Satellite Imagery: Update on Protests in Bahrain's Pearl Square

4 MINS READFeb 22, 2011 | 23:51 GMT
STRATFOR has obtained satellite imagery depicting Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain, at midday Feb. 22. The imagery, which shows few actual demonstrators, sharply contrasts with images from later in the day, when tens of thousands of protesters converged on the square. This suggests protesters are going about their daily business, then turning out to protest in the evenings. It thus remains to be seen whether protesters are committed enough to their cause to continue demonstrating in the face of another security crackdown like the one Feb. 17.
DigitalGlobe has provided STRATFOR with satellite imagery of Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain, from Feb. 22. Mostly Shiite protesters have been gathering in Pearl Square to protest the minority Sunni government since Feb. 13, with deadly clashes breaking out Feb. 17 when security forces temporarily cleared the square of protesters. Shortly after the military's withdrawal, protesters reoccupied the square and remain there today. The image below was taken at approximately midday local time and shows the few dozen temporary shelters that demonstrators have erected in and around Pearl Square. Traffic is still flowing through the roundabout, and the demonstrators appear to be keeping to the inner circle and traffic islands while avoiding the actual streets. (Click here to view satellite image of Manama taken Feb. 22, courtesy DigitalGlobe) Additionally, there is no evidence that Bahraini security forces are maintaining an overt presence in the square. In contrast to the Feb. 17 military action, when armored personnel carriers took up positions along the roundabout, no military vehicles can be seen in the streets, and there is no sign that the military vehicles that withdrew Feb. 18 are returning. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has said protesters have the right to protest in Pearl Square, though this and the lack of military vehicles do not necessarily mean the square lacks a security presence. Notably, this image was taken before larger crowds began making their way toward Pearl Square in the early evening. Images from later in the day, such as the one at the top of this analysis, showed crowds numbering in the tens of thousands converging on Pearl Square, blocking traffic and growing far larger than the more permanent demonstrations set up in the square. The lack of security forces facilitated a relatively permissive environment for the protesters, who were able to gather in the square in massive numbers with little if any resistance. Pearl Square has a surface area of approximately 321,000 square feet. This means that if protesters densely occupy the entire square — the circle in the roundabout, the streets and the outer edges — at one person per 2.5 square feet, about 128,000 people can fit in the square. It does not appear that protesters have reached this size. However, Bahrain is a relatively small country, with only about 800,000 people according to the World Bank. Approximately 160,000 people live in Manama and another 75,000 live in nearby Al Muharraq. Even if only 50,000 people gather in the square, that still would represent 6 percent of the country's population — and a full complement of 128,000 would represent 16 percent of the population. Protests of these magnitudes would present a strain to a city of Manama's size, as they would leave few others to perform critical services in the city. It remains to be seen whether the protesters will remain in Pearl Square overnight and into the following morning in an attempt to permanently occupy the square — or if they return in even larger numbers on Friday, a holiday and typically the day for the largest protests. These kinds of demonstrations reach a critical point when protesters of all stripes, including women and children, rather than just unemployed young males, confront armed security forces. The lack of Bahraini security forces near Pearl Square since the Feb. 17 crackdown has made it palatable for more people to come out. The contrast between the relatively small midday crowds and the large turnout in the early evening suggests people are going about their business during the day but turning out to protest in the evening. Therefore, while the number of protesters in Manama remains impressive, it is not yet known if they will stand up to another government crackdown — always a possibility despite Crown Prince Salman's warnings — or give up their daily lives and wages to protest the government.

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