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Thousands took to Bahrain's streets to protest against proposed changes to government subsidies on food and fuel.


Bahrain spends about 500 million dinars (US $1.33 billion) a year on subsidies, mostly on petrol, power and water. State spending is set at about 2 billion dinars in the 2009 budget.

A heavy police presence greeted the protesters, as activists prepared to march along Government Avenue.


Participants included representatives from 12 political societies as well as trade unionists, all under the chairmanship of Al Wefaq block MP Jawad Fairooz. Shiite and Sunni groups were represented at the protests.

 

January 10, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk


The current amount of subsidies in Bahrain is unsustainable and there is widespread political agreement in the country that government subsidies will have to reduce.

However, the complexity of the situation lies in the fact that amongst Bahrain’s ethnic mix, local Shiites form the majority of the poorer sections of the population. Sunnis, who are in a minority, rule the country. Although relations between the two are relatively peaceful, there have been occasional protests by Shiites against perceived discrimination.

The reduction in state subsidies will therefore likely affect the Shiite sections more than the Sunnis. Although they are not directed at the Shiites, they will be expected to raise tensions within the Shiite population and be exploited by Shiite opposition groups to gather support. This increases the risk of civil unrest, particularly at a time of elections, expected later in 2010.

Below is a figure showing the approximate mix of the local population of Bahrain.