Bahrain’s king has made conciliatory moves on the controversial issue of naturalisation in an apparent attempt to placate the Shiite community.
The Sunni-dominated government’s granting of nationality to foreigners, mostly Sunnis, was seen by Shiites as means to increase the proportion of Sunnis in the country, at the expense of the Shiites.
At the parliament's opening session last week, King Hamad said naturalisation should only happen in "very limited numbers".
Tensions have been rising between the government and the Shiites during the past several months, culminating in the arrest and high-profile trial of 23 activists, who have been accused of forming a group to undermine state security and overthrow the government.
December 13, 2010
Analysis and Forecast: Decreasing Risk
The government has been trying to reconcile relations with the Shiite community since 2003. However, tensions rose earlier in 2010 with Shiites taking to the streets after the government accused leading figures of threatening state security. The relations sharply deteriorated afterwards, as the community felt more and more isolated.
The issue of naturalization has been one of the most sensitive issues, which the Shiites accuse the government of using to reduce the relative proportion of Shiites in the country. The fact that it has been addressed by the King demonstrates a new desire by the government to mend relations with the Shiites. Although many within the community are highly skeptical about the seriousness of the apparent desire to improve relations, the address by the King is conciliatory in nature and sets the path for improved relations. However, much more needs to be done to return relations to where they were. More importantly, the government needs to have longer term plans to improve the economic conditions of the Shiites in the country.
The figure below shows the break-down of the Bahraini population, showing Shiites form about two-thirds of the population.