Manama: Tanks have begun withdrawing from Manama’s streets ahead of the planned lifting on Wednesday of a state of emergency enacted amid a crackdown on demonstrators but mistrust still abounds in Bahrain.
Backed by Saudi-led Gulf troops, Bahraini forces in mid-March crushed anti-governmentdemonstrations that had paralysed the capital.
Abdullah Hashim, a leading figure in the Sunni National Unity Assembly group spoke of “high tension” and accused the Shiite opposition of raising fears among Sunnis, who enjoy protection under the current rulers.
“The call to topple the regime has opened a deep rift in Bahraini society that will take tens of years to heal,” he told AFP, referring to a slogan chanted by demonstrators during a month of protests.
Tension between the Gulf Arab monarchies and Iran heightened after Tehran repeatedly criticised the crackdown on Bahraini protesters.
“If no political solution is presented, I think we are heading towards a big crisis,” opposition activist Nabil Rajab said.
In February, in response to the protests, Crown Prince Shaikh Salman had proposed a broad national dialogue, as opposition groups demanded the establishment of a “real” constitutional monarchy.
The opposition also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman, an uncle of King Hamad who has been in office ever since independence from Britain in 1971 and is unpopular with the opposition.
Shaikh Khalifa’s popularity among Sunnis appears to have surged as a result. Large posters of him are hung along main roads and on buildings, while stickers vowing allegiance to him are everywhere.
“Everybody wants reform, but not stupidly,” said Hashim, adding that his Sunni group considers itself an opposition movement although it does not believe Bahrain is ready for a real constitutional monarchy.”We are for a gradual reform process,” he said.