The first anniversary of Bahrain’s ‘Day of Rage’ falls on 14 February. There is nothing for the opposition to celebrate.
Over the past year, 60 people have died in anti-government protests and the security forces have been accused of 107 cases of torture and mistreatment. Many of the island’s majority Shia population have faced down tear gas, shotguns and sound grenades while demonstrating. In January, nine people were killed, the highest number in a single month since March 2011. Next week, the situation is set to deteriorate still further.
The government says that it has embarked on a wide-ranging reform programme and that opposition groups have repeatedly shown no interest in negotiations. Commissioning an independent report into events surrounding the protests was a brave move.
But not enough has been done to convince young protesters that the governments’ intentions are genuine.
Police continue to use aggressive tactics in dealing with demonstrators. Large groups of protesters are planning to march on central Manama on 14 February in a bid to reclaim the symbolic Pearl Roundabout area, which was the focal point of last year’s protests.
If the police make the mistake once again of trying to beat back the pro-democracy movement, they risk escalating the conflict once more and potentially plunging Bahrain back into a period of martial law.
Opposition groups must also work hard to ensure the demonstrations remain peaceful. If they do not, they will undermine their case for being considered a democratic movement. They have already missed one chance of getting a reform deal agreed with the government by pushing for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.
Both sides made mistakes last year. But unless they have learnt the lessons from that dark period, the situation in Bahrain could become much worse.