Bahrain

Cyana Chilton and Garrett Nada

Bahrain’s uprising began on Feb. 14, 2011, when thousands protested in Manama to demand government reforms. Billed as a “Day of Rage,” it followed mass demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt. Bahrain’s protesters were mainly Shiites, who have long been the majority in the island-nation but who have also felt ignored by the island nation’s minority Sunni government.

A key flashpoint was Prime Minister Khalifah ibn Sulman al Khalifah, who had been the head of government since 1971. The emerging opposition began to demand his resignation after 40 years in power.

Protests continued daily through February and March in Manama and surrounding Shiite neighborhoods as al Wefaq, the main opposition party, suspended its participation in Parliament. The government initially allowed protesters to fill the Pearl Roundabout, a major landmark in the capital of Manama. But they soon began using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests.

On March 14, 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced that it would send troops, mainly from Saudi Arabia, to help contain the unrest. A day later, King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa announced martial law. Government troops surrounded Shiite neighborhoods and forcibly emptied Pearl Roundabout with tanks and machine guns. They also occupied Salmaniyah Hospital, another rallying point for the protesters, and arrested protest leaders. The crackdown continued from mid-March until June 1, when martial law was lifted.

Smaller weekly protests took place throughout the summer, and courts sentenced many activists to prison. At the end of June, Saudi Arabia announced it would withdraw most of its troops, and the king announced a National Dialogue, which prompted the government to begin various social initiatives.

In November 2011, an independent commission convened by the king concluded that government forces had used “excessive force” and torture to control the protest movement, an accusation that sparked large and violent protests. Protests erupted again in April 2012, when the Formula One Grand Prix took place despite the government crackdown. Another round of demonstrations began in June, when the government arrested a prominent activist and later sentenced him to three years in jail for his dissent.

In September 2012, seven protestors received life sentences for organizing opposition to the government. The daughter of a human rights activist was sentenced to two months in prison for tearing up a picture of the king. On September 14, thousands of Bahrainis peacefully protested against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.

On September 28 and 29, 2012, thousands of Shiite protestors march in villages near Manama to again demand the resignation of Prime Minister al Khalifa. On October 2, protesters clashed with riot police after the funeral of a pro-democracy protestor who died in prison. A few weeks later, the interior ministry banned all protests and threatened legal action against groups allegedly supporting anti-government demonstrations. 

In February 2013, the government and opposition groups began a national dialogue to end the unrest. But the protests marking the second-year anniversary of the initial uprising still turned violent.

In March, King Hamad appointed his son, Crown Price Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, as deputy prime minister. The appointment of the prince, widely viewed as a moderate, was seen as a potential step towards reconciliation.

In April, a series of bombs exploded in Manama in the run-up to the F1 Grand Prix. A youth opposition movement claimed responsibility for a car blast. Opposition activists argued that the government was using the event to gloss over its human rights abuses. Protestors across the country called for the cancellation of the race. But the government did not give in.

In September 2013, al Wefaq pulled out of the national dialogue after a leading member was arrested. In January 2014, the government suspended the deadlocked talks, blaming opposition groups for not attending.

In July 2014, the government took the highly unusual step of demanding that a high-ranking U.S. diplomat leave the kingdom after having an unsupervised meeting with al Wefaq.

In August 2014, a court sentenced 14 Shiites to life in prison for allegedly murdering a police officer and possessing weapons during a July 2013 anti-government protest. In October 2014, a court suspended al Wefaq’s activities for three months.

In November 2014, Bahrain held its first full legislative elections since protests began in February 2011. Al Wefaq, however, boycotted the poll, along with three smaller opposition groups. In December, a policeman was killed in a bombing in a Shiite village near Manama. On December 28, authorities detained the head of al Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman for incitement against the government.

Chronology 2011

Feb. 14 – March 25: Thousands march in Manama on Feb. 14, a “Day of Rage,” calling for governmental reform. Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. One protestor dies and police kill another man at his funeral. Protests continue daily.

Feb. 15: King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa gives a rare television speech to express his regret about the deaths and call for an investigation. He tells policemen to allow thousands of protestors into Pearl Roundabout. Members associated with the Islamic National Accord Association (al Wefaq), the main Shiite opposition party, suspend their participation in Parliament.

Feb. 17: Police arrive early in the morning to disperse a tent settlement in Pearl Roundabout, killing four protesters. Protesters regroup around Salmaniyah Hospital. Tanks and armed personnel carriers park at central Manama intersections.

Feb. 21: Tens of thousands rally at a main mosque to support the regime. A Formula One race scheduled to take place in Bahrain is canceled by the government, citing the ongoing unrest. The king says he will release an unspecified number of political prisoners. On Feb. 23, 308 are freed.

Feb. 25: Three cabinet ministers are fired, apparently to pacify protesters.

Feb. 26: Exiled Shiite opposition figure Hassan Mushaima returns from London and addresses hundreds of thousands of protesters, telling them to continue until the revolution is successful.

March 10: Gulf oil producers announce a $20 billion aid package for Bahrain and Oman.

March 13: Dozens are injured in protests at Manama’s main university, the financial center, and Pearl Roundabout.  Crown Prince Sheikh Salman al Khalifa calls for a national dialogue to address potential reforms.

March 14: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops, mostly from Saudi Arabia, are deployed to help control protests.

March 15: The king declares martial law as protests break out in Shiite villages, with dozens injured.

March 16: Government forces kill three as they break up protests in Pearl Roundabout with tanks, helicopters, and jeeps armed with machine guns. Two security officers are also killed. Security forces raid Salmaniyah Hospital, evicting protesters and occupying the building.

March 17: Six protest leaders arrested, including Mushaima, as government forces raid and surround Shiite neighborhoods.

March 18: Government forces destroy the monument in the center of Pearl Roundabout, a symbol of the protests.

March 27: Opposition party al Wefaq drops some of its preconditions for reconciliation talks with the monarchy.

April 3: The government blocks print and online versions of independent al Wasat newspaper, allowing it to resume publishing after replacing its editor.

April 28: Four protesters, accused of killing two policemen, are sentenced to death, and three sentenced to life in prison. The next day, thousands protest the death sentences.

May 8: The king orders a June 1 end to martial law. The Cabinet approves an amendment to reduce the legal voting age from 20 to 18.

May 16: Iran sends an aid flotilla but GCC ships turn it back.

June 1: Emergency rule ends and King Hamad calls for an immediate dialogue without preconditions. Government troops attack protesters in 20 villages hours after martial law is lifted.

June 3: Thousands march on Pearl Roundabout, and police fire teargas and rubber bullets at them.

June 6: 47 doctors and nurses are tried for attempting to overthrow the monarchy by participating in protests and denying service to Sunni patients. Shiites march to mark a religious festival and to protest the monarchy in several Manama suburbs; police break up the gatherings with tear gas, rubber bullets, and birdshot.

June 8: The government accepts a U.N. mission to investigate alleged human rights violations.

June – Aug. : Thousands of Shiites protest in Manama and its suburbs every Friday.

June 22: A special military court convicts 21 activists for conspiring to overthrow the government. Eight receive life imprisonment sentences, including Hassan Mushaima. Protests resulting from the verdicts are broken up by police with tear gas.

June 28: Saudi Arabia announces it will withdraw most of its troops from Bahrain.

June 29: King Hamad announces an independent investigation into human rights abuses against protesters.

July 2: The National Dialogue begins.

July 12: After a Sunni representative condemns Shiite ideology, al Wefaq’s representatives walk out of the National Dialogue.

July 19: National Dialogue participants reach a consensus, allowing parliament to reject the Prime Minister’s cabinet choices. They also form the Supreme Council for Journalism to protect journalists’ rights and issue licenses for new journalists.

Aug. 8: The Cabinet increases public sector salaries and monthly pensions and raises the debt ceiling to pay for National Dialogue initiatives.

Aug. 12: Al Wefaq announces it will boycott the elections.

Aug. 18: The government announces new health and social welfare initiatives based on the National Dialogue, including creating new laws for NGOs and improving health services.

Aug. 25-6: Police and protesters clash after Shiite religious ceremony Quds Day is banned and prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim tells his supporters to boycott the elections.

Aug. 31: A 14-year-old is killed when he is hit by a tear gas canister during anti-government protests in Sitra, a Shiite Manama suburb. Thousands protest his death the next day.

Sept. 20: King Hamad creates the National Compensation and Redress Fund to compensate those who sustained physical or material damage in protests.

Sept. 24: Parliamentary elections take place with 17.4% turnout. Security forces prevent hundreds of Shiite protesters from reaching Pearl Roundabout.

Oct. 11: Four editors of the independent newspaper al Wasat are fined for publishing stories about anti-regime protests from March 25 to 29.

Nov. 23: The independent study commissioned by the king finds that state forces used “excessive force” and torture against protesters. Just before publication protesters gather and police fire teargas, killing one. The king promises reforms and creates a National Commission to implement its suggestions.

Dec. 2: A British former police assistant commissioner and the former Miami police chief are hired to reform the police force.

Dec. 23: Police attack al Wefaq’s headquarters with rubber bullets and tear gas after the group defies a protest ban. Shiite clerics also organize prayer sessions, officially banned, on sites where mosques had been bulldozed during earlier protests.

2012

Jan. 1: Chief of Public Security Tariq al Hassan, in a New Year’s message, announces that 500 officers will be recruited from all sections of Bahrain society to improve community relations and will only police the areas they are from.

Jan. 15: The king gives the Parliament the power to approve or withdraw confidence from Cabinets and to question ministers and increases salaries for private sector workers making less than 250 dinars per month.

Jan. 25: Several are wounded as protesters respond to Sheikh Qassim’s call to “crush” security forces if they hurt women. Protesters attack police in several Shiite villages.

Feb. 9 – May 28: Jailed activist Abdulhadi al Khawaja goes on a hunger strike in anticipation of the February 14 anniversary of the beginning of the protests. Thousands rally for his release about once a week until he ends his strike on May 28.

Feb. 11 – 14: Hundreds protest in Manama to commemorate the uprising’s one-year anniversary. Large sections of Manama are sealed off on the 14th, with little commotion in the city center.

March 15 – 6: Police and protesters clash in Shiite villages and Manama on the anniversary of the government crackdown in 2011.

March 18: The government issues a code of conduct requiring police to follow ten guidelines for respecting human rights and codifying a zero-tolerance policy on torture.

April 13: After the Grand Prix’s CEO announces that the race will continue and Bahrain is “quiet and peaceful,” thousands protest in Manama against the race.

April 15 – 22: Al Wefaq holds daily protests against the Grand Prix. At least 60 Shiite activists are arrested.

April 22: The Grand Prix takes place. One man is killed by birdshot after clashing with police after the race. Clashes with police follow his funeral the next day.

May 3: The king ratifies constitutional reforms allowing Parliament to question and remove ministers and withdraw confidence in the Cabinet. Al Wefaq says the reforms are not enough.

May 5: Activist Nabeel Rajab is arrested for inciting protests through social networking sites. He is released, but arrested again on June 6 and sentenced to three months in prison.

June 8: In western Manama, tens of thousands protest against Rajab’s arrest.

June 26: The government announces it will pay $2.6 million to families of protesters who were killed in 2011.

July 12: The government bans opposition rallies. Thousands protest, testing the ban.

July 30: The Interior Ministry opens an investigation into rights violations by police against protesters.

Aug. 8: The chief prosecutor charges 15 police officers with torturing doctors.

Aug. 16: Activist Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to three years in prison for instigating anti-government protests.

Aug. 21: Police arrest eight protestors after clashes at a funeral for a teenager who died while demonstrating the previous week.

Sept. 8: Bahrain upholds original verdicts for 13 opposition activists over the course of the week. The verdicts include seven life sentences.

Sept. 12: Bahrain officially approves 156 out of 176 recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council the previous May.

Sept. 14: Thousands of people protest in Manama against the “Innocence of Muslims” film. They burn flags but the protests remain largely peaceful.

Sept. 26: Zainab al Khawaja, daughter of human rights activist Abdulhadi al Khawaja, is sentenced to two months in prison for tearing up a photograph of King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa.

Sept. 27: A court sentences a policeman to 7 years in prison for killing a protester during the 2011 anti-government demonstrations.  But the same court acquits two other officers charged with killing two other protestors.

Sept. 28-29:  Thousands of protestors in Shiite villages near the capital march to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Police kill a 17-year-old boy in a village near the capital. The interior ministry claims he was part of a group that attacked a police patrol, but opposition activists claim he was participating in a peaceful demonstration.

Oct. 2: Protestors clash with riot police after the funeral of Ali Ahmed Mushaima, who was imprisoned and sent to the hospital for Sickle Cell treatment. Opposition activists suspect Mushaima died from the lack of proper medical treatment while in custody.

Oct. 3: Authorities release human rights activist Zainab al Khawaja from prison after serving a two-month jail term for destroying government property.  The government property referred to in the conviction was reportedly a picture of Bahrain’s king that the Shiite activist tore while in detention.

Oct. 6-8: Nabeel Rajab, a human rights activist serving a three-year sentence for participating in anti-government protests, goes on hunger strike. Two days later, a court denies a request to release him.

Oct. 15: Bahrain summons Iranian charge d’affaires to demand Tehran stop “attributing baseless information to Bahraini officials” and “interfering in domestic issues.”

Oct. 21: Bahrain detains seven people over the killing of a policeman the previous week, the first time a policeman had been killed since martial law ended in June 2011.

Oct. 30: The interior ministry bans all protests and threatens legal action against groups allegedly supporting anti-government demonstrations. 

Nov. 5: Five bombs explode in Manama, killing two foreign workers and critically injuring a third.

Nov. 7: The government revokes the citizenship of 31 men, including exiled political activists and former opposition members of parliament for allegedly damaging national security.

Nov. 11: A court sentences 19 Shiites to five years in jail for attempting to murder a policeman during anti-government protests in December 2011.

Dec. 10: Bahrain opposition groups welcome Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa’s call for dialogue and say they are prepared to meet without any pre-conditions.


2013

Feb. 10: Opposing political factions begin talks on Sunday to ease unrest in the kingdom.

Feb. 14: Bahrainis take to the streets to mark the second anniversary of their uprising. Protests turn violent and a teenager is killed.

Feb. 19: Bahrain accuses Iran's Revolutionary Guards of recruiting Bahrainis at home and abroad to assassinate public figures in the kingdom and attack its airport and government buildings.

March 12: Bahrain appoints Crown Prince Salman al Khalifa as first deputy prime minister, in what is widely seen as a sign that the government may be softening its approach to dealing with the opposition.

March 28: A court exonerates 21 medics who were convicted of involvement in anti-government protests.

Mid-April: A series of bombs explode in Manama in the run-up to the F1 Grand Prix motor race scheduled for April 19 to 21. The opposition uses the event to spread awareness of its pro-democracy campaign and of the government’s human rights violations. A youth opposition group claims responsibility for a car blast. Several people are arrested for stealing or burning cars.

April 19: Protestors across Bahrain call for the cancellation of the weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix because of ongoing repression since the 2011 uprising.

May 15: A Bahraini court sentences six people to a year in prison for insulting King Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa on Twitter.

May 27: Bahrain bans political groups from making any contact with Lebanese Shiite militia and political party Hezbollah one day after the foreign minister referred to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah as a “terrorist.”

June 13: Bahraini authorities arrest leading members of the February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition, a. The interior ministry accuses the Shiite opposition cyber-group of “criminal acts” and “terrorist activities.”

July 28: Lawmakers pass harsh anti-terror laws ahead of planned opposition protests. Bahrainis who commit or incite “terrorism” could lose their citizenship. And demonstrations in Manama are banned.

Aug. 6: The King issues two new emergency decrees. One decree bans demonstrations in Manama. The second states that if anyone under the age of 16 is found at two demonstrations within six months, his or her parents could be jailed, fined or both.

Sept. 18: Authorities jail leading opposition figure Khalil Al Marzooq for allegedly been “inciting and advocating terrorism.”

Sept. 30: A court sentences 50 Shiites to up to 15 years in prison on charges of forming a clandestine movement. Twenty are tried in absentia for their involvement in the 14 February Coalition, an online opposition group.

Dec. 28-29: The leader of opposition group al Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, is arrested and charged with “incitement to religious hatred and spreading false news likely to harm national security” after he gave a sermon. He is banned from travel and released  after one day of detention.

Dec. 30: A court sentences five men to 15 years in prison for two bomb attacks, including one during the 2012 F1 race.


2014

Jan. 9: Bahrain’s government suspends national reconciliation talks with the opposition, citing the al Wefaq’s refusal to attend since September 2013. 

Jan. 26: Protesters and police clash following a funeral of a young man had been detained on suspicion of smuggling weapons.

Jan. 29: A court orders the dissolution of an influential clerical association close to al Wefaq, the Islamic Scholar’s Council. Information Minister Sameera Rajab accuses the council’s members of “political and sectarian incitement.”

March 3: A remotely detonated bomb kills three policemen in a village west of Manama. The interior ministry claims the explosion occurred as a group of protestors broke away from a mourning procession to block roads.

March 27: Bahrain gives its citizens fighting abroad as jihadists two weeks to return to the kingdom to avoid being charged under anti-terror laws.

May 24: Leading rights activist Nabeel Rajab is released after two years in prison. He calls on the government and the opposition to engage in dialogue.

June 18: Parliament approves new rules making it easier to revoke Bahraini passports and citizenship.

June 25: Khalil Marzook, assistant secretary general of al Wefaq, is cleared of charges of “inciting terrorism” and supporting a youth movement accused of attacks.

July 5: A police officer dies of his wounds one day after a bombing in a village south of Manama.

July 7: The government demands that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski leave the kingdom after he met with al Wefaq, the country’s leading opposition group.

July 11: Bahrain files criminal charges against Sheikh Ali Salman for meeting with Tom Malinowski without seeking government permission beforehand.

July 20: The justice ministry files a lawsuit to suspend the activities of al Wefaq for three months for allegedly violating transparency regulations in their general meetings.

Aug. 9: Bahrain bans three clerics from preaching in mosques for allegedly violating “ethics and principles of religious discourse.” Opposition activists claim the ban is part of a wider crackdown on dissent.  

Aug. 13: A court sentences 14 Shiites to life in prison for allegedly murdering a police officer and possessing weapons during a July 2013 anti-government protest.  

Sept. 18: Authorities release Activist Maryam al Khawaja but place a travel ban on her. The interior ministry emphasizes that she is still charged with assaulting a police officer.

Sept. 23: Bahrain joins four other Arab nations in U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.

Oct. 2: Bahrain’s Public Prosecution orders human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to be detained and questioned for one week over remarks he posted on Twitter that were critical of state institutions.

Oct. 28: A court suspends al Wefaq’s activities for three months.

Nov. 19: Bahrain releases pro-democracy Zainab al Khawaja, a pro-democracy activist that was in detention for allegedly tearing up a picture of the king. But she is still scheduled to stand trial the following month.

Nov. 25: Security forces reportedly raid the home of al Wefaq’s spiritual leader and Bahrain’s most prominent Shiite cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim. Bahiran’s interior ministry claimed police were searching for a bombing suspect.

Nov. 22, 29: Bahrain holds its first full legislative elections since protests began in February 2011. Al Wefaq, however, boycotts the poll, along with three smaller opposition groups. 

Dec. 8: A policeman is killed after attackers detonate a bomb in a village southwest of Manama. Authorities claim the bomb was provided by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Dec. 28: Bahraini authorities detain the head of al Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman for incitement against the government.

Oula Alrifai and Avideh Mayville contributed to these chronologies.

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The Islamists Are Coming is the first book to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring.  Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties.  They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.

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