Bahrain – The Arab Spring’s “missed” opportunity


Bahrain, whose name means “two seas” in Arabic, is an archipelago on the west coast of the Persian Gulf.

The country’s capital is Manama. Since 1507 and for more than a century it was the Portuguese port of call on the route to India. After the Portuguese occupation, Bahrain fell under the control of a Turkish Sultanate, but Persians were those who really dominated this country. The Persian domination lasted intermittently for nearly two centuries. They stayed there from 1735 to 1784, when the place was conquered by the Arab dynasty of Al Khalifa. In 1830 the Al Khalifa family signed the first of many treaties establishing Bahrain as a British Protectorate. In 1927, the sovereignty of Persia, now Iran, was reaffirmed. Iranian claims to the island were renewed several times subsequently. Uprisings  and rebellion against the British broke out in 1953 and 1954. The demonstrations hostile to the British  were supported by Teheran, which in 1957 decided to officially integrate Bahrain as the 14th province of Iran. This decision was dos12rejected by Britain which in November 1957 and November 1958 reaffirmed that Bahrain was a British protectorate.  The Iranian claim was also strongly rejected by Saudi Arabia and Iraq, stating that Bahrain was both culturally and geographically an Arab  state. Iranian claims over Bahrain were officially abandoned in May 1970 after the United Nations brokered a referendum on Bahrain’s future, and the vast majority – of both Sunni and Shiites – chose independence rather than incorporation into Iran.
Bahrain is rich in raw materials such as oil and gas. It is also the world centre of Islamic finance and is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups all the oil monarchies together, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  The country  is a hereditary constitutional monarchy, the Al Khalifa family is the ruling royal family. Unlike other Gulf countries, poverty is very high in Bahrain and there are huge social inequalities. Obviously Persian domination has been reflected in a degree of cultural influence. The question is particularly relevant in connection with Shiism. Most of the population in Bahrain is Muslim, the ruling and more elite class are Sunni Muslims, while the majority  of people are Shiite Muslims. This suggests that the Persian domination in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, allowed the introduction of a certain number of Persian elements into the  culture of the island. Some policies  hampered  the country’s full independence.  Britain itself supported  internal uprisings and a campaign targeted to undermine the desire for full independence of the people of Bahrain. Britain also set out to change the demographics of Bahrain.  This is reflected in the British policy of “de-iranization” of the country which consisted of importing large numbers of different Arabs, as well as other ethnic groups, from the British colonies to work as labourers in order to make the island more Sunni and less Shia, more Arab and less Persian. This favoured double standard policies on the basis of “religious affiliation”. This is still happening now; monarchic rule in fact, promotes the same socio-economic disparities. This could make the country collapse since the discrimination is against the Shiites who are the majority in the country. (M.B.)


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