Education International
Education International

Bahrain: University students attacked as violence escalates

published 17 March 2011 updated 5 April 2011

EI has condemned the suspension of higher education in Bahrain as the brutal repression of pro-democracy protesters demanding political reforms within the kingdom continues.

The protesters have been inspired by the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, whose long-serving presidents were forced from power after weeks of demonstrations. Despite the king reshuffling his cabinet he has not replaced the prime minister of more than 40 years, Sheikh Khalifah ibn Salman al-Khalifah.

After eight weeks of protests, more than 1,000 troops from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and 500 from the United Arab Emirates have arrived in Bahrain at the invitation of the government. It is not clear whether soldiers from other Gulf states are taking part in the crackdown, but there are indications that the Saudi troops are being kept in reserve. This is the first time that an Arab government has called for outside military help during the wave of protests sweeping the region.

The Shi’a-led opposition platform has declared as ‘unacceptable’ all intervention by the armed forces of neighbouring countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council, a six-nation regional grouping which includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

With a population with a median age of 30 years, and a literacy rate of 91 per cent, Bahrain is a country with a successful educational record. Despite this, youth unemployment levels stand at 19.6 per cent.

Bahrain’s Shi’a Muslim majority has long complained of economic hardship, lack of political freedom and discrimination in jobs in favour of Sunni Muslims by the kingdom’s ruling Sunni Muslim minority. It has also called for the evolution of their nation from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) has called for a general strike on 15 March after a spate of violent attacks on university students, and the excessive use of force by riot police in the financial centre of the capital, Manama.

On Tuesday, at least two people were killed in clashes and more than 200 were injured. A trade union source reported: “Security forces have used both rubber bullets and live ammunition against the demonstrators. Men armed with knives, batons and revolvers, claiming to be government supporters, have stopped cars at crossroads and several trade union members have been beaten. The premises of political parties have been burnt down and we fear that there will be an attack on our own premises.”

A three-month state of emergency has been declared by King Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa. The academic year of university institutions has also been suspended and the government has imposed a curfew and banned all demonstrations.

Riot police entered Manama's Salmaniya Medical Centre on Wednesday, as doctors reported that they were being prevented from reaching the hospital or treating patients.

One doctor stated that she and her colleagues were hiding from troops who had taken over the building and were shooting at people inside the hospital and threatening the doctors with live ammunition.

"They are all around us with their guns and they are shooting anybody," she said.