The rise and fall of Bahrain’s left-wing

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A shared political consciousness

As the first state in the Arabian Gulf region to discover oil in 1931, Bahrain has a long history of political and civil society activism. Many of the first generation of modern political figures were educated in new schools set up during the 1920s, giving Bahrain a strong progressive edge over many of its neighbours. The first girls’ school in the entire region appeared in Manama in 1928.

Due to Bahrain’s small size, most of the prominent figures who would dominate Bahrain’s political scene over the coming decades went to school with each other; including members of the ruling family, political activists and professionals.

The first manifestations of political activism appeared among workers of the national oil company, Bapco, with workers demanding better pay and conditions; as well as preferment for Bahraini workers. During this generation which appeared between the first and second world wars, one of the noticeable features was the eradication of sectarian barriers. People from both Sunni and Shia villages attended these modern schools together and worked alongside each other.

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Dialogue with the sponsors of terror

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Dialogue is the first step towards peace and stability in any situation of conflict throughout history. Our region has been plagued by high levels of instability and insecurity with the rise of extremist groups that are waging a war against modernisation, progress and all forms of freedom. The two biggest powers in the Arabian Gulf region Saudi Arabia and Iran have had had a tense relationship throughout the past few decades following the Islamic revolution in Iran that openly aims at exporting the Welayat Al Faqih ideology to other countries. 

 

For much of Muslim history, Sunnis and Shia have peacefully coexisted without there always being sharp awareness of the minor theological differences between them. Sunni-Shia tensions have throughout history been the result of competing Islamic empires such as the Ottomans and Safavids who exploited sectarian affiliations for political gain. The conflict is today represented between Sunni Saudi Arabia and GCC states and Shia Iran which wants to take the lead in the Muslim world, particularly through trying to dominate a number of Arab states which have been weakened by conflict.

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Who is worse: Daesh or Al-Hashd al-Shaabi?

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In Iraq, ISIS and Al-Hashd al-Shaabi are fighting against each other. However, both entities in different ways represent a threat to the region.

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi was established in mid-2014 as a collection of mainly-Shia militias to fight against ISIS (Daesh), after the collapse of the Iraqi Army and ISIS’s capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul. However, the sectarian objectives of these militias, which are partly funded and commanded by Iran, create long-term threats for the region, setting the stage for sectarian unrest and regional conflict long after Daesh has been forced out of all its territory. It is of particular concern that Hashd leaders have threatened other Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen.

This poses the question; which of these two entities poses the greatest threat to the region. Below we will compare these two organizations according to a number of criteria, to try and reach a conclusion about which group represents the greatest long-term danger.

Number of active fighters

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February 14, Six years on

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February 14 marks the day 98.4% of Bahrainis voted for a referendum to the constitution in 2001 giving more freedom to citizens in a major step towards democratizing the country. It also marks the anniversary of the unrest in 2011, hence making it a day that many view as a turning point in the history of Bahrain, both in 2001 and 2011. 

Today, Bahrain is moving forward despite the challenges it is facing as a result of political and economic instabilities. Major steps have been taken towards the implementation of reforms in different sectors. Many fail to see the progress made by Bahrain in addressing people’s concerns due to the failure of political dialogue and what many others describe as a crackdown on protests and political movements. However, the country is for the most part remarkably peaceful and stable; and moving in the right direction. 

During the past year, the country faced many challenges on the political scene. The closing down of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society following accusations of sectarian incitement, has transformed the political atmosphere. Al-Wefaq’s failure to engage in dialogue and to participate in the 2014 parliamentary elections, led to it becoming an irrelevant institution that has repeatedly lost opportunities to be a major player in Bahraini politics.

Al Wefaq lost its support base with many of its constituents blaming it for its rejectionist behaviour and others being radicalized by extremist groups. The liberal wing of the opposition which does not enjoy strong support represented by the National Democratic Action Society is today taking the lead in in the opposition coalition due the dissolution of Al-Wefaq. The current situation has led the opposition into a complete failure of engagement with the public and the government, while increasing sectarian divisions.

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