A massive crowd numbering in the tens of thousands filled Pearl Square in Bahrain's capital, Manama, pressing their demands for a more representative government at the current ruler, King Hamad bin Isa, the latest in a long line of members of the al-Khalifa dynasty.
The protesters swelled in size and volume in the square, after security forces abandoned their attempt to disperse the crowd. After some initial violence, during which seven people were killed and hundreds injured, government forces have refrained from interfering with protesters.
For his part, the king has offered to release political prisoners and to open a dialogue with opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa, currently under order of arrest and living in London. Emboldened by the king's promise not to have him arrested, Mushaimaa, who leads a movement called Haq, is due to return to Bahrain soon.
Bahrain's troubles stem in part from religious differences. Sunni Muslims, one of two main denominations of Islam, are a minority in the country but a majority in Parliament. But the major source of discontent comes from the autocratic nature of the government itself. The al-Khalifa family has ruled as monarchs for 200 years. Government leaders are named by the king and are intensely loyal to him. In fact, many members of the ruling cabinet are also members of the ruling family, including the king's uncle, who has been prime minister since 1971.
Other world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have called on the king to use restraint in dealing with the protesters.
Mushaimaa's Haq movement is not the only opposition group involved in the protests. Seventeen members of Wefag, a Shiite political party, resigned from Parliament to protest the use of violence against protesters.