The king of Bahrain came under heavy opposition pressure to prove his newly-stated commitment to reform yesterday by sacking his unpopular uncle, the world’s longest-serving prime minister.
Shia opposition leaders said they would resist a government offer of dialogue until the kingdom’s Sunni rulers made a significant gesture by sacrificing Prince Khalifa, who has held his position since Bahrain’s independence from Britain in 1971. They also called for the release of political prisoners.
A day after King Hamad was forced to call his army off the streets after a brutal military crackdown that killed at least seven people failed to quell the protests, the opposition has sensed momentum swinging its way.
They are also hoping to take advantage of rumoured rifts in the Al Khalifa dynasty that have pitted hardliners, including the prime minister, against a group of reformists around the king and his son, Crown Prince Salman.
The desire to see Prince Khalifa ousted is almost universally shared by the tens of thousands of protesters that reoccupied Pearl Monument, the symbolic centre of the capital Manama, after the security forces withdrew.
Al Khalifa regime hires non-native Sunni Muslims in concerted effort to swing balance in Shia-majority Bahrain, say analysts.
(Guardian) Feb. 17, 2011 – Bahrain’s security forces are the backbone of the Al Khalifa regime, now facing unprecedented unrest after overnight shootings. But large numbers of their personnel are recruited from other countries, including Jordan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Tanks and troops from Saudi Arabia were also reported to have been deployed in support of Bahraini forces.
Precise numbers are a closely guarded secret, but in recent years the Manama government has made a concerted effort to recruit non-native Sunni Muslims as part of an attempt to swing the demographic balance against the Shia majority – who make up around 65% of the population of 1 million.
IRAQI BA’ATHISTS OF SADDAM HUSSEIN’S FORCES RECRUITED IN 2003
Bahrainis often complain that the riot police and special forces do not speak the local dialect, or in the case of Baluchis from Pakistan, do not speak Arabic at all and are reviled as mercenaries. Officers are typically Bahrainis, Syrians or Jordanians. Iraqi Ba’athists who served in Saddam Hussein’s security forces were recruited after the US-led invasion in 2003. Only the police employs Bahraini Shias.
The secret police – the Bahrain national security agency, known in Arabic as the Mukhabarat – has undergone a process of “Bahrainisation” in recent years after being dominated by the British until long after independence in 1971. Ian Henderson, who retired as its director in 1998, is still remembered as the “Butcher of Bahrain” because of his alleged use of torture. A Jordanian official is currently described as the organisation’s “master torturer”.
“Now they recruit young Bahraini Sunnis to open Twitter accounts to give the government point of view in the social media battle,” a local journalist said.
The large-scale naturalisation of foreign Sunnis has been described by analysts as a “clear political strategy to alter the country’s demographic balance in order to counter the Shia voting power.”
(BBC News) Feb, 2003 – Colonel Henderson, who is in his mid-seventies, has had an interesting career. In the 1950s, as a colonial police officer, he helped stamp out the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya.
When Kenya gained its independence, he was dispatched to Bahrain – then a British protectorate – where he became head of state security for some 30 years.
Pro-democracy unrest was ruthlessly suppressed in Bahrain and allegations of brutality were made against both Colonel Henderson and his deputy, Adel Felaifel.
According to organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, the methods used to cow anti-government activists included beatings, sexual abuse and the ransacking of whole villages.