In the wake of Thursday's attack on peaceful demonstrators in the capital Manama's Pearl Roundabout, which left at least four dead and hundreds injured, claims by Bahrain's ruling family that the police acted to avert a "sectarian abyss" have a hollow ring.
The strategic Gulf island state had a brief taste of democracy on gaining independence from Britain in 1971.
But the then and still Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman al-Khalifa - the longest-serving unelected prime minister in the world - presided over the ending of parliamentary democracy in the mid-70s.
The al-Khalifas - Sunni Muslims, in a country with a significant Shia majority - ruled with an iron hand for decades.
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