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Why the protest movement in Bahrain failed

A hijacking of the cause by radicals in both the government and civil society reduced the country's pro-democracy movement to tatters.

“We wanted to go as a unified opposition” but were “delayed by” Mushaimaa and other radicals, Salman said.

Meanwhile, state-run television and press, controlled by royal family hard-liners, also were not helping the Crown Prince. These media outlets did not support a dialogue and consistently featured militant Sunni community leaders who spoke demeaningly of Shiites, accusing them of being loyal to Iran and suggesting they leave the country.

Government officials also raised the specter of Iranian interference, accusing it of backing the protest movement, though there is little evidence of this, U.S. officials have said. Sunni leaders like Abdel Latif Mahmoud organized meetings at which they stoked Sunni fears about a Shiite take-over of the island.

“I attended one meeting,” said the woman writer who by now was growing increasingly nervous. “I heard how they filled people with this idea of how the Shiite are just for Iran and made them afraid.”

And so a new phenomenon began to appear in Bahrain: roaming gangs in civilian clothes, armed with guns or long sticks. Often masked, they were sometimes clad in military boots — which many Bahrainis took as proof that they were state security force members. These men began manning their own checkpoints and attacking Shiites. In one incident at the university, they pounced on a group of female students standing outside classrooms.

In the days just before the government began its crackdown on March 16, the Crown Prince and opposition were still trying to reach an accommodation. But hardliners in the government were pushing ahead with other plans.

On Monday March 14, around 1,200 Saudi troops entered Bahrain, followed by 500 United Arab Emirates policemen under a Gulf Cooperation Council mandate. On Tuesday, a state of emergency was called and the next day, Bahraini security forces began, as an official statement put it, “the cleansing” of Pearl Roundabout.
A severe crackdown on those who openly supported the protest movement continues. “I don’t feel safe now,” said the female protester, relating how three of her cousins have been detained.

“We don’t want to feel that everything is finished,” she sighed, her voice choking. “Those days I spent in the roundabout for the first time I felt like I breathed free,” and that “something new in Bahrain” was coming. But that is now in the past.

“I feel they killed the hope inside us.”