3 minute read.
Sunni-Shi'ite Strife in Bahrain

Bahrain Strife 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

Three hard-line Bahraini Shi’ite groups said on Tuesday they had formed a coalition aimed at toppling the Sunni monarchy and setting up a republic, raising tensions days ahead of a planned march on the royal court.

The move is likely to be seen as an escalation by the ruling al-Khalifa dynasty and raises the chances of a renewed security crackdown against mainly Shi’ite protesters.

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The new “Coalition for a Republic,” made up of Al-Haq, Wafa and the Freedom Movement, called for peaceful change through a decentralized movement of civil disobedience and resistance.

Consisting of groups much smaller than the main opposition Wefaq movement, the new coalition risks splitting the broader Shi’ite opposition movement that is demanding an elected government and a true constitutional monarchy, as well as better access to jobs within the system.

“This tripartite coalition adopts the choice of bringing down the existing regime in Bahrain and establishing a democratic republican system,” Al-Haq leader Hassan Mushaimaa told reporters at Manama’s main Pearl Square, where protesters are camped out. “The monarchy has failed to bring down the revolution by force, and it now aims... to coopt its legitimate demands through murky political games and... by inciting chaos.”

No stranger to sporadic protests and rioting, Bahrain has been gripped by the worst unrest since the 1990s after a youth movement took to the streets last month, emboldened by revolutions that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

Seven people were killed in an ensuing clampdown by security forces early in the protests, but the situation has since calmed.

In Kuwait, meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathering outside the main government building to demand sweeping changes on how the oil-rich country is run, The Associated Press reported.

Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East

Security forces stood by as more than 400 demonstrators moved into an area outside a building holding key offices including those of Kuwait’s emir and of Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who is accused by pro-reform groups of stifling political freedoms and muzzling dissent.

The initial crowd was limited in size, but protest organizers had to switch venues after police blockaded the central Safat Square in Kuwait City.

Although the protests mark the first in Kuwait since the stunning Arab uprisings began, the oil-rich Gulf nation is also no stranger to political showdowns. Kuwait has the region’s most powerful parliament and opposition lawmakers have waged open battles against the ruling system, including nearly bringing down the prime minister two times with no-confidence votes.

One of the protest slogans: “Leave! We Deserve Better!” Others waved banners saying “New country with a new prime minister.”

In Egypt, judicial officials said a court has rejected an appeal by ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his family against an order by the country’s top prosecutor to seize their funds.

There are no official figures on the funds but many believe they run into the billions, with much overseas. The officials said the presiding Judge Makram Awad rejected a defense request for more time to prepare the defense.

And in Syria, authorities have released an 80-year-old former judge, one of President Bashar Assad’s most outspoken critics, under an amnesty marking the anniversary of the 1963 coup which brought the Ba’ath Party to power.

“I am in good shape mentally, which annoys the regime.

The march for peaceful democratic change in Syria must continue,” Haitham al-Maleh told Reuters after his release on Tuesday.

“There are thousands of political prisoners left who have been thrown in jail upon the orders of the security apparatus.

One day we will have an independent judiciary,” he said.


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