The longstanding root of the tension here is the sectarian divide, a Sunni royal family ruling over a Shiite majority. For years, the Shiites have complained of discrimination in housing, employment, education and governance.
That rift makes Bahrain, an archipelago about the size of Fort Worth, a potential regional powder keg. The contest for influence in the Middle East has pitted largely Sunni Saudi Arabia, backed by the United States, against largely Shiite Iran. A critical Saudi ally in that struggle was President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who was ousted by a popular revolt this month, leaving Egypt’s future leadership and loyalties an open question.
Moreover, Bahrain sits just off Saudi Arabia’s east coast, connected by a bridge to the mainland. On the Saudi side lies Eastern Province, an oil-rich region with a Shiite majority, who have an affinity for their fellow Shiites in Bahrain and no great love for the Saudi leaders.
To the north, Kuwait also has a Sunni monarchy and a restive Shiite population. The big fear among Sunni governments is that Bahrain, once part of Persia, could become another Iran, where the Islamic revolution of 1979 produced a bellicose Shiite theocracy.
But the Shiite protesters here insist their revolt is secular and democratic. When the protests started on Feb. 14, in a so-called Day of Rage modeled after events in Egypt and Tunisia, demonstrators called for a constitutional monarchy, an elected cabinet and a constitution written by the people, as opposed to one imposed by the king.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Background on Bahrain
Here's some background information on the Bahrain protest from a New York Times article (besides the fact that it's a major base for the US Navy in the Persian Gulf):