Protesters Not Satisfied With Bahrain's Concessions

A longtime Bahraini exile has returned home to join the protesters in the capital. The protesters seem to be hardening their position on a proposed dialogue with representatives of the monarchy, saying there can be no talks until the regime steps down.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We are following the turmoil elsewhere in the Arab world, and now we're going to get an update from Bahrain. There the government has made some limited concessions. It fired four cabinet ministers and offered a dialogue with the opposition. But that has not been enough to satisfy protesters who are marching daily in the capital, Manama. Thousands are camped out in the central square known as Pearl Square. And over the weekend the youth movement welcomed home a leading dissident.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS: Hassan Mushaimaa is mobbed whenever he appears at Pearl Square. He heads the al-Haq movement, considered the more radical of the Shiite opposition groups. He's emerged as the most popular leader with young protesters camped out at Pearl Square. In an interview, he said he's meeting with the traditional opposition groups trying to unify demands for change.

Mr. HASSAN MUSHAIMAA (Opposition Leader): The demands is nearly clear. Different parties of the opposition are talking about constitutional monarchy. But of course the people here, they have got one slogan, they are repeating it every time.

(Soundbite of protest)

AMOS: The overthrown of the Sunni oil family, the al-Khalifas - that's the demand of the youth movement, radicalized by the government's use of force and organized to put thousands of protestors on the street in targeted demonstrations at government offices.

(Soundbite of protest)

AMOS: Bahrain's established opposition has more moderate goals: the resignation of the appointed government, a constitutional monarchy to replace the current autocratic system, the basis they say for a dialogue with the government. So far the government has sacked four cabinet ministers, replaced them with Shiites, but that's not enough to stop the protests.

Hassan Mushaimaa may be the key to finding a compromise. He's meeting with the opposition. He says he's listening to the youth. In fiery speeches he tells them how can we have a dialogue when we there's no trust? He urges the protestors to keep up the pressure until the government falls.

Mr. MUSHAIMA: Here in Bahrain, as I said, we have to see, is it possible to do this, to complete it, or should we go with a constitutional monarchy?

(Soundbite of PA system)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: At the makeshift tent camp, political discussions continue night and day. Ahmed Mubarak(ph), a 42-year-old real estate developer, spends his evenings here. He says young people are learning quickly how to organize for prolonged protest and strikes. For the first time, he says, they are learning how politics works.

Mr. AHMED MUBARAK (Real Estate Developer): People, they know what they want but they don't know how to say it, at the same time how to put it in sequence. I want this. No. I go step-by-step.

AMOS: The emotional demands for an immediate end to the monarchy is not realistic, he says.

Mr. MUBARAK: How about I'm the king. Is it that easy? No way.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting in foreign language)

AMOS: The calls for regime change in this strategically important island nation is unsettling to neighboring Saudi Arabia and the other oil monarchies in the Gulf.

Nahi Ali, a 30-year-old engineer, is one of the youth organizers. He believes Saudi Arabia is putting pressure on Bahrain's monarchy.

Mr. NAHI ALI (Engineer): Yes, hundred percent yes. And they say too to the king, we are with you. Whatever you need. All our resolves just to stop this revolution. But I don't think they will succeed.

AMOS: But listening to Hassan Mushaimaa, it appears he's keeping the options open, trying to find a way to turn the protests into tangible and realistic gains - at the very least, he says, to meet the protestors' demands for the resignation of the prime minister in office for more than 40 years.

Mr. MUSHAIMAA: We don't want to talk anymore because it is something finished. He has to resign - finished.

AMOS: Now even the established opposition, including the Sunni opposition, says the government's concessions so far have not been enough.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.

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