There is also a growing push from some Sunni leaders to use more extreme measures. After the beginning of the crisis last year, a political Sunni coalition formed to counter Shiite rhetoric. Some hard-liners in the group have since called on the government to use additional force to control opposition protesters, whom they identify as “traitors.”
Bahrain’s major opposition groups have condemned the spike in violence. But Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the main Shiite party al-Wefaq, says the shift in sentiment is hardly surprising.
“This is because the government didn’t listen to its people and used a lot of force,” he says. “The cocktails were used just in the last month. All the 11 months before there was nothing.”
Shiite Muslims, who represent about 70 percent of the population, make up the majority of opposition supporters in Bahrain. They say they are marginalized by their Sunni leaders and have been calling for more rights and a more representative government.
Last week, an al-Wefaq representative met with the ruling family to present a list of demands from a coalition of five opposition parties. The list, known as the Manama Document and first introduced last fall, calls for an elected parliament that has actual power, equal voting districts that are not skewed to favor government supporters, independent judges, and an end to discrimination against the Shiite majority.
Shiites also complain of weekly attacks on their villages by security forces, who they say use teargas indiscriminately.
Violent retaliation against the police began to intensify last month after Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim told his supporters to “crush” any officer who was seen abusing women.
The call came after several females complained of being sexually harassed by authorities.
“If anything happened to our women in a bad way, it means that our dignity is broken and we will be in shame if we did nothing to prevent such attitude again,” said a young Shiite who admitted to throwing stones at police and asked to be identified only as Abu Haider. “It breaches our standards of Islam, so citizens are using these tactics in villages to stop police from storming in.”