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Middle East Research Paper | Conflict in Bahrain


Present research paper is titled “Middle East”. In this paper I am going to discuss the recent conflict in Bahrain. I will enumerate the causes of the internal dispute in Bahrain, discuss the Shi’a-Sunni division and talk about the demands presented to the government related to the reform of the political structure. Also I will discuss the reasons for the GCC intervention.

Lack of Political Trust in the Country

In the country there are two connected problems: on one hand there’s a rising gap between the opposition and the political organization, and on the other hand, there is a comparable gap between the parties and Bahraini people in general. The deficiency of dependence between political parties and different Bahraini social groups is obvious and has reached a hazardous degree. It also reflects the most painful experience the country has witnessed in its recent history.

The absence of trust means the absence of social agreement about political or social values, like political priorities and the chance of co-existence. Mutual distrust influences basic matters like the form and the structure of social and political organizations and public expectations. This sequentially hurts society’s capability to create and support the political structure. It also upsets a connection between different social parts and the degree of their mutual participation and interaction to achieve common goals and encourage general stability.

To see a solution we have to assess the grounds behind the absence of political trust in the state, which has seen many problems before the crisis. The levels of disbelieve have always been present due to the political circumstances, but the last time the indicator has reached an extremely high level.

Disbelieve resurfaced due to arguments regarding the Constitution that followed by a little turn-out during the election in 2002. By 2006, assurance in the political organization had improved when the opposition took part in the political course of action, but then declined until the outbreak of the issue in February 2011. It resulted in a sort of “political divorce” in the country. The opposition left the Parliament and some parties wanted the total overthrow of the government, which negatively influenced social ties and the degree of trust between them (Shafaei). Political trust is linked to the nature of the bond between the political organization and populace. It is also connected to the work of all the legislative, judicial and executive authorities, and whether they have met the hopes of the population and fulfilled all promises.

Why Bahrain?

Although there is a major opinion about the member states of the GCC which stresses on their resemblance, the circumstances in Bahrain have been different from other nations of the Persian Gulf (GCC Countries. Kingdom of Bahrain). Those dissimilarities constitute the key root of the latest crisis in the country. Bahrain lacks oil and gas resources and can’t earn much money with the help of energy exports with Saudi Arabia. The economy is very dependent on foreign supports and investments and the existing monetary resources are not divided evenly among citizens. Though Shi’as hold a majority in Bahrain, they suffer from poverty and unemployment. Another significant issue is the political rift between populace and the state which is also based on sectarian dissimilarities (Asadi, 2011).

The Shi’a-Sunni division

The huge division between Sunnis and Shi’as is the oldest in the account of Islam. Sunnis and Shi’as both agree on the basic ideas of Islam and have common Holy Book (The Qur’an). However, there are differences derived from their dissimilar historical, political and social experiences. The dissimilarities originate from the issue of who would succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community after his passing away (Sunni and Shi’a, 2009).

Bahrain is under the control of a Sunni royal family. At the very same time 60-70% of Bahrain’s five hundred thousand residents are Shi’a (Bahrain-Politics). The other half-million human beings are guest workers. The largest part of Bahraini population is the part of the Shi’a secondary class, and their complaints are at the center of all domestic politics here. Shi’ites assert that they have no health and education advantages, no equal housing and that government institutions refuse to provide them with jobs. Sectarian violence goes on to boil and political life is becoming more and more polarized.

With the exemption of several rich families, Shi’a Bahrainis are poorer than Sunni residents. Most Shi’a in the country are Arabs, however about 15% of people are ethnically Persian. They prefer to speak Persian language at home. Now they try to become a part of the professional classes. They claim they are treated as second class residents.

The Bahrain of 2010 was a distant cry from the conflict of the 1990s. State security courts had been eliminated, street protests were fewer and not so violent, and Wifaq, as an officially permitted opposition, has proven its capability to channel the largest part of Shi’a political energy into non-violent complaints (Bahrain-Politics).

Demand for equal rights in the country

Thousands of local residents were marching in the Manama to demand the instant resignation of the existing administration. Protesters accused the administration of continuing its attack on Shi’ite-led protests in spite of the fact-finding report authorized by Bahrain’s Sunni rulers that found some abuses (Khalifa, 2011).

Bahraini protesters called in a new declaration for the government and for finishing unfairness against the Shi’ite populace to break the political dead end. In “The Manama Paper”, a paper presented as Bahrain’s “way to liberty and democracy,” the 5 groups, comprising the largest Shi’ite group Al-Wefaq, called for reform the political organization while “maintaining the monarchy.” The list of demands included “a fair electoral system,” and “a governmental authority with one chamber that would have restricted legislative, regulatory, political and financial authorities.” Additionally, the present parliament also was supposed to have the all-appointed Council that has right to supersede legislation from the lower chamber.

The major protest was against naturalization of foreigners “on political grounds.” People treated it as an effort to alter the demographic level in favor of the Sunnis. The paper also demanded the ending of this policy as well as reversing “sectarian, tribal and political discrimination.”For many local citizens, political matters top the list, but economic questions are not really too far behind. Also socioeconomic dissimilarities amid the Sunni elite and Shi’a protesters were emphasized by sectarian dissimilarities. Many thought the government was keen to play up religious gap as en element of the famous divide-and-conquer strategy. Bahrain’s anti-government group was demanding a real and clear constitutional democracy when “the royal family is merely a royal family, not ruling one”. The protesters wished to have another prime minister elected and a bicameral parliament with improved powers.

Core structural modifications – if enacted – could calm the protesters, who asserted that practically a half of main positions were filled by Khalifa family members. The government agreed with some demands and moved to sack 5 ministers and released three hundred prisoners, including 23 terror suspects. The choice of 2 Shi’a to take the positions of housing and health ministers aimed to reverse discrimination.

Economic depression

Continued political disturbance in the isle kingdom threatened to ruin an economy, but protesters said they have waited for too long. Unlike many other Gulf nations, Bahrain is not completely depended on oil. The political administration has fashioned this country as a business and commercial center to attract investors. Decent employment and national prosperity were the major economic demands of the protesting people.

In the well-known 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index the country was 48th in the globe. It was a huge decline since 2003. This was noticed by protesters who refused the ruling Khalifa family. Many young Shi’a said that constant bias prevented them from professional growth. They accused the administration of inviting foreign Sunnis instead of giving the jobs to Bahraini Shi’a. But protesters also said that the psychology of the protesters’ movement was deep-rooted in the Shi’a notion of suffering and Imam Hussein’s fight. So, the battle for political alteration was religiously infused, but the demands were also deeply socioeconomic. “No alteration took place,” said a young protester. “All officers who were involved in the violation of human rights were awarded with good positions. Our administration is fooling own populace and that is why it has to be resign” (Demanding equal rights in Bahrain, 2011).

The GCC intervention

In the rouse of deaths and missing individuals at the hands of military forces and increasingly unstable anti-administration protests, the King of Bahrain asked for help from the GCC to re-establish order. The GCC replied by sending Saudi troops and Emirati police officers into Bahrain. Over 1000 military and police resources from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the association of Persian monarchies, was sent to Bahrain in a challenge to stop the revolt against the monarchy of al-Khalifa. The situation became the standoff; the major opposition newspaper Al Wasat was suspended due to the charges with provocation of sectarian trouble (Egypt FM hails GCC intervention in Bahrain, 2011).

The information about the Gulf Cooperation Council intervention has brought even larger amounts of people onto the streets of Manama. Military and police human resources cruelly assaulted protesting citizens in Pearl Square, utilizing firing shotguns, killing four demonstrators and wounding 230 people. Witnesses in Manama said that Bahraini police fired bullets made of rubber and teargas grenades into protesters, while pro-monarchy muggers armed with swords attacked protesters (Different kinds of intervention: groups respond to GCC troops entering Bahrain, 2011).

After the attack, local television showed video of weapons that had theoretically been kept by protesting people at Pearl Roundabout. Media also stated that military forces gave fair warning before evicting people from the symbolic centre of Manama. But members of the opposition declare that if pretesting people had weapons, it would have been utilized to defend children and women. Protesters also added that they would have never brought women and children to the Pearl Roundabout if they predicted violence.

The media reported that initially and officially the troops were sent to protect key oil facilities and economic institutions and to maintain order in the country (GCC troops dispatched to Bahrain to maintain order). The Bahrain administration did not officially confirmed that a Gulf Cooperation Council intervention is under way and only admitted that they had asked for assistance from the GCC. It should be mentioned that the ruling family in the country is closely tied with the more influential Saudi ruling family. While the main family in Bahrain is Sunni, and Sunnis were permitted to serve in the security forces and army, the most part of the residents consists of Shiites (Johnston, Richter, 2011). And the anti-government protests were demanding the ending of sectarian discrimination, democratic elections and fair distribution of the Bahrain’s oil wealth. The Saudi and other monarchies of the Council were afraid that the collapse of the al-Khalifas will encourage mass demonstrations in their own countries.

The Sunni Muslim emirates of the GCC were also concerned that any adjustment of the Shiite masses might allow pro-Iranian Shi’ite political parties to enlarge their power in this important country. Bahrain is close to Saudi Arabia’s main oil producing district, where the major part of the populace is Shi’a, suffering from discrimination. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were defending their own interests. These interests do not lie just in defending strategic centers, but also in defending their responsibilities; counting the treaties according to which they provide other nations with oil, treaties which they must act to defend (Husseini, 2011).

For the USA, the intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council may be considered as a slap in the face. On March 12, Defense Secretary Gates attended Bahrain, where he called for actual changes in the nation’s political system. The Saudis were called in during several hours of Gates’s leaving, however, showing their disregard for his attempts to accomplish a negotiated solution. By acting so soon, Saudi Arabia has made the USA look at least irrelevant to actions in Bahrain, and from the opposition’s opinion, even complicit in the intervention.

The USA had to stop any hazard to its interests in the East, which is now a home to the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet. This important base provides the USA with military reach in the Gulf and across the Middle East, and is an essential staging post in occupation of Iraq. Bahrain is the vital oil and natural gas provider as well. So, Washington was afraid of the extension of the Bahraini complaints into Saudi Arabia and some other GCC nations would initiate further raise in prices for oil.

Some protesters claim that the GCC’s intervention could not possibly happen without sanction from the USA. The Bahraini and the Saudi monarchies are American clients, which armed and politically supported the existing regimes for many years. (Green, 2011). While the USA may favor some space between the government in Bahrain and a section of Shi’ite political and clerical privileged people in the country, the concern of USA is to preserve its foothold in Bahrain, and its domination over the huge resources of energy, even if it means an assault by the Gulf Cooperation Council forces.

The attack on Bahrain by the Gulf Cooperation Council proves that the Arab ruling families are totally subordinate to imperialism and their entire counterstand to the social and democratic aspirations of the usual residents (Green, 2011). There is also no evidence to say that the other Gulf Cooperation Council nations and particularly Saudi Arabia denied the decision of the king of Bahrain to appoint an independent commission and to collaborate with its investigation (Koch, 2011).

Contribution to the Arab Spring of the Bahrain

The most attractive aspect of the phenomenon known as the Arab Spring is the flexibility showed by the Arab monarchies, like in Bahrain, when confronted by anti-government protests. In a wider context, the lack of solidarity with Bahraini protesters, is indicative “of fear” of Shi’a and the Iranian impact on the Sunni Arab world. The Gulf nations made sure to depict the protests as a sectarian Shi’a plot to make unclear the protesters’ political message of equality (Bahrain’s contribution to the Arab Spring, 2011). The comparative achievement of isolating the movement by sectarian fears is disappointedly a symbol that the Arab Spring has been not really useful and valuable in doing away with sectarian intolerance that is not only hinders successful unity, but threaten to break some Arab uprisings.


Present paper describes the recent conflict in Bahrain. It enumerates the causes of the internal dispute in Bahrain, describes the Shi’a-Sunni division and mentions the demands presented to the government related to the reform of the political system. Also present paper describes the reasons for the Gulf Cooperation Council intervention in the internal dispute in Bahrain.

The anti-government pretests in Bahrain principally boil down to the old ideological and unbridgeable dissention between Shi’a and Sunni. The seeds of Shi’a belief in Islam were cultivated on the end the prophet Muhammad when his heir was to be selected. Muhammad, during his life, did not personally name the successor or explained the procedure for selecting a descendant after his passing away. This is the main reason for the conflict between Shi’a and Sunni.

In a wider perspective the Saudi administration possesses Sunni faith and the populace of Saudi Arabia is as a rule Sunnis. In contrast, Iran’s over ninety percent population has Shi’a faith. Thus, within the Muslim part of globe there are 2 strong rivals: one leading the Sunnis and the other heading the Shi’as. With the taking of the existing dynastic regime apart, the hold of Saudi Arabi, regional opponents of Iran and for that issue of Shi’as would also grow weaker or even end. Whether this political alteration would also be harmful to the American armed forces presence in Bahrain is yet to be extended once the protests successfully collapse as occurred in Tunisia and Egypt.

The part of the trouble is that the Arab uprisings didn’t fundamentally modify the official Arab order that comprises administrations that fed sectarian separations to guarantee their long life. That fact that Bahrain’s populace is 70% Shia’s but is under the total control of Sunni royal family have made it possible for administrations to declare the Iranian scheme to decline the steadiness of the Gulf Cooperation Council and as a result the Arab world. In fact, the Bahraini movement became partially a casualty to the geopolitical competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the strategically placed state. But mostly the evident conspiracy against the Bahraini movement was specifically due to its native and political nature – a fact that was obvious from the very beginning.


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