ICG conflict risk alert: Bahrain

International Crisis Group: Beneath a façade of normalisation, Bahrain is sliding toward another dangerous eruption of violence. The government acts as if partial implementation of recommendations from the November 2011 Independent Commission of Inquiry (the Bassiouni Report) will suffice to restore tranquillity, but there is every reason to believe it is wrong. Political talks – without which the crisis cannot be resolved – have ground to a halt, and sectarian tensions are mounting. A genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition and a decision to fully carry out the Bassiouni Report – not half-hearted measures and not a policy of denial – are needed to halt this deterioration.

Clashes between young protesters and security forces occur nightly, marked by the former’s use of Molotov cocktails and the latter’s resort to tear gas. Several have died, in most cases reportedly due to tear gas inhalation. The 9 April explosion of a handmade bomb in al-Akar, a Shiite village in the east of the Kingdom, which injured seven policemen, crossed a significant threshold and could be followed by worse. Already, even before authorities could investigate, pro-government Sunni vigilante groups retaliated, vandalising two cars and a supermarket owned by a Shiite firm accused of supporting the February 2011 protests.

Amid these and other violent events – including the death of a young protester apparently shot from a civilian car – there are two potential time bombs. The first concerns Bahrain’s scheduled hosting of a Formula 1 race on 22 April. On 8 April, the Coalition of the Youth of the February 14 Revolution, an umbrella for an array of opposition groups that commands the loyalty of Shiite neighbourhoods, warned that it would consider participants, sponsors and spectators as regime allies and declared that it would not accept blame for “any violent reaction” during the event. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has pledged to use the expected presence of foreign tourists and journalists to highlight human rights violations; the government’s 15 April arrest of human rights activists shows that it will try hard to prevent this.

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