Bahrain Shi’ite leader backs the royal family, rejects alleged Iran links

May 30, 2011

(Head of Al Wafaq Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, speaks during an anti-government protest at Bahrian's Foreign Ministry in Manama March 4, 2011/James Lawler Duggan)

The leader of Bahrain’s main Shi’ite opposition party said on Sunday his goal was to help bring political reform, rejecting accusations of taking orders from Iran or seeking to install Shi’ite religious rule. Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the opposition group Wefaq, said his party supported the Al Khalifa family as rulers and wanted to help the government with constitutional reforms.

“We said we want a constitutional monarchy, not a republic. We are for a gradual move to a democratic system, so we are not against the ruling family,” Salman told Reuters in an interview. “We have national demands that have nothing to do with Iran. We are proud of being a sensible, mature and progressive political movement that doesn’t need to take instructions from Iran or any other country.”

Bahrain brought in Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces in March to help break up a democracy movement inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. At least 29 people were killed in the unrest, all but six of them Shi’ites. Since then, dozens of Shi’ite places of worship have been demolished, four people have died in custody and two Bahraini journalists working for foreign media were beaten last week.

Twenty-one opposition figures — seven of whom are abroad — are now on military trial on charges of seeking to overthrow the system and rights activists say they were tortured. Many belong to Shi’ite groups that called for replacing the monarchy with a republic but Salman said Wefaq was not one of them and no Wefaq figures were on trial.

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