Bahrain: “I tried to take him, but they kept firing. He’s dead, he’s dead now. We were just here to demand our rights.”

“I tried to take him, but they kept firing. He’s dead, he’s dead now. We were just here to demand our rights.”

by digby

This is one of those news days in which it's hard to concentrate on anything because there are too many things going on at once. But I'm catching up on events in the middle east just now and what a day in Bahrain, where it's gotten very, very ugly.

This article gives a good overview of the politics that led to the protests there ---- and the reaction:
The crackdown was brutal.

At 3 a.m. on Feb. 17, hundreds of Bahraini riot police surrounded the protesters sleeping in a makeshift tent camp in Manama's Pearl Square. The security forces then stormed the camp, launching an attack that killed at least five protesters, some of whom were reportedly shot in their sleep with shotgun rounds. Thousands of Bahraini citizens gathered in the square on Feb. 15, in conscious emulation of the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, to push their demands for a more representative political system and an end to official corruption.

The tanks and armored personnel carriers of Bahrain's military subsequently rolled into the square, and a military spokesman announced that the army had taken important areas of the Bahraini capital "under control."

Perhaps alarmed at the recent revolutions that toppled the regimes of Egypt and Tunisia, the Sunni ruling family in Bahrain has been taking no chances against its young and mostly Shiite protest movement. Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has been able to overcome past troubles by posing as an enlightened autocrat, willing to show leniency. But divisions within the monarch's family, which he relies on to maintain his authority, may be forcing the king into a harsher position. And that spells trouble for Bahrain's stability, as well as the country's halting reform efforts...

For the past few years, quasi-Salafist and arch-conservative elements of the Khalifa family have been gaining power over more liberal members of the family, who advocate widening the economic and political involvement to all spheres of Bahraini society.
That figures, doesn't it? But just to make matters really complicated:

The United States has a considerable national security stake in what goes on in this tiny island kingdom. Bahrain is home of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which protects the vital oil supply lines that pass through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz -- an important asset for the United States in the event of a conflict with Iran. Bahrain is also a key logistical hub and command center for U.S naval operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Indian Ocean.

Nicholas Kristoff is there and reported on the crackdown first hand:

The crowd paused, just briefly, to let out a cheer, and turned left. Within minutes they were screaming, “Live fire, live fire,” as the military began shooting — from a high-rise building, from a helicopter and from the road in front of the demonstrators. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s government had warned them: march and you will be shot. The opposition had warned the king that it would never give up.

Both sides held fast in a confrontation that continued to escalate by the day as the king, a Sunni, showed his increasing willingness to use lethal force to preserve his absolute authority, and the opposition, mostly from the majority Shiite community, showed that it was increasingly galvanized by that use of force.

“My friend, my brother, he just got shot in the head,” said Mazen Al Smeh, 27, as he struggled to catch his breath on the side of the road, his face covered in tears, his hands painted with blood. “I tried to take him, but they kept firing. He’s dead, he’s dead now. We were just here to demand our rights.”

When ambulances arrived for the injured, the army opened fire. When the shooting seemed to stop, a few young men dropped to their knees to pray on the bloodstained road, and the army started to shoot at them, again.

There are many details that remained unclear on Friday night, including how many died, how many were injured, and what kind of munitions were fired: live ammunition, rubber bullets or both. Doctors at Salmaniya Medical Complex said at least one young man was dead and four or five critically wounded with head and chest injuries.

Obviously, there old tribal and religious grievances at work and other issues specific to the individual places where this is taking place. But when you strip it all away, it comes down to people rising up to demand their rights and facing down the forces of authoritarianism and repression. It's ugly, but it's beautiful at the same time.

Kristoff concludes his piece with this:

At 5:45 p.m., Ali Maltani, 25, with a scarf wrapped around his face and shaking with rage, grabbed a fist-size rock and started to run toward the soldiers. It took five people to restrain him. “My darling, my darling,” said Aziz Abu Dris, 37, kissing the man on the forehead repeatedly, “Throwing a rock at these animals is not worth your life. We should remain peaceful.”

By nightfall, the army had posted soldiers all around the square. On a bridge overlooking the area, the army stationed an armored vehicle with a large gun.

But still there was no sign that the opposition would relent. A group of political parties announced that they planned to march on Saturday, from the Bahrain Mall — to Pearl Square.

Stay tuned.

Update: CNN has created a useful interactive map with a country by country rundown on the issues and protests. This is amazing.