While the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Libya and Iran are not a surprise, the ones in Bahrain definitely are. Not because the population is not unhappy, (the majority shia are extremely oppressed by the minority sunni ruling class), but because in this constitutional monarchy bordering Saudi Arabia, it is rare that they were not squashed on Day 1. When the current ruler came to power some years ago, he introduced some reforms; however the old guard (his uncles etc) have been extremely resistant to change. As in most cases, it is unfortunately only a matter of time before the new guard becomes the old guard, and reform for the oppressed masses is forgotten.
What distinguishes protests in Bahrain from protests in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is the legitimacy of the ruler. In the latter countries, the people are/were demanding that their rightful constitution be restored, and the rulers who had usurped power for decades be removed. In Bahrain, the legality of the form of governance (constitutional monarchy) is not in dispute, the issue is reform for the people. One other wrinkle in this mess is that neighboring salafi/wahabi Saudi Arabia will not be “open” to having a strong Shia influence in Bahraini politics.
The army is already rolling into Pearl Square on day 3 of protests- let’s see which way the wind will blow for this small island country.