Bahrain’s top Shi’ite cleric, opposition figure dies; streets filled for funeral

Shaikh Abdul Ameer al-Jamri, a Shiite cleric who led pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in the 1990s, died Dec. 18 at the age of 67. Shiites throughout the small island state went into mourning, hanging black flags and banners outside their houses and pasting pictures of al-Jamri on walls and car windows. Over 10,000 poured in the streets of the capital, Manama, to escort al-Jamri to his final resting place at the Bani Jamrah graveyard. Black-cloaked women and young men beating their cheasts chanted slogans in his honor, as police sealed off the main streets of the city. “He was a father figure for Shiite Bahrainis,” said his son, Mansour al-Jamri, a leading columnist and editor. “His legacy will start today.”

A local rights group, the Movement of Liberties and Democracy (HAG), described al-Jamri as “the spiritual father” of Bahrainis and a figure “who struggled for real constitutional citizenship where people live in peace without distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.” Al-Jamri was also mourned by the opposition Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), the main political society of Bahrain’s Shiites. Bahraini state radio and television ignored his death on their news bulletins, but word quickly got around, with many receiving the news in cell phone messages.

Al Jamri, a graduate of the Shiite seat of learning in the Iraqi city of Najaf, led demands in the early 1990s for the restoration of the elected parliament which was scrapped by the government in 1975 after only two years. Al-Jamri, who sat on the short-lived parliament, joined leftist and Sunni Islamist figures in 1992 in a petition demanding the reinstatement of the legislature. The government still has no plans to reestablish the legislature. (Gulf News, UAE, Dec. 19; AP, Dec. 18; Library of Congress Country Stdues)

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