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Flashpoint / Global

Bahrain

I. Why it Matters

Bahrain, close ally of Saudi Arabia, has endorsed the Trump administration’s aggressive posture against Iran. Manama’s longstanding suspicions of Iranian support for anti-government groups make Bahrain a flashpoint for regionalising an internal political struggle.

II. Recent Developments

  • 9 June 2022
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  • 6 June 2022
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  • 1 June 2022
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  • 13 April 2022
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  • 1 April 2022
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  • 28 March 2022
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  • 26 March 2022
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  • 22 March 2022
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  • 14 March 2022
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  • 9 March 2022
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  • 9 March 2022
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  • 2 March 2022
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  • 28 February 2022
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  • 21 February 2022
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  • 21 February 2022
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  • 15 February 2022
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  • 12 February 2022
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  • 3 February 2022
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  • 31 January 2022
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  • 20 December 2021
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  • 14 December 2021
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  • 9 December 2021
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  • 6 December 2021
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  • 22 November 2021
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  • 18 November 2021
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  • 17 November 2021
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  • 10 November 2021
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  • 31 October 2021
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  • 26 October 2021
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  • 30 September 2021
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  • 23 September 2021
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  • 22 September 2021
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  • 16 September 2021
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  • 9 September 2021
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  • 8 August 2021
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  • 29 July 2021
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  • 25 July 2021
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  • 18 May 2021
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  • 7 May 2021
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  • 30 April 2021
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  • 27 April 2021
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  • 27 April 2021
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  • 14 April 2021
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  • 2 April 2021
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  • 29 March 2021
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  • 17 March 2021
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  • 17 March 2021
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  • 9 March 2021
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  • 25 February 2021
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  • 15 February 2021
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  • 9 February 2021
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  • 31 January 2021
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  • 28 January 2021
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  • 26 January 2021
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  • 22 January 2021
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  • 19 January 2021
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  • 15 January 2021
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  • 15 January 2021
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  • 6 January 2021
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  • 6 January 2021
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  • 5 January 2021
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  • 31 December 2020
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  • 30 December 2020
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  • 22 December 2020
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  • 15 December 2020
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  • 9 December 2020
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  • 1 December 2020
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  • 1 December 2020
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  • 30 November 2020
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  • 19 November 2020
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  • 16 November 2020
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  • 5 November 2020
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  • 3 November 2020
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  • 28 October 2020
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  • 18 October 2020
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  • 25 September 2020
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  • 24 September 2020
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  • 20 September 2020
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  • 15 September 2020
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  • 14 September 2020
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  • 11 September 2020
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  • 9 September 2020
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  • 26 August 2020
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  • 13 August 2020
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  • 12 August 2020
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  • 9 August 2020
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  • 6 August 2020
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  • 29 July 2020
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  • 16 July 2020
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  • 9 July 2020
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  • 29 June 2020
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  • 18 June 2020
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  • 18 June 2020
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  • 13 May 2020
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  • 31 March 2020
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  • 12 March 2020
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  • 17 January 2020
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  • 3 January 2020
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  • 2 January 2020
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  • 2 January 2020
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  • 22 December 2019
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  • 15 December 2019
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  • 10 December 2019
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  • 10 December 2019
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  • 25 November 2019
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  • 23 November 2019
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  • 23 November 2019
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  • 15 November 2019
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  • 14 November 2019
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  • 13 November 2019
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  • 13 November 2019
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  • 5 November 2019
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  • 1 November 2019
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  • 30 October 2019
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  • 21 October 2019
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  • 13 October 2019
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  • 6 October 2019
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  • 4 October 2019
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  • 3 October 2019
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  • 28 September 2019
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  • 18 September 2019
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  • 17 September 2019
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  • 11 September 2019
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  • 3 September 2019
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  • 29 August 2019
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  • 19 August 2019
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  • 8 August 2019
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  • 31 July 2019
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  • 31 July 2019
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  • 17 July 2019
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  • 1 July 2019
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  • 30 June 2019
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  • 31 May 2019
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  • 30 May 2019
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  • 30 May 2019
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  • 19 May 2019
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  • 19 May 2019
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  • 18 May 2019
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  • 9 May 2019
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  • 3 May 2019
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  • 2 May 2019
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  • 27 April 2019
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  • 25 April 2019
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  • 23 April 2019
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  • 16 April 2019
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  • 9 April 2019
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  • 7 March 2019
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  • 27 February 2019
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  • 21 February 2019
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  • 14 February 2019
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  • 5 February 2019
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  • 29 January 2019
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  • 28 January 2019
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  • 15 January 2019
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  • 15 January 2019
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  • 11 January 2019
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  • 10 January 2019
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  • 7 January 2019
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  • 4 January 2019
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  • 6 December 2018
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  • 29 November 2018
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  • 26 November 2018
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  • 24 November 2018
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  • 20 November 2018
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  • 14 November 2018
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  • 14 November 2018
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  • 14 November 2018
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  • 13 November 2018
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  • 8 November 2018
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  • 7 November 2018
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  • 4 November 2018
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  • 1 November 2018
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  • 27 October 2018
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  • 24 October 2018
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  • 23 October 2018
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  • 23 October 2018
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  • 15 October 2018
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  • 9 October 2018
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  • 4 October 2018
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  • 29 September 2018
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  • 28 September 2018
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  • 10 September 2018
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  • 30 August 2018
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  • 13 August 2018
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  • 10 July 2018
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  • 20 June 2018
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  • 21 May 2018
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  • 10 May 2018
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  • 8 May 2018
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  • 3 March 2018
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  • 1 January 2018
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  • 11 November 2017
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III. Background

Bahrain, with nearly a population of roughly a million and a half in 2016, is the smallest nation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The island kingdom has long been a place of popular ferment, owing in part to its relatively open society and in part to the disenfranchisement of its majority-Shiite population by a Sunni monarchy. Bahrain periodically suffered sectarian-tinged trouble before 1979, but the Shiite-Sunni religious rift was not a structural feature of domestic political dynamics. This changed in the aftermath of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Some elements within Shiite communities throughout the Gulf, notably in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, mobilised and radicalised; in turn, Sunni anxiety heightened. While Bahrain’s government had not pursued a specifically sectarian agenda before 1979, since then many of its practices have exacerbated sectarian differences and fears.  

The situation worsened in 1981, after Bahrain foiled an attempt by the Islamic Front, a radical Shiite organisation, to take over police stations, ministries and radio stations, allegedly with the backing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The government reacted with a wide-ranging crackdown, arresting hundreds of Islamic Front members and sympathisers, and trying and convicting dozens of them.

In the 1990s, the combination of limited civil and political rights, extensive anti-Shiite discrimination, corruption within the ruling family elite, a repressive and largely foreign-staffed security apparatus and a stagnant economy contributed to occasional clashes and unrest. Two major Shiite dissident groups emerged, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement, as well as two left-wing (secular) groups. King Hamad, who succeeded his father, Emir Isa, in 1999, sought to defuse tensions, promising democratic reforms under the umbrella of his so-called National Action Charter. These included an amnesty for all political activists involved in the 1990s political unrest, resulting in the return of many exiles and facilitating the establishment of the Islamic National Accord Association (al-Wifaq) as a pan-Shiite bloc in November 2001. Yet optimism among the Shiite population slowly faded, including in 2002, when the king unilaterally promulgated a rewritten constitution that the opposition criticised for creating institutional and legal frameworks in which neither the king nor his advisors were accountable. Pent-up anger rose to the surface in 2004, with street demonstrations that took an increasingly sectarian dimension. Al-Wifaq, which had boycotted parliamentary elections in 2002, participated in both the 2006 and 2010 polls, taking seventeen and then eighteen of the national legislature’s 40 seats and asserting its status as the country's predominant Shiite group.

In 2011, taking their cue from protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, a medley of opposition groups, emergent political m