A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman takes part in a demonstration in solidarity with jailed Bahraini women and against the government in the village of Maqabah, west of Manama on December 13, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh


Bahrain is the only monarchy in the Persian Gulf where Shiite Muslims are in the majority, but political power in this tiny nation rests with the Sunni minority. In 2011, a Shiite uprising was harshly suppressed by authorities, who accused participants of collaborating with Iran. But protests led by Al-Wefaq, the Shiite opposition party, haven’t stopped, and are becoming increasingly violent.


A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman wearing the niqab shouts anti-government slogans during a demonstration in solidarity with human rights activists and political prisoners in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, on January 6, 2013.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

“I took the photo [above] in the village of Sanabis, during a protest to show solidarity with Shiite political prisoners,” said Mohammed Al-Shaikh, a Bahrain-based AFP photographer.  “In Bahrain wearing the niqab, the full veil, isn’t required. You frequently pass women on the street wearing a hijab, or not veiled at all. But during the rallies, almost all the women wear a niqab, for the simple reason that they don’t want to be identified by the police. If a man covered his face it would immediately be seen as suspect. But a woman can always say it’s for religious reasons.”


A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman holds her national flag during an anti-government protest in the Manama coastal suburb of Karbabad on December 28, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Mohammed Al-Shaikh

The Shiite have been fighting tirelessly for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa. In power since 1974, the religious hardliner is uncle to King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

Protesters conform to local tradition: when men and women march at the same time, they are in different groups. “There are also 'women only' marches,” Al-Shaikh said. “The women want to show that they’re not just following the movement, they’re also capable of leading the revolution. Actually, they drive the police completely nuts. A policeman cannot grab a woman and handcuff her; that type of physical contact isn’t allowed. So it’s almost impossible to stop the protests by women. The police have to settle for using tear gas to disperse the crowd. The authorities also have an all-female division of the anti-riot police.”


A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman holds a rock during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Manama on December 17, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Confrontations break out almost every night, from the narrow alleys in the Shiite villages to the doors of Manama, the country's capital.

For a photographer, the protests deliver a bounty of stunning images. “I try to capture the looks on their faces, and to understand what those expressions are saying,” Mohammed said. “I’m after the two or three seconds when they notice me and their stare remains steady, before they turn away.”

A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman looks out for riot police during clashes following an anti-government demonstration and in solidarity with political prisoners in the village of Abu Saiba, West of Manama, on December 3, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman takes part in a demonstration in solidarity with human rights activists and political prisoners in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, on January 6, 2013.
AFP PHOTO/Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Bahraini Shiite Muslim women take part in the funeral of Habib Ebrahim Abdullah on January 13, 2013 in the village of Malikiyah, south of Manama.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

A Bahraini Shiite protester stands during clashes with security forces following the funeral of 43-year-old Asia Hassan al-Madeh in the western Manama suburb of Jidhafs on November 06, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Bahraini Shiite Muslim girls pray following a protest at a park in the suburb of Manama on January 1, 2013.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Bahraini Shiite Muslim women walk with a child during a protest at a park in the suburb of Manama on January 1, 2013.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman is seen through window during a protest at a park in the suburb of Manama on January 1, 2013.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Bahraini Shiite Muslim women wearing the niqab hold up portraits of relatives being held in Bahraini jails during a demonstration in solidarity with human rights activists and political prisoners in the village of Sanabis, on January 6, 2013.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Bahraini Shiite Muslim women protestors flash the sign for victory during clashes following an anti-government demonstration and in solidarity with political prisoners in the village of Abu Saiba, West of Manama, on December 3, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Bahraini Shiite Muslim women gather during the funeral of 16-year-old Hussam al-Haddad in Muharreq, east of Manama, on August 18, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh

A Bahraini Shiite Muslim woman mourns during the funeral of 16-year-old Hussam al-Haddad in Muharreq, east of Manama, on August 18, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / Mohammed Al-Shaikh