Sectarian tensions in Bahrain
The New York Times:
“For the first time the evidence is complete, it’s not just allegations,” said Mr. Bandar, speaking by telephone from Britain, where he has lived since his deportation in early September. “The evidence is documents, it is signatures, and there is a blueprint for their plans and their strategy. One can see the way in which the discrimination is institutional now, and it is beyond any imagination.”One potential problem that could develop from Iraq is incresed sectarian tension in the region.
In all, Mr. Bandar contends, the documents indicate that $6 million was spent to plant articles in Bahraini newspapers, organize counterdemonstrations when Shiites held protests, set off cellphone text-message campaigns against opposition figures and even support a program to convert Shiites into Sunnis. Government officials have dismissed Mr. Bandar as a disgruntled employee with ulterior motives, insisting that the report is a fabrication.
Bahrain, with a population of about 700,000, including 200,000 expatriates, is a weekend playground for Saudis. The tiny island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia is a regional business hub and in recent years has become a center for Islamic banking.
But long-simmering sectarian divisions erupted almost to the point of civil unrest during the 1990’s. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who succeeded his father in 1999, headed off the conflict by promising political changes aimed at turning the country into a constitutional monarchy. But when the effort faltered several years ago, many advocates for the Shiite population stepped up their demands for greater rights and more of a say in a government that they say is skewed to the Sunni minority. Shiite groups boycotted the last elections, in 2002, but were expected to take part in the November elections.
At the same time, more militant Sunni groups, alarmed by a Shiite revival in the Middle East, have begun painting Bahrain as the edge of a “Shiite Crescent,” increasingly susceptible to Iran’s influence. The resulting tensions here have at times boiled over into violent clashes between gangs of young people and security forces.