Cyana Chilton

            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.

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 10 – August 2012: 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.


Jan. 1, 2012: 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.

Oula Alrifai, Avideh Mayville and Garrett Nada contributed to these chronologies.


Sign up for newsletter here.

In the News

Our Articles

For more articles, click here.


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.

The Islamists Are Coming

Our Partner