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

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.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More