Bahrain F1 race: How a Sunni backlash kept an uprising at bay
The Formula One race in Bahrain today has put the spotlight back on an uprising here that has faltered due to sectarian distrust.
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Saudi Arabia hardens fault lines against Iran
At least part of this shift is due to Saudi Arabia's efforts to shape the region in the wake of the Arab Spring, says Toby Craig Jones, a Rutgers University historian of Saudi Arabia. "Especially in Bahrain and Syria, Saudi's role has made sectarianism a dimension we're going to have to deal with for a long time."Skip to next paragraph
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In Bahrain, Saudi intervention was overt: In March 2011, Riyadh sent tanks and soldiers to suppress the protests. Its military has since pulled out, but Saudi Arabia is widely believed to be filling a gap in Bahrain's budget. And in Egypt and Syria, Saudi financial and political backing has helped empower the country's preferred new generation of Sunni leaders.
The order pits "Sunni Muslims against all religious minorities, particularly Shiites," he says. But the move is more calculated than ideological, he argues. With an entire region in flux, regional power brokers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey all sought to empower a reliable set of allies – of similar sect and persuasion – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.
The sectarian narrative has stuck, not least because it leaves Iran increasingly marginalized. That trend certainly pleases Gulf states. But it has also found favor in the United States and the European Union.
For the US, regime change in Bahrain – home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet – could be more worrisome than in Egypt. The Fifth Fleet, America's principal military outpost in the Persian Gulf, charged with keeping oil shipping lanes open and protecting against Iranian aggression – is based just a five-minute drive from Manama.
Bahraini politics have been complicated by this geopolitical game. "Bahrain was once a local problem," says Jasim Hussein, a former lawmaker for Wefaq. "But now everything is much more complicated. You have Saudi [Arabia], the Shiite world, the United States, and the European Union all involved. It was a mistake for the authorities to let that happen."
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