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Bahrain’s protest movement fades beneath government suppression

Bahrain has turned into a fearful abode of sectarian division, fueled by a Sunni-led government.

It was reported the next day that Al Wefaq had accepted a mediation offer by a Kuwaiti delegation. But the government is in no mood for dialogue with the opposition, which Foreign Affairs Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa made clear a few hours later in a tweet: “Any talk about any Kuwaiti mediation in Bahrain is not correct at all …”

Interviews with human rights activists, Shiite politicians, journalists and others over several days elicited numerous examples of how the government appears to be aiming to demoralize those who participated in or sympathized with the month-long protest movement.

It is not just Shia being targeted. The Sunni leader of Wa’ad Party, Ibrahim Sharif, who supported the protest movement, was also detained. Fellow Wa’ad party member Fakhro said she believes he was arrested “because the government doesn’t want a Sunni voice aligned with the Shia voices, because this has to be sectarian.”

State-run Bahrain television and the leading government paper, Al Watan, which are both controlled by government hardliners, are seeking to rally the Sunni population by stoking anti-Shiite feelings, Bahrainis said. Both media outfits regularly feature Sunni extremists who speak of Shiites in demeaning ways, accusing them of being disloyal, partial to Iran and suggesting they leave the country.

In a move likely to increase tensions, the military prosecutor on Monday banned the publishing of any news about investigations done by his office relating to the emergency laws in place.

Those investigations may cover injured protesters taken against their will from Salmaniya Hospital to a military hospital. A government spokeswoman last week said that 12 transferred patients “are subject to a criminal investigation.” Another 10 also under criminal investigation remained at Salmaniya, she added, “as their medical condition still required close monitoring.”

Violence perpetrated by masked thugs in civilian clothes carrying guns and sticks — widely believed to be part of the security force — is something new and troubling in their country, Bahrainis say.

And so is the pettiness of the crackdown. Forty students abroad had their government scholarships suspended because they allegedly “called for the downfall of the ruling system,” an education ministry official said.

And when Bahraini artist Mohsen Ghareeb was taken from his home in the middle of the night by a force of almost 40 persons, some in military uniforms and some in civilian dress, they also destroyed items in his home, including art works belonging to Ghareeb, according to Bahraini novelist Fareed Ramadan.

Asked why Ghareeb might have been detained, Ramadan replied by email that Ghareeb’s family still has no idea.

“All I remember,” wrote Ramadan, is that he went to the Pearl Roundabout “where he used to draw.”

But government spite is at its height, perhaps, in the growls of the bright yellow pavers and rollers that are working night and day to finish asphalting over Pearl Roundabout, whose iconic Pearl Monument was torn down the third day of the crackdown. The newly configured intersection will have traffic lights.

And the memory of Bahrain’s short but vibrant protest movement will fade away, or so the government appears to hope.