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Bahrain protests to add to pressure on government

Bahrain protests to add to pressure on government

King tries to appease opposition after Egypt, Tunisia; First protests planned for Feb. 14; Main Shi'ite opposition group holding its cards.

February 13, 2011 3:56 by

Anti-government protests by Bahrain’s marginalised Shi’ite majority on Monday are not likely to rival the Egyptian revolt, but will add to the pressure on the king to make more concessions to his people.

Gulf states are not expected to face full-scale revolts thanks to a golden bargain under which their rulers trade a share of their oil wealth for political quiescence, but Bahrain is among the most vulnerable to popular pressure.

“There’s a deep sense of frustration among large segments of Bahraini society,” said Toby Jones, professor of Middle Eastern studies at U.S.-based Rutgers University.

“If there was one place in the Gulf that I was going to predict that there would be something similar (to Egypt), it would be Bahrain,” he said.

Bahrain is a small oil producer with a majority Shi’ite population that has long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family, well before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists across the region.

Across their island country, Bahrainis sounded car horns and waved Egyptian flags on Friday night when news broke that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down.

The first protests in Bahrain since the events in Egypt and Tunisia unfolded are expected to take place on Monday.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, trying to defuse the tension, said he would give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each local family, and the government has indicated that it may free minors arrested under a security crackdown last year.

“I think it is no coincidence that the government has chosen this time to announce new grants to all Bahraini families,” said Jane Kinninmont, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, who expected Mubarak’s fall to strengthen protesters in Bahrain.

Diplomats said the early concessions could blunt the scale of the protest.

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