News / Middle East

    Bahraini Shi'ite Youth Risk Radicalization as Political Talks Stall

    An anti-government protester throws tear gas canister fired by riot police during clashes after the funeral procession of Ali Abbas and Ahmed Al Mesjen who died when their car exploded in the village of Maqsha west of Manama, April 22, 2014.
    An anti-government protester throws tear gas canister fired by riot police during clashes after the funeral procession of Ali Abbas and Ahmed Al Mesjen who died when their car exploded in the village of Maqsha west of Manama, April 22, 2014.
    Reuters
    Dozens of black-clad, masked men parade through Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim villages, some holding petrol bombs and others denouncing al Khalifa, the Sunni Muslim monarchy that has ruled the Gulf Arab island since the 18th century.

    A few masked men jump through a ring of fire and crawl under barbed wire in what looks like a desert training zone. Hands work at what looks like a home-made bomb.

    Scenes like these, broadcast in online videos in recent months, might once have been dismissed as a cry for attention by groups from Bahrain's big Shi'ite community seeking to shore up a flagging cause for democratic reform.

    But they have coincided with a spread in sometimes lethal home-made bomb attacks, suggesting a growing radicalization among Shi'ite youth.

    To be sure, the parades do not match either in size or armed might those of paramilitary Shi'ite militias elsewhere in the Middle East such as Lebanon's Hezbollah or Iraq's Mehdi Army. Nor do the bombs disturb everyday life in most of Bahrain, where explosions tend to target security forces in the mainly Shi'ite villages, far away from the capital.

    But there are fears that a deadlock in political efforts to solve a three-year-old standoff is deepening frustration among young Shi'ites, with the more hotheaded of them seeming beyond the control of the mainstream al Wefaq opposition movement.

    "We are fighting for our rights and nobody can stop us. The youngsters will continue what their fathers, brothers and uncles started," a 21-year-old man who gave his name only as S. A. told Reuters in the Shi'ite village of Janabiya. "Many of us have lost a member of the family; that has became a norm. But we are fighting back and will kill whoever is killing us."

    The strategically vital kingdom, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has wrestled with low-level but persistent civil unrest since a Shi'ite-led uprising was put down in 2011, becoming a front line in a region-wide tussle for influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran across the Gulf.

    Polarization

    Many of the youth in the videos hold the flag of the February 14th Youth Coalition, an internet-based group that has been organizing anti-government protests since security forces quelled mass demonstrations of February-March 2011, inspired by the "Arab Spring" wave of popular revolts against autocracy.

    February 14th, named after the launch date of the 2011 uprising, has been declared a terrorist organization by the authorities along with two little-known groups: Saraya al-Ashtar (Ashtar Brigade) and Saraya al-Muqawama (Resistance Brigade), compounding the atmosphere of confrontation.

    Demonstrators drawn mainly from the Shi'ite community have kept up small protests almost daily, demanding the Sunni ruling family create a constitutional monarchy.

    Some of the protests turn violent, with police firing tear gas, stun grenade and birdshot at youth burning tires and throwing rocks, metal rods and petrol bombs at security forces.

    The violence is mainly in Shi'ite villages well away from Manama where businesses and expatriates are hardly affected.

    Yet, there is a risk of a deadly attack that could plunge Bahrain into a more brutal cycle of violence. Tension simmers with no solution for the grievances cited by the Shi'ite community, particularly the youth many of whom say they have members of their families either shot by police or in jail.

    Bahraini Shi'ites complain of political and economic marginalization, an accusation the government denies.

    Justin Gengler, a Bahrain expert at Qatar University, says the risk of youth radicalization is "a predictable consequence".

    "When a large segment of the population feels that so-called 'representative' institutions are stacked against them, and that no viable avenue of reform exists, then it is not surprising that they would turn to extra-political means of affecting change," he said.

    "The unrest is contained, it is managed to a great extent," said a Western diplomat, who asked for anonymity.

    "But there is a sense, I think, that if they don't come to a political solution, it could be a big event that would set it off, and it could develop into sectarian [violence]. It is one
    of the greatest fears."

    Diplomatic and security sources in Manama cite increasing evidence of Iranian support for some "violent" anti-government groups in Bahrain. They point to a foiled attempt to smuggle explosives and arms, some made in Iran and Syria, into the country by boat last year.

    "The evidence is irrefutable, the Iranians are involved," said the Western diplomat, who added that groups behind the attacks were getting better in making deadly explosives.

    Iran has always denied accusations of fueling the unrest, yet it champions the cause of Bahrain's Shi'ite opposition.

    Video of bomb attacks

    The online videos include footage purportedly of some of the bomb attacks that have killed or wounded policemen in recent months. In one video, masked youths run with petrol bombs which they throw at an armored police vehicle. The car, on fire, drives away and the youth shout "Allah Akbar" (God is great).

    Parts of Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's speeches, or songs calling to "answer the call of the Coalition", are sometimes played in the background of other videos.

    Reuters could not independently verify the videos. Some commentators have pointed out that they could have been made by government loyalists to mobilize support for the authorities.

    Yet analysts, security and diplomatic sources say the recent spike in the frequency and deadliness of bombing attacks, mainly on policemen, indicate a greater level of experience and training by the attackers than two years ago.

    Mohammed al-Sayed of Citizens for Bahrain, which identifies itself as an online moderate movement, said there is growing concern that radicals from both Sunni and Shi'ite communities are gaining ground.

    "If it's policemen today, then it's civilians tomorrow that would be targeted," he said.

    "Another main concern among Bahrainis is that children are being exploited. They are blocking roads, burning tires and even carrying bombs in some areas. If this is what we will be facing in the future of Bahrain's youth, what will happen in 10 or 20 years and how polarized and radicalized would they become?"

    During this year's Formula One Grand Prix race, a home-made bomb exploded in a car in a busy commercial district of Manama.

    No casualties were reported and the F1 race was unaffected. But the blast took place near a government security building, despite tight security around the country because of the race, raising fears of possible high-profile attacks.

    A meeting between Bahrain's crown prince and opposition leaders in January pulled reconciliation talks back from the brink of collapse but mutual mistrust runs deep. Little progress has been made since and the opposition said talks were "frozen".

    "The political crisis is deep and will not be solved with superficial talks that aim to waste time and continue human rights violations," opposition groups said in a statement last week. Information Minister Samira Rajab said on April 27 the talks were continuing, according to state news agency BNA.

    "It is a political game," said a Wefaq member who asked not to be named. "They want to pressure the opposition to negotiate and lessen their demands. But we worry that the more violent the authorities become, the more violent the people will also become.

    You May Like

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora