The island nation of Bahrain’s Pearl Square Roundabout has been the site of major protests for more than a week, but today they were an absolute mass of people, with over 100,000 protesters, fully 1/5 of the island’s population, massed to protest against the regime.
The protesters had initially demanded major reforms and equal rights for the nation’s Shi’ite majority, which has complained it is kept out of important jobs by the Sunni ruling class. After violent crackdowns, the protesters demanded the ouster of the king entirely and a regime change.
The king has sought to calm the protesters, initially offering a $3,000 per family “gift” and now, with the protests swelling to record highs, promising to release a number of Shi’ite political prisoners accused of “plotting against the state.”
Despite its small size, Bahrain is particularly important to the US, both because it is the home of the American Fifth Fleet and because the island borders the oil producing portion of Saudi Arabia, itself contain a large, downtrodden Shi’ite population. There is concern, particularly amongst the Saudis, that if Bahrain’s monarchy is replaced with a democracy that it will provoke massive protests demanding freedom in that nation as well.