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Majority don't support unrest in Bahrain, says Irish woman in Manama

Irish woman living in Bahrain tells TheJournal.ie that Bahrain feels like the North in the 70s and the unrest has created sectarian divisions.

Anti-government protesters march towards the Saudi embassy in Manama, Bahrain, yesterday.
Anti-government protesters march towards the Saudi embassy in Manama, Bahrain, yesterday.
Image: AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

PROTESTS CONTINUE IN BAHRAIN, one day after the king introduced martial law and two days after troops arrived from Saudi Arabia to support the ruling monarchy.

“It really has the feeling of the North in the 70s. There are a lot of helicopters flying around,” Irishwoman Fiona Gaffney told TheJournal.ie.

Gaffney says that the majority of Bahraini citizens do not support the increasing unrest, and that the nature of the protests have changed since they first broke out a month ago.

She said that initially the Pearl roundabout in Manama – the symbolic centre of the protests – was treated almost as a picnic area by Bahraini families, who brought their children with them to protest peacefully.

Rising tension

Gaffney, who is married to a Bahraini man and has been living in the kingdom for 25 years, said that many protesters left the movement when the opposition began calling for talks but only with significant preconditions attached. As a result, she said, no talks have taken place.

The situation deteriorated about a week and a half ago, she said.

Initially, there was a movement of people calling for certain rights, but the protests have “degenerated into a mob” which attacked the state university on Sunday, according to Gaffney.

Protesters have also targeted the Financial Harbour, which houses foreign investors such as JP Morgan. Some of these companies have now decided to pull out of Bahrain, she said.

There was a mixed reaction to the arrival of troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Monday. Gaffney said:

[The reaction] was really along sectarian lines. There’s a huge allegiance to Iran among some – but not all – of the Shias and that sort of bolstered people who were not with them yet. Others realised that society has to get back to normal because the whole country has been held hostage.

The troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “are protecting installations while the Bahraini security services are the ones taking actions”, she added.

Mobile phones were briefly cut off in some parts of the country, but landlines and the internet have not been disrupted. A curfew has been imposed in certain areas and many people have chosen to stay home today – “better safe than sorry”, she said.

Gaffney said it will be hard now for the political tension to ease:

The unrest will continue, I think it’s taken root. I don’t see it ever reverting back to ‘the land of smiles’, as they used to call Bahrain.

Individually, everyone is wonderful and nice. In my office, everyone works together and sectarianism doesn’t come into it. But the atmosphere outside has changed and the vast majority don’t want it to go this way.

This morning, the AP reported that at least six people have been killed in the unrest since emergency rule was imposed yesterday.

Department advises against non-essential travel to Bahrain >

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