Plans by an exiled Shi’ite leader
to return home raised the stakes in a power struggle in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, as
mainly Shi’ite protesters in Manama’s Pearl Square pressed demands for a new government.
Haq movement leader Hassan
Mushaimaa, tried in absentia in Bahrain for attempting to topple the
government, said he would fly back from London today, Tuesday, posing a fresh
challenge to the ruling al-Khalifa family, whose legitimacy he has contested.
Mushaimaa’s Facebook page said he
wanted to “see if this leadership is serious about dialogue and if it will
arrest him or not.”
An arrest warrant for Mushaimaa is
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has
asked his son, the crown prince, to conduct a dialogue with all parties, but
after the bloodshed on the streets, in which seven people have been killed and
hundreds wounded, opposition parties are wary.
Haq is more radical than the
Shi’ite Wefaq party, from which it split in 2006 when Wefaq contested a parliamentary
election. Wefaq’s 17 MPs resigned last week in protest at the violence.
“They (Haq) are less likely to
take a conciliatory position toward the regime,” said Shadi Hamid of the
Doha Brookings Center. “They are not yet explicitly calling for its downfall,
but they are not interested in being part of the system.”
Haq’s leaders have often been
arrested in recent years, only to receive royal pardons. Some were rearrested
in a crackdown in August, when 25 Shi’ite activists, including 23 now on trial,
were charged with trying to overthrow the government violently.
The opposition is demanding a true
constitutional monarchy that gives citizens a greater role in a directly
elected government. It also wants the release of political prisoners.