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Despite Ban, Protests Continue In Bahrain

The Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has jailed opposition leaders and recently banned all demonstrations. But the protests continue, particularly in the smaller villages outside the capital, Manama. Independent producer Reese Erlich recently visited one such village.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

For the Obama administration, one challenge through the Arab Spring was how to deal with the different circumstances from one country to the next. In Bahrain, antigovernment activists are not satisfied with the U.S. approach. Bahrain has been in turmoil since February of 2011, when protests erupted in the first days of the Arab spring.

The government has jailed human rights leaders and opponents of the regime. They're recently banned demonstrations. But the protests go on, particularly in the smaller villages outside the capital Manama. Reporter Reese Erlich recently visited one of these villages.

ABDULLAH AL MIZO: (Foreign language spoken)

REESE ERLICH, BYLINE: Unlocking his apartment door, Abdullah al Mizo(ph) shows where masked men wearing civilian clothes kicked it in. The men were part of Bahrain's intelligence service that has been raiding Muhazza Village for the past month. Al Mizo no longer even bothers to fix the door.

MIZO: (Through translator) I don't repair this door because I know they will raid the neighborhood and just kick it in again.

ERLICH: When demonstrations began nearly two years ago, protestors called on King Hamad to make reforms. More recently, however, demonstrators are demanding a constitutional monarchy with a figure head king. Residents of smaller villages such as Muhazza have organized rallies, despite an October decree that bans all such protests. Al Mizo says daytime checkpoints and nighttime raids are a form of collective punishment.

MIZO: (Through translator) I don't know why they raided my house. I think they did it to intimidate people. I am not a political activist, but I will become one because of the regime's actions.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

ERLICH: One recent night, villagers gathered peacefully on Muhazza's main street, demanding an end to what they call the dictatorship of King Hamad.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS CANISTERS BEING FIRED)

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

ERLICH: In less than 10 minutes, riot police fired tear gas canisters and the crowd scattered, only to regroup a few minutes later.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ERLICH: Sameera Rajab, a government minister, strongly condemns such demonstrations. She argues that the government has made reforms and that the opposition's call for democracy covers up their real intentions. She says the opposition is controlled by Shiite Islamists who want Bahrain to become an Iranian-style religious dictatorship.

SAMEERA RAJAB: Their loyalty is to Iran leaders and to Iran as a nation who's protecting and supporting the Shia in the war.

ERLICH: However, an authoritative independent commission that investigated the uprising discounted that argument, pointing out that the opposition is home grown and not controlled by Iran. Rajab notes Bahrain is an important U.S. ally in the Gulf region. The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed here to protect oil shipping lanes.

But some opposition activists now question the relationship, accusing the U.S. of a double standard. While the Obama administration imposes strong economic sanctions on Syria's dictatorship, they say, it only verbally criticizes Bahrain's monarchy. A Muhazza resident named Ahmed, who gave only his first name, says activists are now discussing whether the Fifth Fleet should pull out.

AHMED: (Through translator) We want them to leave because the U.S. supports the dictatorship. If they don't support the dictatorship, they are welcome.

ERLICH: Many activists say that if the dictatorship falls, they want the U.S. Naval presence debated by a new, democratic parliament. The outcome of Bahrain's Arab Spring is by no means clear. But future relations with the U.S., say activists, depend in no small part on what the U.S. does now.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language)

ERLICH: Reese Erlich for NPR News.

GREENE: And the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting provided a grant to Reese Erlich for his reporting from Bahrain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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