Souffler le chaud du confessionnalisme au Bahreïn
Souffler le chaud du confessionnalisme au Bahreïn

Bahrain Burning

In mid-March, a violent government campaign to put down a month-long popular revolt turned Bahrain into an island of terror. Images of security forces firing on unarmed protesters chanting “peaceful, peaceful” went around the world via YouTube and other media. Today Bahrain has largely receded from the news, emerging only briefly in an Obama speech or when Formula One organizers had to ex-plain why they postponed and finally canceled the annual Bahrain Grand Prix.

What happened in this small Persian Gulf nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia is the latest episode in a long-running conflict. For over two hundred years Bahrain has been ruled with a heavy hand by a family of sheikhs, the Al Khalifas. Sunni Muslims from the Saudi mainland, they have regarded Bahrain’s Shia population as Iranian proxies who cannot be entrusted with full political rights. The Shias, who make up some 70 percent of the country’s 1.2 million people (of whom some 666,000 are nonnationals), have long felt discriminated against in access to jobs, education, housing, and much else. In particular, they accuse the government of trying to dilute their numbers by naturalizing expatriate workers, especially Sunnis from Arab countries and Pakistan.

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