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Bahrain is still hounding its Shia

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A SAGGING rope, haphazard barricades—and fear. That is all it has taken to keep Diraz, Bahrain’s largest Shia village, under siege for the past seven months. Two checkpoints bar access to all but residents. Friends and family members are kept out. Grocers offload their wares at the perimeter wall. And the protesters who once thronged to hear the island’s leading Shia cleric, Isa Qassim, deliver his Friday sermon now stay at home. “Forget the thousands who used to join rallies,” says a cleric in a neighbouring village, recalling the protests which erupted after tanks crushed the mass demonstrations for democracy in 2011. “Today we can’t even find ten. Who wants to risk five years of prison and torture for ten minutes of glory?”

Though small, running out of oil and dependent on larger Gulf neighbours, Bahrain typifies how Arab autocrats have crushed the Arab Awakening’s demands for greater representation. After six years of suppression, the Shia opposition is disheartened. Maligned as the cat’s paw of Iran and a threat to Sunni rule in Bahrain, their movement is battered and broken. More than 2,600 political prisoners are in jail, a large number in a kingdom of just 650,000 people. Many of the detainees are children, says a former member of parliament from Wefaq, the Shia party the government banned last year. Hundreds have been exiled, scores barred from travel, and over 300 stripped of their nationality, including Sheikh Qassim. Even the execution on January 15th of three Bahrainis—the first for two decades—roused only sporadic unrest by the island’s opposition.

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