Bahrain continues crackdown on Shiite opposition

By Benjamin Birnbaum-The Washington Times

Eid ul-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is supposed to be a joyous occasion. But in the U.S.-allied Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, where the Sunni-dominated government has arrested scores of Shiite opposition activists in recent weeks, many celebrated in fear.

The current crackdown comes in advance of next month’s parliamentary elections and follows weeks of rioting and occasional property destruction by the majority Shiites, who have long demanded a greater share of the island kingdom’s resources and more say in its political process.

While the streets have largely quieted in response to the arrests, an explosion apparently targeting the country’s security services was reported Tuesday south of the capital of Manama. No one was injured in the blast.

Confirmed detainees include 23 prominent Shiite political activists, charged with plotting the government’s overthrow, as well as the proprietor of the country’s most popular website, charged with “spreading false information.” But sources on the ground told The Washington Times that the recent arrests have been more far-reaching.

“We stopped counting at 250,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “People are being arrested on an hourly basis.” Other activists peg the number somewhat lower but acknowledge that continued detentions and periodic releases make an exact number elusive.

“It’s been coming to this for quite a long time,” said Toby Jones, a Rutgers University professor of Middle East History who lived in Bahrain from 2003 to 2006 while working for the International Crisis Group. “Since the summer of 2005, we’ve seen an escalation in [street violence from the Shia]. Over time, it’s grown increasingly provocative and confrontational, and the state has simultaneously become more heavy-handed and brutal.”

The State Department declined to comment for this report. But some say the prolonged incommunicado detentions and widespread allegations of severe torture invariably force the Obama administration into choosing between American ideals and interests.

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