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Al Wefaq, Bahrain's largest parliamentary bloc and Shiite party, has once more come under fire from Al Asala bloc for not endorsing a communiqué supporting Saudi Arabia in its action against Houthi fighters along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

 

The lower house issued the communiqué during its weekly session, but Al Wefaq refused to approve it, saying that it did not want to get involved in the domestic affairs of other countries.

 

Al Wefaq said it did not want to interfere in the domestic affairs of Saudi Arabia.

However, the stance drew immediate fire from lawmakers and columnists who insisted on the “significance for Bahrain of supporting the Saudis in the defense of their country”.

 

Al Wefaq, which has 17 of the 40 seats in the lower house, later said that it fully appreciated the security bonds between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

 

The Shura Council, the upper house of the bicameral parliament, issued a communiqué supporting the Saudis.

 

November 20, 2009

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: increasing risk

 

The spat between Al Wefaq and Al Asala, which represents the Salafi Sunni bloc does not in itself present a major escalation of Sunni-Shiite tension. However, it is an indication of how the Saudi involvement in the Sa’ada conflict along the Yemen border can impact on internal Gulf relations.

 

Bahrain has a Shiite majority, but ruled by a Sunni elite. If the Sunni-Shiite conflict  along the Saudi-Yemeni border continues, support to the Saudis from other GCC states is expected. If this happens, internal Shiite-Sunni tensions in Bahrain are likely to escalate and spill from parliament to the streets. Bahrain is the most vulnerable Gulf state to suffer from internal Shiite-Sunni conflict due to its population make-up. There is also a risk of such internal conflicts in other GCC states should the conflict escalate and GCC states start supporting the Saudis.

 

The figure below shows the Shiite-Sunni make-up of the GCC states that have significant Shiite numbers: