News / Middle East

Uprisings in Bahrain Ratchet Up Tension With Iran

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, center, welcomes United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right, as the New Secretary General of the GCC, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, smiles at the G
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, center, welcomes United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right, as the New Secretary General of the GCC, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, smiles at the G

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +
Jeffrey Young

As uprisings in the Middle East have spread in recent months, one key Persian Gulf country - Bahrain - has become the scene of demonstrations demanding greater political freedoms. But the situation in Bahrain is not entirely internal.

The Gulf Cooperation Council - a coalition of key Persian Gulf states - has weighed in on one side of the turmoil, with Iran speaking up on the other. The rhetoric has increasingly hardened, as both sides seek to influence what happens there.

Thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets starting in mid-February, demanding reforms to make the kingdom's Sunni-dominated government more representative, and its economy more inclusive, for the majority Shiite population.

Then, in mid-March, the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, rolled a military force into Manama at the invitation of the ruling al-Khalifa family. Bahrain’s government said it was to ensure stability.

The Bahraini government and other Arab states quickly blamed Iran for the provocations that had triggered GCC assistance. Speaking in Washington on April 19, Bahraini Finance Minister Ahmed al-Khalifa called on Tehran to stop.

"In terms of Iran, you have seen their announcements," said al-Khalifa. "We feel that what happens in Bahrain is for the Bahraini people to reach consensus on, and to resolve. And, Iran is our neighbor, but we think that what has happened has to be resolved within Bahrain.

But Jean-Francois Seznec at Georgetown University discounts the Iranian influence. "The al-Khalifa family right now, [in Washington, as we speak] are distributing all manners of information saying that Iran was behind all of this [unrest]. And, this is a conspiracy [by Iran] that has been going on for 20-30 years. The fact is, in my own experience anyway, tells me that the Shi'a feel Bahraini - they don't feel Iranian. They don't really like Iran. The Shi'a in Bahrain are mostly Arabs. They're not Persian."

The GCC’s military move into Bahrain reverberated throughout - and polarized - the region. Arab countries, especially those in the GCC, praised the Saudi-led incursion. Iran strongly condemned it. At the Middle East Institute in Washington, Analyst Alex Vatanka said the GCC action reframed Iran's position.

"At the outset, when the unrest in Bahrain began, we actually witnessed, on the Iranian side in terms of rhetoric, [Iran] was very much attempting to portray what was going on in Bahrain, as [being] between the government - the al-Khalifa family - and the people," said Vatanka. "The people were not cast as Sunnis or Shi'a - they were just simply referred to as the people. All this changed overnight, as soon as we saw the 1,500 or so Saudi troops wander down the causeway [linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain], followed by troops from the Emirates and Qatar later on. Suddenly, we saw the narrative coming from Tehran playing up the Shi'a identity of the Bahrainis."

Iran has traditionally seen both the Persian Gulf and the region’s Shiite population to be within its sphere of influence. It continues to express that attitude today as the region is in turmoil - according to former State Department official Graeme Bannerman.

"The Iranians see themselves as the dominant force, the natural dominant force in the [Persian] Gulf region," said Bannerman. "And, they will do all they can to assert their dominance in the region. It goes back to the beginning of the U.A.E. [United Arab Emirates], when they siezed the Greater and Lesser Tumbs, and Abu Mussa [islands.] Now, if you are sitting in Bahrain, with that precedent, you have to say 'That makes me nervous.' Whether that is legitimate or not, that makes them [the ruling al-Khalifa family] nervous."

The rhetoric has heated up. Recently, al-Arabiyah TV reported that Kuwaiti parliamentarian Muhammad Hayif  had not only called on the GCC to liberate the Tumbs and Abu Mussa islands in the Gulf from Iran, but also had called for the break-away of Iran’s heavily Arab Khuzestan region. Vatanka said both sides have plenty to lose from such provocations.

"One day, they want dialogue. [The] next day, they want to go and, sort of, fund secessionist movements in one another's countries. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and a number of the other [GCC] states are also open to potential Iranian overtures to groups that operate in those countries that are, perhaps, looking for patronage [support]. Again, this is not going to be a situation where one country can said to be the winner, and others will be losing. This is going to be win-and-loss across the board for all of these states," said Vatanka.

The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where much of that country’s oil production lies, is heavily Shiite. Riyadh worries that Iran, if provoked by secessionist efforts, may try to incite turmoil. And, Tehran knows that the Saudis would likely defend the Eastern Province.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid