Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has,” according to a Reuters report, “said a foreign plot against his Gulf Arab kingdom had been foiled … .” The king’s statement, a paranoid imputation citing an “external plot” that has “fomented for 20 to 30 years,” appears little more than a transparent attempt to delegitimize protests during what has been called a “political crisis” in Bahrain.
Last week, with protests against the country’s monarchical state continuing, Bahrain commenced a crackdown that met demonstrators with an inordinate show of authoritarian force. “The opposition protest,” notes The Telegraph, “denies it is sectarian-based,” but both Bahrain and Iran — the putative source of the dreaded “external plot” — are taking advantage of the much-ballyhooed Sunni/Shiite split.
Though Bahrain’s Shiites, the majority in a country with a Sunni political establishment, have long aired grievances against the government, the protests have centered on general notions of constitutionalism and democracy. Having intermittently declared Bahrain its own in recent decades, Iran undeniably has an interest in leveraging popular discontent against the Sunni Kingdom. And Bahrain, keen to undermine objections to its rule, has a corresponding interest in identifying Iran as the origin of its political unrest and in dividing its citizens against one another.
Still, while the bickering political classes of these states attempt to cash in on recent events, demonstrations in Bahrain have included both Sunnis and Shiites, who have lived and worked side by side for generations. This is not to downplay the existence of religious frictions within Bahrain, but there is a paucity of evidence that would link Tehran to the situation there.