The Middle East has seen a complete upheaval as a result of the Arab Spring. Syria and Libya have descended into violence, Egypt is wrestling with new governments and leaders, and Tunisia is on the path towards a new and fresh nation. There are nations like Bahrain that continue to struggle despite crackdowns and lack of attention.
Bahrain is going through a difficult time and is trapped in between two major powers. The government is predominantly composed of Sunnis loyal to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. This partnership also allows for the United States and other Western nations to operate in the Gulf with greater ease. Bahrain acts as a military port for these nations and an important location in the Persian Gulf.
Majority of the population in the island kingdom identify as Shia, and are seen as closely tied to Shia dominated Iran. Because of the split in the country, there is a struggle over influence in the country between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Bahrainis have spent over three years protesting in favor of economic and government reforms as well as equal status for Shia citizens. Shias have faced discrimination in a Sunni led country despite their numbers. In response to the protests, the Bahraini government, with the help of Saudi forces, countered against the revolts and imprisoned hundreds of opposition figures. The Pearl Roundabout was torn down in fear of it becoming a symbol of opposition and a focal point for the protests, and violence and brutal crackdowns subsequently followed suit.
The atmosphere in the nation is very tense, with almost any opposition against the government seen as a threat and treated as such. Famous Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was placed under arrest for two years for taking part in the protests as well as criticizing government officials on Twitter. Similar figures have endured extreme violence, torture, and abuse from government forces and continue to face hardships. Doctors, bloggers, and those speaking out in favor of human rights have all faced extreme responses from imprisonment to torture to deportation.
Whether the crackdown has been the government flexing its muscles or attempting to derail similar outcomes of that in Egypt and Syria, the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran have certainly contributed to the current situation.
Both of these powers are vying for influence and control in the region, and have been fighting a sort of proxy war in countries like Iraq. With the country centered between the two and facing government instability mixed with warring Sunni and Shia groups, Saudi Arabia and Iran have taken advantage of the situation in order to gain from the chaos and work to extend their power. Iran has partnered with Shia groups across the Middle East such as Hezbollah and the Syrian regime while Sunni led Saudi Arabia has worked to counter Iran, regardless of the appearance of working for stability’s sake.
This regional influence war has done the opposite of securing nations as seen in Bahrain. Shia rights have been sidelined in fear of Iranian infiltration and anger against the government has grown substantially. And the West’s support for Saudi Arabia and opposition to Iran has only fueled resentment Bahrainis feel towards the American government. America is experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance, advocating for democracy across the Middle East and reluctantly supporting revolutions while aiding Saudi Arabia in repressing Bahrain’s own uprising.
Regional conflicts need to be settled for the sake of those innocent people carrying the consequences. There are legitimate grievances being brought forth by the Bahraini people, and the fear of losing power, influence, and dominion has motivated governments to take excessive force. And the stigma faced by the Shia community is just as damaging. Regardless of the outcome, Shias in Sunni dominant nations face discrimination and bigotry based solely on their beliefs and perceived affiliation with Iran.
Revolutions like Bahrain’s needs to be more talked about, need to make headline news as much as it does for Egypt or Syria. The death count may not be as high as that in Iraq and Syria, nor is it a sensational story to cover, but it is critical to cover. Revolutions should not die out simply because they ceased to be exciting. As long as people are facing crackdowns and injustice, the story must be discussed and made well-known.
Photo Credit: Occupy