Arab capitals braced for violence as unrest spreads

( Killing of demonstrators in Bahrain and violence in Libya threaten an escalation of regional unrest

Arab capitals are expecting further violent clashes after the killing of three demonstrators in the Gulf state of Bahrain, and the reported death of 15 people in violence in Libya, threatened an escalation of regional unrest in the wake of the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Fresh protests are expectedon Friday after Friday prayers in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, in Cairo (in celebration of Hosni Mubarak’s departure a week ago), and in Sana’a, capital of the Yemen, and perhaps elsewhere.

Britain announced a review of licences granted for arms exports to Bahrain which it would “urgently revoke” if the sales criteria had been breached in their use, after it emerged that types of crowd-control weapons similar to those used in the crackdown were supplied by British companies. Despite concerns among activists over Bahrain’s rights record, British firms were last year granted licences, entirely unopposed, to export crowd-control weapons that can lead to fatalities in use.

Meanwhile the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, telephoned her Bahraini counterpart to express “deep concern” after riot police stormed a protest camp in central Manama, killing three people in what the opposition called a “massacre”. Bahrain is situated in the Gulf near Iran and is home to the US Fifth Fleet and also to the UK command which supports Royal Navy warships in the region. The island has a history of volatility because its Shia Muslim majority is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. William Hague, the foreign secretary, told MPs: “We have conveyed our concern about these events and the level of violence.”

Last night Egyptian authorities arrested the former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, and two other former ministers who are under investigation for corruption, security officials said.

Authorities also arrested steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, once a prominent member of the ouster leader Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic party.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states signalled their alarm at the unprecedented regional unrest at a meeting of foreign ministers held in Manama.

The sectarian aspect of Bahrain’s violence could add to discontent among the Shia minority in oil-producing areas of east Saudi Arabia, which is linked to the island state by a 15-mile causeway.

Bahrain’s anti-government protesters vowed to avenge three of their number who had been killed by riot police. Demonstrators spent the day regrouping inside the grounds of a hospital after being ousted from their nearby camp on the Pearl Roundabout in the capital’s centre by up to 500 officers who attacked shortly after 3.15am local time. Their numbers rose to 4,000 by late afternoon, and plans for a rally on Friday were in full swing.

At least 300 people were wounded in the assault, several dozen seriously. A trauma surgeon from Salmaniya hospital was in an intensive care ward after being attacked at the roundabout camp, then handcuffed and repeatedly kicked in the head.

Bahrain’s interior ministry produced images that it said were of police officers recovering from knife wounds and beatings that they had received during the clashes. The claim were denied by the protesters who said they had had no weapons and were attacked as they slept. Doctors were leading the calls for revolt, with an overwhelmingly Shia audience urging them on in front of the hospital as they chanted anti-regime slogans. Several doctors and surgeons were at one stage hoisted on to shoulders and given loudhailers, which they used to urge demonstrators to take to the streets again.

Bahrain’s foreign minister was due to give a statement after saying earlier in the week that the deaths of two protesters on Monday and Tuesday was “catastrophic” for the regime. That caused palpable resentment among the hordes of demonstrators who sat vigil outside the hospital and morgue following the casualties.

Bahraini demonstrators say they want constitutional democracy, the release of political prisoners, more jobs and housing, and removal of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the king’s uncle, who has been in office for 40 years.

According to the Foreign Office’s records and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the UK has supplied Libya with similar weapons and ammunition to those sold to Bahrain.

by Martin Chulov in Manama and Ian BlackMiddle East editor


  1. Libya: Security Forces Fire on ‘Day of Anger’ Demonstrations
    Government Should Respect Right to Peaceful Protest and Investigate Deaths

    (New York) – The Libyan security forces killed at least 24 protesters and wounded many others in a crackdown on peaceful demonstrations across the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should cease the use of lethal force unless absolutely necessary to protect lives and open an independent investigation into the lethal shootings, Human Rights Watch said…

  2. Workers challenge Egypt’s military rule

    CAIRO (IPS) – The iron fist that has kept a tight grip on Egypt’s labor movements for nearly six decades relaxed this week, unleashing a wave of wildcat strikes that is testing the resolve of the country’s new military rulers.

  3. Oil rises on more Middle East unrest

    BENCHMARK crude settled higher yesterday as protests rocked some Middle East nations and concerns grew about oil supply disruptions.

    West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery rose US$1.37 to settle at US$86.36 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

    In London, Brent crude fell US$1.19 to settle at US$102.59 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange, as some traders took profits after recent gains.

    Troops and tanks descended on demonstrators in the capital of the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain yesterday. There were reports of a number of dead and injured. Bahrain is not a major oil-producing country, but it is strategically important to the U.S. as home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet.

    There have also been anti-government protests in Iran, Algeria, Jordan and Libya following the ouster of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Iran is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer. Algeria and Libya are also important crude suppliers…

  4. Cables illuminate U.S. relations with Bahrain, potential for unrest

    The United States and Bahrain are close allies. In fact, according to an April 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable, one of several released by WikiLeaks this week, the two countries have “about as good a bilateral relationship as anywhere.” The cables recount a number of interesting details, particularly in light of ongoing unrest there this week, about the government’s leadership, U.S. interests in Bahrain and the region, and about the backstory of sectarian tensions between a ruling Sunni government and a large underclass Shiite majority.

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