A moderate cleric in Bahrain inspired the country’s Shia youth to take up arms on Tuesday, leaving at least one dead and dozens injured. In a sermon, Sheikh Isa Qassim proclaimed, “Whoever you see abusing a woman, crush him” and “Let us die for our honor.” Clashes flared after posts on social networks, primarily Facebook and Twitter, called for Bahrainis to “confront” security forces.
Protesters took to the streets of several villages reportedly using metal rods, rocks, bottles, and petro bombs, leaving 41 security officers injured — two of which were left in critical condition. Public Security Chief Major General Tariq al-Hassan referred to protesters as vandals who were blocking roads, leading to several arrests in undisclosed Shiite villages. Such protests turned violent have been internally referred to as the “Bahrain Fist.”
A Bahraini kicks a tear gas canister fired by riot police.
The sermon also sparked a staged political opposition march into the capital of Manama the following day, where activists were met with tear gas and stun grenades fired by security forces. Heightened anti-government tension in the Gulf Kingdom also forced the U.S. to relocate its embassy staff and their families to new neighborhoods as a safety precaution.
The violent nature of Qassim’s sermon, who formerly would have advised for peaceful dissent, is seen to reflect the mounting unrest and anger in Bahrain’s Shia majority community. As the one year anniversary of Bahrain’s political uprising approaches, it will be of critical importance to monitor how the Sunni monarchy approaches escalating discontent over the government’s perceived failure to curtail security forces and commit to substantial reforms.