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Bahrain as a Sunni-Shia Fault Line

Bahrain has been in turmoil since a 2011 uprising backed by majority Shia Muslims, supported by Iran, which demanded greater rights from the Sunni-led monarchy. The government crushed the protests with the help of its Sunni Arab Gulf allies. Sporadic violence and bomb attacks largely aimed at Bahraini security forces have become the norm since 2011.[i]

The Bahraini government has often accused Iran of meddling in its internal affairs and trying to lure its Shi’ite population (60% Shia) towards Tehran’s ideals.
Bahrain officials also believe that Iran is providing weapons, funding, and training to Bahraini insurgents through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.[ii]  February 14 As protests ripple across the Arab world following revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, unrest breaks out in Bahrain where a Sunni Muslim minority rules over a Shiite majority population. Protests focus on Pearl Square in Manama, which security forces attack on February 17. Demonstrations also take place in several majority-Shiite villages.

March 14 Saudi Arabia sends troops to help quash the protests.


Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior announced on May 23, 2017 that, in an operation carried out by security forces in al-Diraz village, 286 suspects were arrested on terrorism charges and five were killed. Many of the detainees were hiding in the home of Sheikh Issa Qassim, a leading Shia spiritual leader, in the village. Diraz is located in the northwest of the main island and has an estimated population of 20-30,000, most of them Shi’a Muslims.[iii]

[i] Bahraini woman killed in roadside bomb attack, Al Jazeera, July 1, 2016.

[ii]  Simeon Kerr, Explosion in Bahrain raises tensions in Gulf,, March 4, 2014.


[iii] Bahrain: Five deaths of outlaws in al-Diraz village, Al Arabiya, May 24, 2017.

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