Even as tensions surrounding the protests that have left 20 dead here since February 14 seem to be waning—curfews have been relaxed and people are slowly returning to work—they’re not going away.
The sticking point isn’t the sectarianism that divides the Shia majority (some 65 percent of the population) and the ruling Sunnis. Nor is it that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah see here a potential opening for their influence. The issue is older and more profound, dating back to the time two centuries ago when the al-Khalifa conquered Bahrain and the indigenous people who’d lived there for thousands of years.
Some longtime observers of Bahraini politics believe it was the call for replacing the Sunni monarchy with a republic that brought escalation. In response, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa two weeks ago invited in a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) force composed of 1,000 Saudi troops and another 500 from the United Arab Emirates.
“There was a paper signed by some of the opposition groups wanting to topple the government,” says Ali Rabia, a democracy activist for over 35 years. A well-known Sunni, Rabia is proof that the opposition movement is no simple sectarian affair. “I very much doubt these groups’ loyalties are with Iran,” says Rabia. “The Iranians would not treat them well, and they know it. The relationship between Persian and Arab Shia is not a good one.” Agencies