MUHARRAQ, Bahrain (AP) — Off a road guarded by three police checkpoints, Bahraini lawyer Taimoor Karimi wonders about his future in a country that no longer considers him a citizen.
He and 30 other Shiites were stripped of their nationalities this week in the Gulf nation’s latest attempt to crush a 21-month-old uprising against the Sunni leadership. Karimi ponders the possible loss of rights and benefits as a stateless outcast.
‘‘I have no place to go, nowhere to go,’’ he told The Associated Press during an interview at his home after learning of Wednesday’s decision.
The kingdom revoked the citizenship of Karimi and other Shiite activists and lawyers as battles appear to be escalating on all sides in the Gulf’s main Arab Spring flashpoint.
A series of five bomb blasts on Monday killed an Indian and a Bangladeshi worker and authorities claimed the attacks carried the hallmarks of the Iranian-backed Islamic militant group Hezbollah. Just days earlier, authorities banned all protest rallies under a ‘‘zero tolerance’’ policy that brought an unusually harsh rebuke from the U.S., which is normally wary about pushing too hard against Bahrain’s leaders who host the strategically important U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The sense of hardening positions in Bahrain has implications far outside the kingdom, which is no bigger in area than New York City.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are deeply committed to saving Bahrain’s Sunni dynasty as a firewall against possible future challenges to the ruling sheiks and monarchs in the region. Washington, meanwhile, faces a difficult balancing act between unease over Bahrain’s increasing harsh tactics and the need to preserve critical military and political alliances with the Gulf states as front-line partners against Iran.
The Bahrain-based 5th Fleet is the Pentagon’s main naval counterbalance to Iran’s expanded military bluster in the Gulf, including threats to close oil shipping lanes and a reported firing at U.S. surveillance drone in international airspace on Nov. 1. Pentagon press secretary George Little said the drone was not hit and returned to base.
In Bahrain, the majority Shiites seek a greater political voice in the country’s affairs. Near nonstop unrest since February 2011 has claimed more than 55 lives and brought some changes from the Sunni leadership, including giving more oversight powers to the elected parliament. But authorities also increasingly portray the opposition as traitors and influenced by Shiite giant Iran.
On Friday, security forces set up blockades and fired tear gas in an apparent attempt to disrupt weekly prayers by the country’s most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, who has often criticized the government’s crackdowns. A teenager was killed in a car accident connected to the protests, the opposition said.
Sixteen-year-old Ali Abbas Radhi was ‘‘martyred’’ after being struck by a car when security forces ‘‘attacked citizens’’ west of the capital Manama to prevent them from reaching Friday prayers, the largest Shiite political bloc, Al-Wefaq, said in a statement. The Ministry of Interior confirmed that a teenager was killed, without providing further details.
‘‘The revoking of citizenship from honorable people is aimed at punishing those who have opposition views,’’ Qassim told worshippers who managed to reach his mosque.
The decision to void the citizenship for 31 prominent Shiite figures — including some political activists in self-exile and former opposition lawmakers — was the latest blow against perceived threats to ‘‘state security,’’ according to the official Bahrain News Agency.
Officials did not respond to requests for additional details on the allegations. They appeared, however, similar to claims against dozens of opposition leaders who have been sentenced to prison, including several life terms. The group stripped of citizenship, including 30 men and one woman, can appeal, the state news agency added.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was ‘‘greatly concerned’’ by the move.
‘‘We have continually called on the government of Bahrain to create a climate that is conducive to reconciliation, to meaningful dialogue, to reform, to bring peaceful change,’’ she said on Wednesday.
At about the same time, the lawyer Karimi gathered with his family in the old section of Muharraq island, about 10 kilometers (six miles) northeast of Manama, and under near round-the-clock security watch as are many Shiite districts.Continued...