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Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 14:57 | SYDNEY
Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 14:57 | SYDNEY

Bahrain's Shi'a: With Iranian friends like these...



19 February 2009 08:43

I argued in a Lowy paper last year that the notion of a 'Shi'a Crescent' forming after the rise to power of a democratically-elected Shi'a-dominated government in Iraq doesn't stand up to serious scrutiny. But if there is to be a political problem with Gulf Shi'a, it is likely to emerge in Bahrain.
Events over the past few months have illustrated the multi-faceted nature of the community's problems in the Gulf kingdom, where their demographic strength is hostage to the Sunni minority's stranglehold on political power. In December last year, a group of Shi'a were arrested on suspicion of planning bomb attacks to coincide with the Bahraini National day celebrations. Bahraini state television subsequently showed televised 'confessions' from a number of the accused. 

More arrests on terrorism charges followed in late January, including that of the leader of one of the main Shi'a political opposition groups. The subsequent riots were in some ways a continuation of larger scale riots stretching back to December 2007.
Iranian nationalists added their two cents' worth earlier this month when Iranian MP Darioush Ghanbari said Bahrainis would choose to be a part of Iran if there was a referendum. This prompted immediate condemnation from Bahrain's main Shi'a political movement, al Wifaq. Ghanbari's statement echoed a provactive 2007 claim in the semi-official Iranian newspaper al Kayhan that Bahrain was a province of Iran, necessitating a rapid visit by Iran's foreign minister to repair the damage. It should not surprise that Ghanbari criticised Foreign Minister Motaki's visit at the time, saying that such a visit was 'trampling on Iran's dignity'.
Between irredentist claims from Iranian nationalists and terrorism arrests involving senior Shi'a figures, it is little wonder mainstream Shi'a political players are finding it difficult to achieve political reforms. While that impasse remains, the political and economic frustrations of the majority Bahraini community will continue to grow.

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