June 7, 2011 - On the heels of successful mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahraini citizens mobilized in massive numbers beginning in February 2011. Initially, the Bahraini monarchy showed a measure of tolerance toward demonstrators, and expressed a willingness to engage the Bahraini opposition in dialogue. As protests continued to grow, however, the monarchy responded with violence and has subsequently equivocated, offering limited concessions but harshly repressing the opposition and those who participate in demonstrations.

This continued in early June when the monarchy officially ended 11 weeks of emergency law but followed the declaration with a violent crackdown by security forces on peaceful protesters hours later. Military units from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are still stationed in Bahrain, at the request of the Bahraini royal family. The arrival of these forces in March was accompanied by further violence against Bahraini citizens, characterized by reports of torture, mass arrests, and widespread dismissals of government workers.

While the demands of the Bahraini protesters are both political and economic and, in many respects, mirror those of other protesters around the region, the monarchy and its allies in the Gulf have sought to define the opposition in sectarian terms. Bahrain's Shiite majority has long advocated for greater political inclusion and reform of a political system dominated by a Sunni royal family and a mostly Sunni class of ruling elites. Given the sectarian dimension of this uprising, the prospect for broader regional implications looms large, with Bahrain accusing Iran of fomenting Shiite unrest, a charge the Iranian government has denied.

  • Eye on the Middle East and North Africa: Experts from the U.S. Institute of Peace  are closely following developments throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In a series of reports and interviews, they cover a wide range of issues. | Spring 2011


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