Amid an atmosphere of extreme tension a number of Asian men, mostly from Pakistan, have reportedly been attacked with swords and iron rods during the last two days. The government seems to have taken up their cause to point blame at opposition protesters although as of yet the circumstances in which they were attacked, and who attacked them are not clear. The men attacked were all civilian residents who have in the past borne the brunt of anti-government sentiment. Mostly Pakistanis, they are often recruited by the hundreds into Bahrain`s security forces, their citizenship fast tracked and social benefits guaranteed. They are then used in riot police squads to mete out violent repression against locals. That said, the description of men wearing masks and carrying swords given by victims interviewed in the local press is very similar to description of baltajiyya thugs who instigated violence and vandalism at the Bahrain University earlier in the week.
With the arrival of Saudi troops in Bahrain on Monday, members of the seven political societies which presented demands to the Crown Prince in lieu of dialogue described the entry of GCC troops into Bahrain as an ‘act of war without declaring war,’ saying that the troops would inevitably be used to crush the protest movement.
The King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa then declared a “state of national safety.” He was presumably referring to the safety of his oppressive regime, as troops of the Gulf Peninsula Shield began their work to “enforce law, promote security and stop anarchy before starting the national dialogue.”
What this entailed:
Reports surfaced early in the day about riot police shooting rubber bullets, bird pellets and CS gas in the village of Ma`ameer, and seemingly orchestrating random attacks in various neighborhoods. Violence in residential areas also continued with clashes between baltajiyya and protesters, with sources saying that gunshots were heard in Aali and Saar areas. It is important to note that only two groups of people in Bahrain society have access to firearms - security personnel and member of tribal families allied with the ruling family, who use the guns for hunting expeditions. Checkpoints also remained in place.
By afternoon, news filtered in describing the advancement of troops to Sitra, where two protesters and one policeman were killed. The first is a demonstrator, Ahmed Farhan, who’s head was blown open (*this is an extremely graphic video). The second, a Bangladeshi resident who was reportedly trying to defend a group of women under attack in the area, was also shot with live ammunition. The third is a policeman, although circumstances of the death are not clear. Hundreds were reported wounded and, once again, medical staff reported attempts to prevent the injured from accessing medical treatment. In one case, staff reported that the health centre itself came under attack by the army too, and photographs of an ambulance pocked with a bullet mark have surfaced on web forums. Almost simultaneously, the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) came under attack, with reports of ambulances being stolen by armed thugs. In the notable absence of the recently appointed Health Minister Nezar Al Baharna, SMC doctors were dispatched to Sitra but were reportedly threatened by troops and prevented from treating injured civilians. Among the wounded today were also a number of baltajiyya, plainclothes policemen from Syria and Pakistan who`s identification revealed them to be Interior Ministry employees.
Meanwhile, thousands gathered outside the Saudi Embassy to protest the actions of GCC troops, and a large gathering continued at the Pearl roundabout until late in the evening, where public prayers were held to commemorate the dead and mark the national crisis. In the evening, armed and masked men attacked the offices of the only non-government propagandist paper, Al Wasat, for a second time this week. Political societies & the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions urged a continuation of strikes (announced after the news of GCC troops deployment in Bahrain). News of solidarity rallies in Qatif, and planned rallies in Kuwait, London and Cairo emerged.
Later in the day, the US Department of State announced the voluntary departure of dependents of those serving at the base because of “deteriorating security circumstances,” and the government of the Philippines advised Filipino workers to leave Bahrain.
There is a lot of speculation about the diplomacy that led to the current situation, with commentators suggesting that Bahrain is caught in the middle of a wrangle between Saudi (pro-crack down) and the US (pro-dialogue). Given the situation today this stance seems a little generous in its analysis of the US, which has its largest naval fleet in the gulf stationed in Bahrain, and the Bahraini government, both of whom, as tweeted by an observer, allowed today`s crimes to occur because they “gave the green light - or the absence of a red light.”
[The above is part of a series of email reports from Jadaliyya affiliates in Manama. They will be updated regularly to reflect the latest developments in Bahrain. Also see our Notes from the Bahraini Field Update 1, Update 2, Update 3, Update 4, and Update 5].