Massive protests rocked the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain today. In possibly the largest showing in the country’s Arab Spring uprising, tens of thousands poured into the streets chanting “down, down Hamad,” a reference to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. The Shia majority in Bahrain called for an end to discrimination with its uprising last February, which was met with sometimes brutal force.
Activists said the protest was the biggest yet in Bahrain, with 100,000 in the streets. A Reuters photographer confirmed that the number was high: “It is the biggest demonstration in the past year. I would say it could be over 100,000,” the photographer said — a staggering number in a country of only 1.2 million.
Protest leaders and activists said the opposition was united in its demand for democracy. A member of the Shia opposition group al Wefaq told the Financial Times:
The people, full of anger about the rights violations, are united in their demands for an elected government – there is no way back.
And president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab told Al Jazeera:
The message is that people are not happy with the government. We have clear demands: an end to discrimination, a redistribution of wealth and power and [adherence] to the international convention on human rights.
Marching in solidarity, Iraqi followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr in the city of Basra called for Bahrian’s king to be banned from Arab League meetings.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, erupted in protests last February when Shias — facing “systematic discrimination” under the Sunni monarchy — protested for equal rights. Dozens were killed and hundreds arrested in the demonstrations, and a Saudi Arabian-led force came in to quell the uprising. An independent commission found that the sheikhdom’s security forces tortured protesters and used “excessive” measures. The government accepted the report, but reforms have been slow in coming.