Middle East

Bahrain Lifts Emergency Law Imposed After Protests

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The government of Bahrain on Wednesday lifted a state of emergency that was declared at the height of the anti-government protests in March. Since then, the government has detained thousands of protesters, opposition leaders, journalists, even teachers and doctors who were seen as sympathetic to the rebellion.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in for Steve Inskeep. He's on assignment in Pakistan.

Now, in the tiny island nation of Bahrain, the government lifted an emergency law today. That law was imposed two and a half months ago, after mass protests swept the country. Since then, the government has detained thousands of protesters, opposition leaders, journalists, even teachers and doctors who were seen as sympathetic to the rebellion.

NPR's Kelly McEvers has been reporting on the region and she joins us now. Hey, Kelly.


KELLY: So we mentioned Bahrain is a tiny nation, but it is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, it is a big banking hub. The unrest there has, of course, been very closely watched. What will it actually mean today - the lifting of this state of emergency?

MCEVERS: It's a great question and it's not really clear. On the one hand, you have, you know, top members of the royal family saying security has been achieved; we're ready to go forward with our agenda of reform. But on the other hand, you have hard-liners in the government issuing statements that, you know, anyone who's going to go out to protest today will face, quote, "consequences." Given the fact that four people have died, while in custody over the past two and a half months, that threat is pretty clear.

Last night, a handful of leading opposition figures were called into the special military court for prolonged interrogations. They were eventually let go, but they say the message was: watch out, we can still get you - emergency law or no.

KELLY: Well, and are there signs that people are going out to protest today?

MCEVERS: So far, no. Last night, there were some isolated protests related to these temporary detentions. The opposition has vowed to take to the streets later today. But the streets are still, by and large, being blocked off by the Bahraini military. There's no real sign that the Saudi and Emirati troops who rolled into Bahrain in March will be leaving anytime soon, either.

And the Pearl Monument, which was the center of the protest in February and March, has been completely demolished. And no one can get anywhere near the square where it used to be.

KELLY: You mentioned the Saudi and Emirate troops who are still in the capital, no signs that they're likely to depart anytime in the near future?

MCEVERS: Right, and there's been no indication from Bahraini officials that that's going to happen. And analysts here say that there are no plans to do it anytime soon.

KELLY: That's the scene of the capital. Do you have a sense of what it's like elsewhere in Bahrain today?

MCEVERS: Well, on the surface, you know, you have people going to work, living their lives. And I think that's the message the government is trying to send: things are back to normal, everything is okay, please come back to Bahrain and spend your money. You know, the tourism industry has taken a really big hit.

But scratch the surface and you see that things are not normal at all. You know, drive-by an otherwise benign patch of sand and see some rebar sticking out of it, and you realize that's where a mosque used to be. Since the crackdown began, the government has demolished at least 43 Shiite mosques. They say they were illegally built. But it's clear that the Sunni-run government is going after the largely Shiite-run opposition.

Pro-government media features people calling Shiites things like traitors and enemies of the state. And Sunnis say they're generally concerned that the whole protest movement is actually a plot by Shiite Iran to take over the entire region.

KELLY: Kelly, what is your sense of what the ruling family's strategy is in all of this? Yesterday, the king made a speech. He called for a national dialogue that would begin next month. What exactly does he mean? What are the prospects for then?

MCEVERS: Most people in Bahrain were happy to hear that gesture of the speech, calling for dialogue. But they say he should've gone further to address these detentions, these deaths; some kind of apology, some kind of amnesty, something.

You know, even those who've lost family members say a gesture like that would actually go a long way. But he didn't do that.

You have to consider something that President Obama said in his Middle East speech last month. He said, you know, you can't hold a dialogue with people who are in jail. And there are still so many people in jail.

Also, with the sectarian divide deepening, you have to wonder: how will these two sides be able to reconcile, and sit down at the table and talk to each other after all that's happened?

KELLY: Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

KELLY: We've been talking with NPR's Kelly McEvers, who is covering the events unfolding in Bahrain.

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