Rashed al-Rasheed
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The Iran–Saudi Arabia rivalry
Rekindling of Shia loyalty and Sunni fears in Bahrain

This chapter draws on the unique insight provided by fieldwork undertaken in Bahrain. In doing so, it offers a deep investigation into how relations between Sunnis and Shia in Bahrain are influenced by the Saudi Arabia–Iran rivalry. This chapter shows how sectarian tensions have been exacerbated by competing regional agendas and a quest for hegemony. Through interviews with a range of opposition and pro-government figures, as well as academics and analysts from across the different communities, this contribution shines much needed light on how the wider regional dynamic impacts on inter-communal relations in Bahrain.

After the intervention of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces in Bahrain, led by Saudi Arabia, the Bahraini government used force against the demonstrators in 2011. Regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have sought to strengthen their influence in Bahrain during the 2011 uprising, due to the island’s geostrategic location, 200 kilometres off the coast of Iran and 25 kilometres from the Saudi coast.1 In order to contain the 2011 crisis, the Bahraini authorities accused Iran of fomenting chaos and violence in Bahrain by supporting Shia opposition groups during this period. Moreover, Iranian intervention was viewed by the Bahraini authorities as a challenge to state sovereignty.

Amidst complex religious ties across the MENA region, it is perhaps trans-state identity that should be taken as the main tool for unpacking the complexity of regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the local conflicts between the Sunnis and Shia.2 This is because social structures shape dynamic relationships at different levels through ideological, religious, ethnic and historical links.3 What is known about the ideological competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the MENA region is largely based on empirical studies, which have investigated the impact of religion on the rivalry.4 According to these studies, following the Islamic Revolution, Iran became a proponent of the Shia minority in the MENA region, while Saudi Arabia supported Sunni groups in the region to strengthen its influence, but this led to instability, due to the increase in so-called proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a number of Arab countries.

However, in 2011, although some opposition groups called for political reforms and the promotion of democracy, most Sunni groups did not support these demands, due to long-standing communal tensions which possessed a geopolitical element. In the same context, sectarian tensions in Gulf societies have increased significantly, especially during the 2011 crisis in Bahrain. In the Bahraini case, this is due to a perception that any change in the political system in favour of the majority in Bahrain is seen to favour the Shia (and by extension, Iranian aims), thus threatening Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis.5 This chapter is one of the few studies that address the significance of Shia revival in reinforcing the fears of Sunnis in Bahrain. Growing Iranian influence in the MENA region leads many Sunni groups in Bahrain to have doubts over Shia loyalty to the state, due to the political, social and economic rivalry between trans-border groups and some regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Many of the Sunni Bahrainis interviewed for this chapter believe that the Shia have had a negative role in nation-building in Bahrain and the Arab world.6 These doubts and perceptions are the result of political, historical, religious and ethnic differences between the two communities in the MENA region. Thus, the purpose of this chapter is to explore the extent to which the tension in Bahrain between Sunnis and Shia is influenced by the Saudi Arabia–Iran rivalry. It also takes a novel approach distinct from other offerings on the Iran–Saudi rivalry and Bahrain, which necessarily emphasise the impact on its historically under-represented majority Shia population. In addition to these important concerns, this chapter also demonstrates how state narratives around regional politics and sectarianism have been internalised by Bahrain’s Sunni community. In an environment where the Al Khalifa retains power through ensuring the loyalty of its Sunni community, reflecting on the views of this community in a fluid geopolitical environment is increasingly important.

Interviews were conducted with thirty-nine participants. These interviews were conducted in safe and neutral locations in Bahrain with interviewees aged between twenty and sixty years. Politicians from different political parties were invited, such as the Muslim Brotherhood (pro-government), al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the Shia Party (in opposition), the Al-Asalah Salafist Party (pro-government) and the National Democratic Action Society (NDAS) (in opposition). In addition, academics were invited from the University of Bahrain (especially professors from the history, Islamic studies and sociology departments), because they were not politically active and could not be classified on political grounds. The majority of interviewees specialised in the history of Bahrain and in the Sunni and Shia conflict in the context of regional interactions.

Saudi Arabia–Iran rivalry

The regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has shaped local political life and raised concerns over domestic security in several Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain.7 Some scholars have shown that regional interaction between Saudi Arabia and Iran influences domestic politics in Bahrain.8 Because of the religious, social and political ties between Iran and local actors in Bahrain, the ideological competition between the two nations enhances the external intervention of these actors in the internal political life in Bahrain. This is achieved through support for social groups and the political authority, especially with Iran historically supporting Shia revolutionary trends in Bahrain.9

Post-revolutionary Iran sought to maintain Islamic solidarity with other Muslim countries, in order to unite the Islamic umma. It therefore attempted to use religion as the main element to influence its neighbours by supporting Shia actors in the region, as well as reinforcing solidarity between Shiite communities. This intensified sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shia in many Gulf societies, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.10 Aside from this, Iran has used Shia groups in Iraq and Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, to enhance its power in the region. Therefore, it is widely perceived that the increasing power of Iran and some Shia actors in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria impacted on the political interactions between ruling families, Sunni movements and Shia groups in the Gulf, as well as between Iran and Saudi Arabia, because the so-called Shia revival increased the fears of Sunni actors.11

After Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979, the ideology of velayat-e faqih12 posed a threat to political authority in Bahrain, with a consequent impact on the state’s political structure and sovereignty in Bahrain. Khomeini in his treatise Islamic Government states:

We believe in the mandate … We also believe in the need to form a government, and we seek to implement God’s command and governance, and to manage people, and take care of them. Fight for the formation of an Islamic government, write and spread the laws of Islam and do not conceal them, and take yourselves to apply Islamic rule, and rely on yourselves, and trust victory.13 … On the other hand, we believe that jihad and defending Muslims to guarantee the independence and dignity of the nation indicate the necessity of forming an Islamic government.14

It is clear from this quote that the mission of the Islamic government is to apply Islamic rules and manage the affairs of Muslims in the umma, in order to unite the Muslim world.15 Therefore, the Supreme Leader, under velayat-e faqih, does not represent himself, but rather God and so anyone who contradicts the Supreme Leader is in fact contradicting the Imams, the Prophet and God Himself. However, Khomeini argued in favour of a separation between the roles of the marjiya16 and velayat-e faqih, whereby the marjiya are multiple and distributed across states, to be followed by anyone in marjiya worship and other religious matters; while velayat-e faqih leads all Shia in the umma, thus avoiding chaos and uniting them within the framework of the state to which they belong.17 Within this context, according to Article 3.16 of the Iranian Constitution:

The organization of the nation’s foreign policy is based on Islamic criteria, fraternal commitment to all Muslims, and unrestrained support for the impoverished people of the world.18

One interpretation of this article is that the influence of the Supreme Leader extends beyond the geographical limits of Iran to all Muslims. This has strained relations between Iran and its neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, because many Shia believe that the Supreme Leader is their spiritual leader, who must be followed. After the fall of the shah in 1979, Khomeini declared:

We would export the Islamic Revolution to all Islam-majority countries in order to help Islamic countries gain their independence from the so-called Great Powers, as well as to ‘awaken’ all peoples and governments.19

This statement indicates that the political regime in Iran had actively tried to export its revolution, especially with Ayatollah Khomeini stating that the goals of the revolution included liberating Jerusalem and the Arab territories.20 As a result, one of the most important Arab countries to be liberated would be Bahrain, because its political authority was illegitimate; running contrary to the values of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the principles of velayat-e faqih.21 Thus, Khomeini’s speech about exporting the revolution to neighbouring countries formed a challenge to political authority in Bahrain.

In term of Khomeini’s speech, it has been noted that velayat-e faqih has given the Supreme Leader political roles in the umma (nation), not just in Iran, but also in other Arab countries like Bahrain; promoting the relationship between Shia in the dawla (state) or nation-state and religious leaders in the umma. One implication of this is the possibility that interaction has strained the political ties between the political authority and Shia elites. Velayat-e faqih has thus been identified as a negative element in terms of state sovereignty by connecting some Shia groups in the MENA region with Iran.

It should be noted here, however, that the Shiite revival in important Arab countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, could be due to ideological and political reasons. Thus, Shia are becoming more organised in these countries, which has subsequently affected the local political equation in Bahrain. This is also based on political, moral and ideological ties between opposition groups in Bahrain and Shiite movements in the MENA. Conversely, this political interaction is seen to threaten national security across the GCC states, as well as their political and social stability, and the stability of their political institutions, because many Sunni groups believe that increasing Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen has encouraged Shiite actors in Gulf countries to become more active in the face of the corresponding Sunni regimes, because of religious ties between Iran’s Supreme Leader and Shiite movements in the Gulf. The outcome has been felt in domestic politics and Bahrain has subsequently encountered several challenges to its stability.

Members of some Shia groups in Bahrain, such as the Islamic Dawa Party, al-Wefaq, the Bahraini Hezbollah, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and the Haq Movement, have seen Iran and the doctrine of velayat-e faqih as a model Shia state. In contrast, Sunnis reject the Iranian model, because they believe Saudi Arabia to be the model for the Islamic Renaissance, because it represents 90 per cent of all Muslims.22 Velayat-e faqih forms the context of the relationship between the Supreme Leader in Iran, Shia clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim and the political authority in Bahrain. Velayat-e faqih provides a description of the existing system in the form of a cosmic vision. Likewise, it presents a model for the desired future; the vision of a sound society and explains how political change should take place. Furthermore, this ideology has been seen as a considerable source of opposition to the Bahraini government, whereby several Shia clerics such as Isa Qassim, who is considered the spiritual leader of the Islamic Dawa Party and al-Wefaq, have acted against the authorities and formed political ties with Iran’s Supreme Leader.23

According to Khomeini, the structure of state-building is allegedly incompatible with the Shia faith.24 According to velayat-e faqih, this was because the tribal Sunni authority was not acceptable on religious grounds.25 However, velayat-e faqih is considered by the political leadership and Sunnis to be a fundamental threat to tribal identity and the survival of Bahrain’s political authority, given that few Shia groups, such as Bahraini Hezbollah and the Islamic Dawa Party, have involved themselves in numerous political conflicts, protests and acts of political violence from the 1980s and 1990s, based on their religious convictions and political interests.26 In 1994, the government claimed that Bahraini Hezbollah and Iran were behind the violence and demonstrations of the 1990s uprising, as they sought a reason to change Bahrain’s political system27. Major General Daij bin Salman Al Khalifa, chief of staff of Bahrain, stated:

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced the failure of an external plan for more than thirty years. The Bahraini minister of the interior confirmed during the parliament session on 29 March [2011] that what happened recently is the completion of the rings of plans of intervention and external link that began in the 1980s. The coup d’état, which was backed by Iran, according to confessions, continued in the case of the so-called Bahraini Hezbollah and the Iranian conspiracy in the events of the nineties, and was repeated in the case of uncovering the military training of groups in the area of al-Hajira, 2008.28

In this speech, Daij bin Salman claims that although the terrorist network of leaders and heads of subversive groups aimed to destabilise Bahrain’s security and stability, this plan was not for Bahrain alone, but also for the other GCC states.29 In the 1990s, most of the uprisings and revolutions in Bahrain took place under the leadership of Shia groups such as Bahraini Hezbollah and the Islamic Dawa Party,30 and many of its political and constitutional reforms in 2002 were a consequence of Shia pressure on the political authority in Bahrain. In the midst of these tensions and fears, according to some of the interviewees, Sunni groups such as the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood sought to contain the activities of the Shia opposition by supporting the Bahraini political authority.31 Moreover, since King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced the reform project in 2001, many Sunni groups in Bahrain such as Salafists have built relationships with Saudi Arabia, which the Sunni community and political authority stands to benefit from in terms of their survival.32

Sunni fears in light of the dynamic of geopolitics

The removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 helped to increase Tehran’s influence in the Gulf region, posing a threat to the security of the Gulf states.33 However, Iran attempted to dismiss the conventional diagnosis of Iraq as an adversary of Tehran and made Iraqi national security an integral part of its own.34 In light of the above, one Sunni interviewee expressed the view that the removal of Saddam had paved the way for certain Shia actors in Bahrain, such as al-Wefaq, to establish cross-border solidarity with prominent Shia parties in Iraq, including the Islamic Dawa Party, which governed Iraq after the US invasion.35

Fanar Haddad argues that following the rise of the Shia in Iraq, they have paid less attention to claiming Arab identity and consequently expressed anti-Arab feelings, due to their suffering under Ba’ath rule and Arab sympathies for Saddam, who killed and imprisoned their children.36 Such a view has led to further hatred and distrust between Sunnis and Shia in the Arab world, and strained political relations between Iraq and the Arab states.37 Reflecting this view, another Sunni interviewee alluded to the notion of Shia seeking to dominate Bahrain, in the same way that they rule Iraq.38 This has inevitable implications for their potential to govern Bahrain in the same way; bearing in mind that some Shia groups in Iraq and Bahrain have suffered under the same social and economic conditions.39

According to three of the Sunnis interviewed, Shia actors in Iraq have always acted against the Bahraini authorities, because of their antipathy to the Al Khalifa. This is based on the political orientation of the Bahraini government towards the former Iraqi regime and the naturalisation of Ba’athist Iraqis in Bahrain. It has also contributed to the tension between Shia in Iraq and the Al Khalifa regime,40 especially when Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa stated that his country was prepared to host the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003, with a view to preventing the US invasion of Iraq.41 In addition, the Al Khalifa awarded Bahraini nationality to many Ba’athists who fled Iraq due to the policy of discrimination against them.42 However, the Shia–Sunni struggle for power in Iraq has emerged as the main element affecting stability, post-Saddam, particularly Shia empowerment expanding beyond Baghdad.43 According to Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2004:

If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government … a new ‘crescent’ of dominant Shite movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon could emerge, alter[ing] the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects.44

It would appear from King Abdullah’s speech, warning Arabs and Sunnis of the expansion of Iranian influence into the MENA region, that the Iraqi and Syrian governments had the potential to help extend Shia influence from the Gulf and Caspian Sea to Lebanon. This ‘Crescent’ had the potential to disrupt the equilibrium of the region and reduce the influence of Saudi Arabia in the Islamic world.45 However, there are many local, regional and international factors that have helped designate the threat of the ‘Crescent’ and promote Sunni fears. Mabon claims that as Iranian influence has grown in Iraq through Shia groups, Saudi Arabia has sought to securitise the Iranian threat, as a means of convincing US actors that Iran represents a threat to regional security and US interests.46 Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has attempted to convince the international audience of its role in maintaining regional security and containing this perceived threat from Iran.47 At the Council on Foreign Relations in 2005, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud claimed that the increasing influence of Iran, pro-Iranian parties and Shia in Iraq, following the US invasion in 2003, had heightened sectarian and political tensions, not only in Baghdad, but also in the communities of the Gulf.48

It is clear from Faisal bin Farhan’s claim that the Shia revival has had unprecedented implications for the Gulf states, as it is seen as a threat to the stability of communities and state security.49 Especially, in the midst of the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War, Iran raised the slogan of a protector of Palestine and ‘Axis of Resistance’ in order to enhance its popularity and sphere of power across Arab societies. This was achieved through an alliance with Shia groups in the corresponding populations.50 In the same context, a few Shiite participants mentioned that most of today’s Shia groups, as well as Iran, had adopted the Palestinian–Israeli struggle as a means of influencing the emotions of the masses. For instance, Shia scholars argue that Hezbollah managed to defeat Israel in 2006 and this caused Sunnis and Shia across the MENA region to support Hassan Nasrallah.51 A former researcher at the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research suggested that Bahraini Sunnis and Shia ultimately support Iran in the fight against Israel, with Palestine representing a sacred cause for Muslims; whereas the Gulf authorities do nothing to combat Israel or support the Palestinian cause.52

In order to contain the growing popularity of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ in the MENA after the war with Israel in 2006, Saudi Arabia has sought to securitise the Iranian threat, as a means of persuading the international audience and US decision-makers of the seriousness of those Iranian activities that challenge regional security.53 This has fuelled Sunni and Arab government fears about the threat of Shia and Iranian expansion. Taking into account the fact that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel have common interests in framing Iran as a threat, with the growing influence of Shia groups backed by Iran in the region, this has led to the development of political relations between Israel, Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, aimed at maintaining regional security. On 15 September 2020, Bahrain normalised its relations with Israel within the Abraham Accords in order to build diplomatic relations and achieve ‘peace in the Middle East’. The Abraham Agreement emerged from an alliance led by the US against Iran.54 In his article ‘The Middle East Accords: An Arab Perspective’, Imad Harb argues that the dispute between the Gulf states and Iran is merely a means of promoting normalisation between the Gulf states and Israel.55 King Hamad said in 2006:

Bahrain should have real peace with Israel. ‘We’re serious, pushing, meeting with Israelis,’ he asserted. While the meetings were not conducted openly, Bahrain would do so when the right time comes. The region needs peace with Israel ‘and then we can all face Iran’.56

Consequently, in the main, there are common concerns over Iran.57 The Iranian revival has impacted on the region’s political stability; leading to the security, social and economic interests of some MENA countries coming under threat.58 The ‘Shia Crescent’ has in fact been seen by Arab societies as a dimension of the Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran.59 It seems from this perspective that this regional rivalry has in turn led to increased social and political tension in those societies.60

Alongside geopolitical and social interactions, Shia groups are commonly seen to have gained political strength in their societies, due to the expansion of Iranian and Shia influence in the region.61 Islamist opposition and liberal loyalists claimed that the Shia revival in the MENA had facilitated the rise of al-Wefaq in Bahrain, because of the political and religious affiliation between al-Wefaq62 and Iran’s Supreme Leader.63 Moreover, a handful of interviewees generally believed that al-Wefaq operated within the framework of an integrated and interconnected Shia network across Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, as well as it deriving its political strength from the Iranian ascendancy.64 This revealed the perception that Tehran challenges the survival of Sunni groups and authorities in the region by mobilising Shia groups locally.65 As a consequence, the Bahraini authorities have routinely viewed Shia actors as deriving their political power from an external source – ignoring national agendas – and attempting to affect the internal political equation by cooperating with regional players. Moreover, one member of al-Wefaq who participated in the present study indicated that the rise of Iran had reflected negatively on Bahrain’s Shia groups, because the Bahraini government accused al-Wefaq of loyalty to Iran, given its ideological association with Iran’s Supreme Leader. This regional equation had consequently been used as a tool to pressurise al-Wefaq.66

As the result of these fears, some Sunni interviewees believe that Shia actors in Arab countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon have worked together to serve the Iranian agenda and the empowerment of Shia.67 Moreover, two Sunni participants interviewed for this study were of the opinion that the political orientation of some Shia groups in Iraq and Lebanon were compatible with those of Iran, and these groups consequently sought to intensify sectarian tensions in Bahraini society during the 2011 crisis, as well as threatening state sovereignty by interfering in local political life.68

Re-framing regional sectarianism

The Arab Uprisings in 2011 were of great significance for Tehran in terms of maintaining its regional leverage and ideological goals.69 In 2015, Khamenei stated that he would support the oppressed people of Yemen and Bahrain by whatever means he could.70 Rulers and clerics in Tehran also argued that the Bahraini uprising of 2011 shared core principles with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, as well as reflecting the values of velayat-e faqih, with its rejection of oppression and refusal to submit.71 The nature of this response heightened the concerns of Sunni Arab leaders, especially when combined with the rise of Iranian influence in the region.

In fact, some commentators and interviewees are of the view that Tehran took advantage of popular demands in Arab societies during the Arab Uprisings, as a means of asserting domination, particularly in Bahrain.72 For instance, it was suggested by one Sunni interviewee that Iran was still supporting Shia opposition groups in Bahrain during the Arab Uprisings, thus exerting further political pressure on Saudi Arabia to contain the influence of Shia parties in Bahrain.73 Some scholars venture that Tehran has supported other Shia actors in the region, beyond Bahrain, especially in the east of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq to expand their political influence in the MENA region.74

The 2011 uprising looked likely to increase Shia leverage in the Gulf states and Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, with any political change taking place in Bahrain ultimately posing a threat to Saudi security. What happened in Bahrain during the Arab Uprisings therefore had immediate regional consequences, with the demands of the opposition in Bahrain also threatening to motivate Saudi Shia to clash with the political authority in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.75

Moreover, it would give Saudi Shia groups in Hasa and Qatif an opportunity to satisfy their own political interests and assert their rights by pressurising the government to make political reforms, organising sit-ins and demonstrations.76 In the midst of the social, religious and political convergence between the Shia of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, it could be argued that the popular uprising in 2011 had clear political implications for the situation in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.77 However, the political authority in Bahrain did not collapse during the Arab Uprisings, mainly because of Saudi Arabia’s intervention through sending its Shield Forces on the island, in order to reinforce the existing political system.78

In the present study, several Sunni interviewees expressed the belief that the political demands made by Shia groups to develop democracy and political participation in society already served the interests of Iran to the detriment of Saudi Arabia. The fall of the Bahraini authority would thus empower Saudi Shia in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.79 The overthrow of the political authority in Bahrain would also pose a strategic threat to Saudi Arabia and reinforces Sunni fears in the Gulf region, considering that most Saudi oil is located in the Eastern Province, where many Shia live.80 In addition, thirteen of the Sunni interviewees claimed that Iran had mobilised several Shia groups for expansion into Eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and these had adopted velayat-e faqih, which had consequently introduced instability and therefore, a favourable political situation for Iran and its allies.81 On the contrary, during an occasion attended by King Hamad, Mohammed Sharif Bassiouni,82 head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), said: ‘There was no evidence of Iran’s involvement in the 2011 events and no Iranian role in Bahrain’s political crisis.’83

However, at the same occasion, King Hamad claimed through media channels, Iran had incited citizens in Bahrain to use violence and terrorism and these Iranian interventions had threatened the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Gulf region.84 In 2011, Abdullatif Al-Mahmood, head of the National Unity Gathering, said that al-Wefaq will ask for support from Iran if peninsula Shield Forces entered Bahrain in 2011:

Besides the obvious, important here is that Abdelatif Mahmoud is openly talking shit about Salman being an Iranian agent in a press conference … Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Mahmoud said that he has witnesses [who] heard what he said literally at the meeting including Sheikh Nagy Al Arabi and a large number of members of the National Unity Gathering.85

It seems from this perception that Iran has sought to strengthen its influence in Bahrain by providing financial, logistical and political support to Shia groups, including al-Wefaq. The intention behind this was allegedly to weaken Saudi influence, using media coverage of al-Wefaq’s demands in 2011.86 Meanwhile, the political authorities launched a media campaign against the opposition through Bahrain TV and pro-government newspapers, where some Shia groups were accused of being traitors and loyal to Iran.87

In addition, two Shiite interviewees declared that the authorities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia framed Shia actors as a fifth column that remained loyal to Iran and this was considered to be a threat to both Bahraini and Saudi national security.88 On 19 February 2013, the head of Bahrain’s public security, Major General Tariq Hassan Al Hassan, disclosed details of the arrest of eight personnel, trained on sites belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Iran, as well as at sites belonging to the Iraqi Hezbollah in both Karbala and Baghdad. Tariq Hassan stated:

This group had sought to form a terrorist cell targeting sensitive sites (both civilian and military) and public figures, in order to destabilise the state’s security and economy. The purpose of this cell was to form armed groups to resist and attack the police in 2012. The person managing this operation was an Iranian, Abu Mazen, from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.89

It is clear from the above statement that the opinion among the Bahraini elite security apparatus was that the Arab Uprisings impacted on the stability of the region and reinforced the capability of non-state actors to advance Iran’s geopolitical influence and vice versa.90 In the same context, the Bahraini Ministry of Interior announced:

Within the framework of efforts to combat terrorism, preserve homeland security and address Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the security services, in coordination with security, thwarted a number of terrorist acts and arrested 116 terrorist elements. Their roles varied in the planning, preparation and execution of terrorist acts, explosive devices and a field outlet, as well as a number of them were responsible for the manufacture, transport and storage of explosive materials. Investigations have shown that these elements belong to the IRGC, which was formed by unifying and assembling several terrorist organisations in a single framework, following the success of the Bahraini security services in striking at these terrorist organisations.91

To analyse the language used in this statement, from the point of view of securitisation,92 it includes concepts that enhance awareness in the Sunni community of the seriousness of the situation involving Iranian and Shia actors. It also clearly conveys the idea that Shia groups were attempting to overthrow the political authorities in Bahrain and establish a new political system. However, many of the Sunni interviewees were of the view that Iran had extended its leverage over Bahrain’s Shia groups during the Arab Uprisings by offering several of them financial, military and media support.93 These views also reveal concerns among Sunni groups about Iranian ambitions in the region during the Arab Uprisings, whether in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen or Iraq, based on religious differences, the normative environment and historical conflicts between Sunnis and Shia.94

As an example, a Sunni researcher accused al-Wefaq of loyalty to Iran, principally after the Iranian Revolution.95 Nevertheless, despite the religious and political relationship between the Shia of Bahrain and the Supreme Leader of Iran, some leaders in the ruling family have not accused Bahrain’s Shia of disloyalty. For example, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa declared in 2011:

Is it reasonable to accuse the Shia of disloyalty? First, [they follow] one of the main doctrines of Islam, the Ja‘fari doctrine. We disagree with them just in the provisions. We are accusing them of being non-Arab! We accuse the Shia of wearing Iranian dress only because we disagree with them. There are people on all sides, whether Sunnis or Shia, who follow regional actors in the region, such as Iran, Iraq, China, Russia and the United States of America. We do not associate a certain political thought with a doctrine, because that is wrong. Politics is changing and doctrines are permanent. I ask all media officials and elites in the region to stay away from these things, because if we begin to classify people in this way, individuals will do terrible things to defend their religion and this will have no meaning. Because in the end, we disagree on politics, not religion.96

It is clear from the Crown prince’s speech that he distinguishes between political loyalty, religious affiliation, religious differences and political variations. The Crown prince also points out that accusing Shia of disloyalty will lead to tension, violence and sectarian divisions in society, because each side will defend his religion. Salman bin Hamad stressed that a sect could not be accused of disloyalty, even if there were groups in this sect that had a political affiliation with regional powers.

Although there are many declarations issued by Shia groups such as al-Wefaq that emphasise their loyalty to Bahrain, Shia beliefs such as taqiya97 increase Sunni fears. Some Sunni participants supposed that taqiya reinforced the political and social divide between Sunnis and Shia in Bahrain because Shia groups like al-Wefaq cooperate with the Sunni rulers and demonstrate disloyalty with Shia actors like Iran by using taqiya. Even though al-Wefaq has cooperated with Salafi party Al-Asalah in parliament against the government from 2006 to 2010,98 a Sunni cleric interviewee believes that Sunni actors should not trust the loyalty of Shia because they use taqiya to obtain political positions in order to establish a Shiite state in Bahrain. Such a view privileges perception and securitisation at the expense of recent history, reflecting the severity of fears amongst the Sunni community.

These participants imagined that anti-Shia actors framed their religious links as a political affiliation, in order to fulfil their own interests and agenda.99 This means that pro-government actors in Bahrain attempt to portray differences between the opposition and the government over political issues as a religious conflict between Sunnis and Shia, relating to, for example, corruption. This then leads to the promotion of sectarian conflict in the state.

However, one Shiite cleric did not believe that Shia allegiance was to Iran, because of the gap between Arab and Persian nationalism, whereby the Shia in Bahrain do not consider Iran to be their native country, because of the difficulties that they face with Persian identity.100 Another Shiite cleric also stated that Bahrain’s Shia do not favour Iran over Bahrain, as a result of disharmony between Arab and Persian identity.101

An academic from the University of Bahrain explained that the religious link between al-Wefaq and Khamenei had led the political authorities in Bahrain to accuse al-Wefaq of serving the Iranian agenda.102 Moreover, members of al-Wefaq and a Shia journalist revealed how the Bahraini government had accused al-Wefaq of being primarily loyal to Iran, in order to render al-Wefaq’s demands non-national.103 However, a journalist from the al-Wasat newspaper considered that these accusations from the Bahraini government were due its inability to resolve its social and economic problems arising from the political crisis involving opposition groups. Therefore, at the occurrence of any local problems, the government would immediately link al-Wefaq with Iran. However, this government strategy had given rise to sectarian conflict in society,104 as well as linking the political dispute in Bahrain with the Saudi–Iranian rivalry, whether in Yemen, Iraq or Syria.105

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Kayhan, a conservative Iranian newspaper, even stated in 2009 that Bahrain was an Iranian province, but al-Wefaq refuted this statement through the MP Hamad Yousef Mazal, who claimed that Bahrain could not be Iranian, and the Tehran government needed to apologise to Bahrain for suggesting as such.106 One former Shiite deputy argued that this Iranian statement made prior to 2011 had a negative effect on al-Wefaq, because it put the party under pressure, especially as the Bahraini government demanded that it respond to the Iranian statements.107 In addition, post-2011, the Bahraini government claimed that al-Wefaq’s allegiance was not to Bahrain. For instance, one member of al-Wefaq explained that whenever Iran issued a statement against Bahrain, the regime would pressurise al-Wefaq into denouncing it. However, one leftist leader claimed that al-Wefaq had consistently sought to remain neutral in the relationship between Iran and Bahrain by attempting to convince the public that it had nothing to do with Iran. Conversely, Iran was using Shia opposition forces as a political card in the conflict with Saudi Arabia.108


This chapter has articulated the complexity of Sunni Bahraini political views following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 until the Arab Uprisings. According to the fieldwork data, many Sunni participants believed Iran attempts to strengthen its influence in the region by providing political, media and logistical support to Shia groups, such as al-Wefaq, in Bahrain. The regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and the 2011 uprising in Bahrain increased Sunni fears of a Shia revival in the MENA region. The crisis in 2011 led to Shia gaining ground in the Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia, because any political change in Bahrain would have also encouraged the Saudi Shia to claim political rights, thus threatening Saudi national security in the Eastern Province.

The regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the MENA region will increase the political instability, sectarian separation and challenges to sovereignty in Bahrain because the state political structure contains various religious social groups who cooperate and ally with other regional players. The respect for sovereign borders and political stability in society, governments, parliaments and other political institutions in Bahrain will be affected by political and religious interactions in the wider MENA region.

With regard to Bahrain’s political future, the management of political conflict is also conditioned by sectarian disputes in other Arab societies, such as Iraq. In this case, resolution will not be purely Bahraini and deep cracks may be opened up in its national identity. This will in turn pave the way for further extremism and sectarian revenge from various parties, as well as encouraging regional powers. Conversely, it would seem from the reaction that the Bahraini political arena has become an integral part of the regional equation in the Middle East, whereby each external power is solely concerned with serving its own interests. This has raised the importance of resolving outstanding political issues between opposing political groups and the Bahraini authorities, particularly complex regional tensions, growing sectarian conflicts in the region and rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with negative implications for state sovereignty. In order to find political solutions in Bahrain, however, local groups and the political authorities would need to prevent regional actors from interfering in their internal affairs. The government and local communities need to focus on economic relations between Bahrain as a state, and Iran and Saudi Arabia, instead of forming fragmented ties based on identity, ideology and religion; although these may well promote the survival of some local political actors, they will not lead to political settlement in Bahrain.


The author gratefully acknowledges the kindness of Professor Simon Mabon and Dr Edward Wastnidge for the helpful suggestions and comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.


1 S. Kasbarian and S. Mabon, ‘Contested Spaces and Sectarian Narratives in Post-uprising Bahrain’, Global Discourse, 6:4 (2016), 681.
2 M. Mohamed, ‘Saudi Arabia and Iran: Conflict of Roles in the Middle East: “Bahrain, Syria and Yemen as a Model”’ [in Arabic], Democratic Arabic Center, 12 April 2017, http://democraticac.de/?p=45532 (accessed 13 May 2018).
3 Ibid.
4 H. Fürtig, Iran’s Rivalry with Saudi Arabia between the Gulf Wars (Reading: Ithaca Press, 2006); S. Mabon, Saudi Arabia and Iran: Soft Power Rivalry in the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris; 2013); A. Nader, Iran after the Bomb: How Would a Nuclear-Armed Tehran Behave? (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), pp. 11–12; Y. Nakash, Containment Politics in the Persian Gulf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 43–50; V. Nasr, ‘When the Shi’as Rise’, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006, pp. 58–74; T. Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 83–94.
5 A. Nasr, ‘What Are the Most Prominent Shia Militias Supported by Iran?’ [in Arabic], Raseef, 31 August 2016, https://raseef22.net/article/72171 (accessed 2 January 2018).
6 Participant 18, Manama, 5 March 2017; Participant 32, Manama, 21 March 2017; Participant 39, Riffa, 2 April 2017; Participant 49, Muharraq, 3 May 2017; Participant 52, Participant 53, Manama, 18 May 2017; Participant 55, Issa Town, 20 May 2017.
7 Mabon, Saudi Arabia and Iran, pp. 203–204; V. Nasr, ‘Extremism, Sectarianism, and Regional Rivalry in the Middle East’, in N. Burns and J. Price (eds), Blind Spot: America’s Response to Radicalism in the Middle East (Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute, 2015), pp. 61–67.‏
8 T. R. Grumet, ‘New Middle East Cold War: Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Rivalry’ (master’s thesis, University of Denver, 2015); S. Mabon, ‘The Battle for Bahrain: Iranian-Saudi Rivalry’, Middle East Policy, 19:2 (2012), 84–97; T. Matthiesen, Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t (Stanford: Stanford University Press; 2013); Nasr, ‘When the Shi’as Rise’.
9 S. Chubin and C. Tripp, Iran-Saudi Arabia Relations and Regional Order (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1996).
10 A. Cordesman, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE: Challenge of Security (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997), pp. 41–45; R. K. Ramazani, Revolutionary Iran: Challenge and Response in the Middle East (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
11 O. Z. Oktav, ‘The Gulf States and Iran: A Turkish Perspective’, Middle East Policy, 18:2 (2011), 136–147.
12 Velayat-e faqih refers to the role of clerics in the leadership of the nation, through the administration of its affairs, management of Islamic government and the establishment of the rule of God until the absent Imam appears.
13 R. Khomeini, Islamic Government (Hamilton: Manor Books, 1979), p. 20.
14 Ibid., p. 31.
15 B. Moin, ‘Questions of Guardianship in Iran’, Third World Quarterly, 10:1 (1988), 192; H. Mavani, ‘Khomeini’s Concept of Governance of the Jurisconsult (Wilayat al-Faqih) Revisited: The Aftermath of Iran’s 2009 Presidential Election’, The Middle East Journal, 67:2 (2013), 209; G. Abdo and H. A. Montazeri, ‘Re-thinking the Islamic Republic: A “Conversation” with Ayatollah Hossein ‘Ali Montazeri’, The Middle East Journal, 55:1 (2001), 10.
16 Marjiya – the title given to a religious leader who is responsible for the political, religious, social and economic affairs of his followers.
17 A. Abdullah, Engines of Iranian Politics in the Gulf Region [in Arabic], 3rd ed. (UAE: Madarak Publishing House, 2013), p. 247; N. Bilal, Reading in the Pillars of Imam Khomeini [in Arabic] (Beirut: Dar of Loyalty, 2014), pp. 32–34.
18 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1979.
19 ‘Imam Khomeini and Exporting the Islamic Revolution’ [in Arabic, video in Persian], Dar al-Welayah, 26 April 2017, https://alwelayah.net/video/30 (accessed 7 April 2022).
20 Chubin and Tripp, Iran-Saudi Arabia Relations.
21 ‘Imam Khomeini and Exporting the Islamic Revolution’.
22 Mabon, Saudi Arabia and Iran, pp. 112–140.
23 J. Fox, ‘The Influence of Religious Legitimacy on Grievance Formation by Ethno-religious Minorities’, Journal of Peace Research, 36:3 (1999), 290; P. B. Potter, ‘Belief in Control: Regulation of Religion in China’, The China Quarterly, 174 (2003), 317.
24 Khomeini, Islamic Government.‏
25 L. Bahry, ‘The Socioeconomic Foundation of the Shi’a Opposition in Bahrain’, Mediterranean Quarterly, 11:3 (2000), 131.
26 Cordesman, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.
27 A. Abdulla, ‘The Political Anaq in the Bottle’, The Middle East, 78 (1998), 41.
28 D. Al Khalifa, ‘Bahraini Chief of Staff: Events in Bahrain Raised the Ceiling of Aspirations of the People of the Region to Find a Deterrent Gulf Army’ [in Arabic], al-Sharq al-Awsat, 3 April 2011, https://bit.ly/3DPLgfR (accessed 3 June 2018).
29 Ibid.
30 Most of the leaders of the Islamic Dawa Party joined al-Wefaq, which was established in 2001.
31 Participant 9, Manama, 15 February 2017; Participant 49, Muharraq, 3 May 2017.
32 Participant 9, Manama, 15 February 2017; Participant 49, Muharraq, 3 May 2017.
33 ‘Iraqi Kurd Official Discusses Iran-Kurdish, Iran-Iraq Relations, Challenges’, BBC Monitoring Middle East, 21 January 2014; B. Friedman, ‘Battle for Bahrain: What One Uprising Meant for the Gulf States and Iran’, World Affairs, 174:6 (2012), 75.
34 K. Barzegar, ‘Iran’s Foreign Policy in Post-invasion Iraq’, Middle East Policy, 15:4 (2008), 47.
35 Participant 46, Manama, 26 April 2017.
36 F. Haddad, Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 166–167.
37 Ibid.
38 F. al-Tawil, ‘Shiites Kill Sunnis in Iraq’ [in Arabic], Ahewar, 12 February 2007, www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=88481 (accessed 14 May 2018).
39 Participant 9, Manama, 17 February 2017.
40 Participant 52, Hamad Town, 17 March 2017; Participant 56, Manama, 21 May 2017; Participant 59, Manama, 24 May 2017.
41 ‘King of Bahrain Ready to Host Saddam’ [in Arabic], al-Yaum, 20 March 2003, www.alyaum.com/articles/53593/ (accessed 8 January 2018).
42 D. Rabee, The Naturalization of Saddam’s Fedayeen in Bahrain [in Arabic] (Beirut: House of Newspapers for Publication and Distribution, 2015), pp. 2–14
43 V. Nasr, ‘Regional Implications of Shi‘a Revival in Iraq’, The Washington Quarterly, 27:3 (2004), 7.
44 R. Wright and P. Baker, ‘Iraq, Jordan See Threat to Election from Iran’, Washington Post, 8 December 2004, https://wapo.st/36XxPhu (accessed 3 May 2018).
45 A. Rahigh-Aghsan and P. Jakobsen, ‘The Rise of Iran: How Durable, How Dangerous?’, Middle East Journal, 64:4 (2010), 559–573.
46 S. Mabon, Existential Threats and Regulating Life: Securitization in the Contemporary Middle East’, Global Discourse, 8:1 (2018), 1–7.
47 Ibid.
48 J. Cole, ‘A “Shi’a Crescent”? The Regional Impact of the Iraq War’, Current History, 687 (2006), 24; C. M. Davidson, Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), p. 84; F. Gregory Gause III, The International Relations of the Persian Gulf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 172–173.
49 F. Taaytekin, ‘The “Gray ISIS”: What Drives Saudi Obsession with Shia Expansion’, World Crunch, 8 January 2016, https://bit.ly/3IPyLlh (accessed 12 January 2018).
50 N. Özdin, ‘From Shiite Crescent to Full Moon?’, Daily Sabah, 25 May 2015, www.dailysabah.com/op-ed/2015/05/25/from-shiite-crescent-to-full-moon (accessed 12 January 2018); ‘The Shiite Crescent’, Reut Institute, 25 January 2006, www.reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=1291 (accessed 12 January 2018); Rahigh-Aghsan and Jakobsen, ‘The Rise of Iran’, p. 564; R. Alaaldin, ‘Shia Crescent: Self-fulfilling Prophecy’, Open Democracy, 3 April 2015, https://bit.ly/36UOWQK (accessed 12 January 2018).
51 Participant 19, Manama, 6 March 2017; Participant 35, Aker, 27 March 2017.
52 Participant 46, Manama, 26 April 2017.
53 S. Mabon, ‘Saudi Arabia–US Relations and the Failure of Riyadh’s Securitization Project’, Foreign Policy Centre, 2016, https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/1761.pdf (accessed 1 May 2018); S. Mabon, ‘Muting the Trumpets of Sabotage: Saudi Arabia, the US and the Quest to Securitize Iran’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 45:5 (2017), 1–18; E. Monier (ed.), Regional Insecurity after the Arab Uprisings: Narratives of Security and Threat (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
54 I. K. Harb, ‘The Middle East Accords: An Arab Perspective’, American Diplomacy (2020), 1–6.‏
55 Ibid.
56 ‘King Hamad Supports Gulf Security Dialogue’, WikiLeaks, 1 November 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06MANAMA1849_a.html (accessed 7 June 2018).
57 J. Heller and S. Kalin, ‘Israel Has Held Secret Talks with Saudi Arabia over Iran Threat, Says Minister’, Independent, 20 November 2017, https://bit.ly/3IPANlp (accessed 1 May 2018); Mabon, ‘Muting the Trumpets of Sabotage’.
58 ‘The Guardian: “The Shi’a Crescent” Fades’ [in Arabic], Kurdistan 24, 16 May 2017, www.kurdistan24.net/ar/story/7280 (accessed 4 January 2018); M. Ramadan, ‘Where Are the Arabs from the Shia Crescent in Their Countries?!’ [in Arabic], Orient News, 23 February 2015, https://orient-news.net/ar/news_show/85404 (accessed 4 January 2018).
59 J. Devine, ‘Iran versus ISIL’, Insight Turkey, 17:2 (2015), 21.
60 NCAFP, ‘The Middle East at Crossroads’, American Foreign Policy Interests, 35:4 (2013), 221–234; B. F. Salloukh, ‘The Arab Uprisings and the Geopolitics of the Middle East’, The International Spectator, 48:2 (2013), 32–46.
61 C. Marcinkowski, Shi’ite Identities: Community and Culture in Changing Social Contexts, Freiburg Studies in Social Anthropology 27 (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2010), p. 82.
62 A member of al-Wefaq supposed that the Iranian influence in Bahrain was acceptable for two reasons; firstly, a number of Bahraini Shiites follow the Supreme Leader in Tehran; secondly, the regime has made the state an open market for all regional players and Iran has the right to participate in this.
63 Participant 19, Manama, 6 March 2017; Participant 21, Muharraq, 7 March 2017.
64 Participant 14, Manama, 22 February 2017; Participant 4, Zaid Town, 9 February 2017; Participant 3, Manama, 8 February 2017.
65 T. Ismael and G. E. Perry (eds), The International Relations of the Contemporary Middle East: Subordination and Beyond (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 103.
66 Participant 40, Manama, 6 April 2017.
67 Participant 2, Manama, 8 February 2017; Participant 56, Manama, 21 May 2017. See also M. Amin, ‘“Saraya al-Ashtar” Sectarian Iranian Training Funding Aimed at Bahrain’ [in Arabic], al-Khaleej Online, 18 March 2017, https://bit.ly/3r7UbnD (accessed 2 January 2018); M. Hetah, ‘Iran’s Interventions in Bahrain’ [in Arabic], al-Bilad, 13 December 2013, https://albiladpress.com/article225951-1.html (accessed 2 January 2018); and Nasr, ‘What Are the Most Prominent Shia Militias Supported by Iran?’.
68 Participant 2, Manama, 8 February 2017; Participant 56, Manama, 21 May 2017; B. Yahia, ‘The Modern Shia Political Experiment: From the Opposition to Power’ [in Arabic], al-Rased, 28 February 2017, https://bit.ly/36VIaef (accessed 1 January 2018).
69 K. Barzegar, ‘Iran and the Arab Revolutions’, in S. Lodgaard (ed.), In the Wake of the Arab Spring: Conflict and Cooperation in the Middle East (Oslo: NUPI, 2015), pp. 13–34.
70 S. Wilkin, ‘Iran’s Leader Vows to Protect “Oppressed” People in the Region’, Reuters, 16 May 2015, https://reut.rs/3xc6ROg (accessed 4 April 2022).
71 R. Yalouh, Iran and the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions (Doha: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 2011).
72 B. Berti and Y. Guzansky, ‘Gulf Monarchies in a Changing Middle East: Is Spring Far Behind?’, Orbis, 59:1 (2015), 35–48; Friedman, ‘Battle for Bahrain’, p. 83.
73 Participant 14, Manama, 22 February 2017.
74 F. Wehrey, Dangerous but Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2009).‏
75 F. A. Gerges (ed.), The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 332–350.
76 H. al-Hasan, ‘Vision in the Regional and International Position of the Bahraini Uprising’ [in Arabic], Bahrain Centre for Studies in London, 19 March 2013, www.bcsl.org.uk/arabic/?p=220 (accessed 11 May 2018).
77 Mabon, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
78 T. W. Lippman, A. Vatanka and T. R. Mattair, ‘A Reawakened Rivalry: The GCC v. Iran’, Middle East Policy, 18:4 (2011), 1–24.
79 Participant 1, Riffa, 7 February 2017; Participant 10, Riffa, 17 February 2017; Participant 16, Muharraq, 27 February 2017; Participant 27, Manama, 15 March 2017; Participant 33, A‘ali Town, 23 March 2017. See also Mabon, Saudi Arabia and Iran, pp. 84–90.
80 M. Nuruzzaman, ‘Politics, Economics and Saudi Military Intervention in Bahrain’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 43:2 (2013), 371.
81 Participant 14, Manama, 22 February 2017; Participant 15, Riffa, 26 February 2017; Participant 18, Manama, 5 March 2017; Participant 26, Hamad Town, 11 March 2017; Participant 27, Manama, 15 March 2017; Participant 31, Riffa, 20 March 2017; Participant 32, Manama, 21 March 2017; Participant 39, Riffa, 2 April 2017; Participant 49, Muharraq, 3 May 2017; Participant 52, Hamad Town, 17 March 2017; Participant 53, Manama, 18 May 2017; Participant 54, Manama, 19 May 2017; Participant 55, Issa Town, 20 May 2017.
82 In June 2011, King Hamad of Bahrain announced the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to investigate the 2011 uprising.
83 M. Bassiouni, ‘Bassiouni Admits That Iran Has No Involvement in the Events of Bahrain’ [in Arabic], 31 January 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTK05WBcgo0 (accessed 4 April 2022).
84 H. Al Khalifa, ‘Bahrain – Speech by His Majesty the King’ [in Arabic], 23 November 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbi5mWYXpSo (accessed 9 June 2018).
85 ‘Re: Bahrain/Iran – Wefaq Leader Denies Demanding Help from Iran’, WikiLeaks, 15 November 2013, https://bit.ly/3x6ZlnG (accessed 4 April 2022).
86 E. Ragab, Iran’s Role Dilemma in the Arab Region after the Arab Revolutions (N.p.: Centre for European and North Atlantic Affairs, 2013), p. 5.
87 A. Dawisha, The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge from Tunis to Damascus (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013), p. 172; M. Lynch, The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East (New York: Public Affairs, 2016), p. 71; L. Sadiki (ed.), Routledge Handbook of the Arab Spring: Rethinking Democratization (London: Routledge, 2014), p. 136; M. Seikaly and K. Mattar (eds), The Silent Revolution: The Arab Spring and the Gulf States (Berlin: Gerlach Press, 2014), p. 193.
88 Participant 19, Manama, 6 March 2017; Participant 11, Manama, 20 March 2017.
89 ‘Bahrain Accuses Iran of Training and Arming a “Terrorist Cell”’ [in Arabic], al-Hurra, 20 February 2013, https://arbne.ws/375Zv3U (accessed 4 April 2022).
90 S. Chubin, ‘Iran and the Arab Spring: Ascendancy Frustrated’, GRC Gulf Papers (Gulf Research Center, September 2012), pp. 21–27; H. Fürtig, ‘Iran and the Arab Spring: Between Expectations and Disillusion’, GIGA Working Papers no. 241 (November 2013).
91 ‘The Ministry of Interior: 116 Members of One Terrorist Organisation Were Arrested’ [in Arabic], al-Bilad, 4 March 2018, https://albiladpress.com/news/2018/3428/bahrain/482874.html (accessed 4 April 2022).
92 Securitisation is an unconventional analysis of a security threat, which regards issues such as migration, the environment and community security as a threat, whereby security represents a speech act to influence the public. Here, the central issue is not whether the threats are real, but how a threat can be constructed in the context of the environment. See R. van Munster, Securitization (Oxford Bibliographies, 2012), https://bit.ly/3tNCAmL (accessed 10 May 2018).
93 Participant 4, Zaid Town, 9 February 2017; Participant 9, Manama, 15 February 2017; Participant 10, Riffa, 17 February 2017; Participant 11, Manama, 20 March 2017; Participant 18, Manama, 5 March 2017; Participant 20, Muharraq, 7 March 2017; Participant 21, Muharraq, 7 March 2017; Participant 45, Riffa, 23 April 2017; Participant 59, Manama, 24 May 2017; Participant 27, Manama, 15 March 2017; Participant 32, Manama, 21 March 2017; Participant 33, A‘ali Town, 23 March 2017.
94 Lynch, The New Arab Wars, p. 26; Y. Guzansky, The Arab Gulf States and Reform in the Middle East (London: Palgrave Pivot, 2015).
95 Participant 1, Riffa, 7 February 2017.
96 S. Al Khalifa, ‘The Crown Prince of Bahrain Describes the Shiites of Bahrain’ [in Arabic], 6 May 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P4sOImWuUs (accessed 4 April 2022).
97 Taqiya is a value of acting, concealment or denial in the face of persecution or an enemy to gain a specific interest or protect personal safety. See A. Prior, ‘Learning Taqiya’, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, 27 November 2017, https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/learning-taqiya (accessed 4 December 2021). Shia clerics such as Mohammad al-Majlisi and Mohammad al-Kalini define taqiya as doing or saying something not of your belief in order to protect yourself, money and/or maintain your dignity; it is part of faith and it is like prayer, such that a person who does not believe in taqiya is ‘not Muslim’. Al-Majlisi and al-Kalini urged people to use taqiya against opponents even if they were Sunni Muslims in order to achieve the interests of the Shiite community. See M. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 10 (Iran: Reviving Islamic Books, 1699); and M. al-Kalini, al-Kafi (Tehran: Islamic Book House, 1363 AH).
98 F. Wehrey, ‘Bahrain’s Decade of Discontent’, Journal of Democracy, 24:3 (2013), 121–122.
99 Participant 18, Manama, 5 March 2017; Participant 27, Manama, 15 March 2017; Participant 34, Manama, 7 March 2017.
100 Participant 23, Manama, 8 March 2017.
101 Participant 41, Satra, 5 April 2017.
102 Participant 50, Manama, 15 May 2017.
103 Participant 48, Manama, 3 May 2017; Participant 58, Manama, 24 May 2017.
104 Participant 51, Manama, 15 May 2017.
105 Friedman, ‘Battle for Bahrain’, pp. 74–80.
106 Participant 42, Manama, 6 April 2017.
107 Participant 40, Manama, 6 April 2017.
108 Participant 59, Manama, 24 May 2017.
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Saudi Arabia and Iran

The struggle to shape the Middle East


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