More protests in Bahrain as religious fault lines widen
People gather to mourn and pray for demonstrators who were injured after riot police stormed an anti-government protest camp, outside the Salmaniya hospital where the casualties were sent to, in Manama February 17, 2011 REUTERS

Thousands of protesters chanting anti-government slogans marched through Bahraini city of Sitra on Friday as they buried comrades killed in the government's crackdown on demonstrations which erupted this week.

With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for the martyrs, the people chanted, CNN reported.

The tiny Sunni-ruled kingdom of Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, witnessed unprecedented popular protests this week, as the revolt in Egypt and Tunisia fanned long-simmering anger over the majority Shiites' marginalization in the country.

According to CNN, as many as six people have died since protesters started on Monday. The heavy-handed crackdown on protesters attracted strong international criticism. According to media reports, the police and paramilitary action was blunt, with heavy use of pellets, rubber bullets and tear gas cannons.

The Independent's war reporting maven Robert Fisk had this to write: Then Bahrain where – I don’t need to tell you, do I? – cops baton the demonstrators and slop thousands of tear-gas rounds into the men and women with such promiscuity that the police themselves, overcome by the gas, retch speechless on to the road. Weird, isn’t it?

What protesters demand

The basic grouse of the Bahraini protesters is that the Sunni majority government discriminates against them in matters relating to its welfare spending, employment and the like. The Shiites form about two-thirds of Bahrain's population.

They have called for the dissolution of the 2002 constitution and the formation of a new panel to draw up another new constitution.

Besides, they have called for the release of political prisoners and an end to torture and prosecution of journalists and human rights activists.

There has also been simmering discontent against the government’s policy of granting citizenship to Sunni Muslim immigrants from other countries.

The Shiite majority is apprehensive about the Sunni monarchy's immigration policies that could make them a minority in their own land.

Key risks

The religious fault lines in the Bahraini society appear to be divisive enough to create serious problems for the ruling al-Khalifa family. Political revolt did not look even remotely possible in the closely guarded rule of benevolent monarchs in the Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose grouping which comprises Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

Now, with the Shiite Muslim majority demanding more say in government and violently demonstrating their long-simmering disgruntlement with the Sunni ruling class, the political landscape in the key oil producing patch in the world is changing.

It's an instructive lesson. Bahrain, Algeria and Yemen are all following the identical policies of brutality that failed Messrs Ben Ali and Mubarak, Fisk wrote in The Independent.