Bahrain is holding the third parliamentary elections since 2001, as tensions rise between the country’s Shiite majority and the Sunni ruling minority. But this year's campaigns are gearing up under the shadow of a fierce security crackdown, including charges that Shiite activists were plotting to overthrow the government.
The government has banned reporting of the tensions preceding the elections, but news coming out of the country suggests the situation is gradually becoming more tense as the election date of October 23, looms.
A few weeks ago the government launched a campaign against Shiite activists. Charities were muzzled or shut down, human-rights leaders were jailed, and the government announced that it had uncovered "an organized terror and destruction network" that was plotting to "incite acts of terror, rioting and sabotage" with the aim of overthrowing the government. The government also implied that the Shiites are receiving Iranian support.
October 11, 2010
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
Bahrain has a few days before its parliamentary elections. The government has unusually been very strict in enforcing a ban on foreign media reporting about rising Shiite-Sunni tensions in the country. Unlike some other GCC states, with the exception of Kuwait, Bahraini press finds itself more open about local affairs.
However, since the eruption of arguments between the Shiite majority and the Sunni government a few weeks ago, that culminated in the arrest of hundreds of Shiite activists and the stripping of citizenship of the country's leading Shiite cleric, the government imposed a ban on reporting on the issue.
Reports that have been coming out suggest that tensions continue to be high, and that it is a regular occurrence that Shiites spray walls with anti-government graffiti on a daily basis. This sort of descent has not been seen in the country since the reconciliation drive of the King in 2001. It also comes as Shiite villages regular witness burning of tyres in the street, and open defiance of the government.
Although little has been reported about this gradual rise of tension, the government is in a good position as far as its regional image is concerned in that it did not, until now, have to cancel the parliamentary elections. However, with a few days left to polling day, the situation in the street is one of the most tense it has ever been. With this coming ahead of such an important parliamentary poll, the country faces a real threat of being highly polarized along ethnic lines. With the situation between the government and the majority of the population unresolved, there is a very real risk of serious civil unrest in the country on and just before polling day, if indeed the elections do go ahead.
In any case, many Shiites are expected to boycott the poll and it is unlikely that the situation will calm down after the elections, particularly that the Shiite majority feels that it has missed another four year term of not being represented as it would like in parliament. Even the main Shiite opposition party which is represented in parliament, Al Wefaq, feels that significantly greater concessions are needed by the government if the situation were to be diffused. Without this happening, Shiites, whether participating or boycotting the elections, are gradually uniting against the country’s ruling elite.
Below is a figure of the population distribution of the country.