Bahrain has revoked the nationality of Ayatollah Hussein Mirza Najati, the country's leading Shite cleric, amid a clampdown on Shiite activists ahead of next month's parliamentary elections. Ayatollah Najati - who is close to Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - and his family had not obtained their Bahraini passports "through the appropriate legal means", Bahrain's interior ministry said in a statement.
A wave of arrests in Bahrain since August has led to clashes and renewed street protests across the country.
Twenty-three activists have been charged with forming a "terror network" aimed at toppling the Sunni ruling family. He and his family obtained Bahraini nationality in 2001 under political reforms instituted by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who also cleared the way for parliamentary elections in Bahrain.
The ministry said the cleric, his wife and three children would have to submit a new citizenship application under the "legal procedures". Hours before the announcement on Ayatollah Najati, Bahraini officials reportedly issued a two-week ban on sermons by another prominent Shiite cleric, Sheik Abdul Jaleel al-Miqdad, who has denounced the campaign against Shiites in the country.
September 20, 2010
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The move by the Bahraini authorities is a most serious one that threatens to return the country to the worst times of ethnic tensions that have prevailed in the 1970’s. It not only sends an indirect message that the Bahraini regime’s reconciliation moves have been revoked, but also opens up the most serious and dangerous issue that could face the country, namely the citizenship of Bahrainis of Iranian origin.
Whilst the government might have legitimate concerns about what it perceives as the Iranian government’s intervention in its internal affairs, the large percentage of the Shiites, including those of Iranian origin but hold Bahraini citizenship makes targeting the ethnic group as a whole particularly risky.
The action by the government is likely to even further exacerbate the tensions in the run-up to the October elections. It does appear that the country has entered a rapidly deteriorating cycle of unrest that has the potential to spread to other GCC states, such as Kuwait.
The figure below shows the make-up of the Bahraini population.