Sunni monarchs determined to maintain control after crushing opposition protests in the kingdom of Bahrain may soon face a new threat from increasingly alienated youths in the majority Shiite nation.
On Thursday, Bahrain’s state news agency reported that troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council are expected to stay on even after the country’s state of emergency is lifted June 1.
Sheikh Khalifa Al Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Defense Force, told the state news agency that the forces, known as the Peninsula Shield, were sent to Bahrain after protests erupted in February to defend against foreign threats, including Iran. He said Iranian, Iraqi and western agents helped orchestrate the anti-government protests.
Timeline: Repression in Bahrain
Earlier this week, the GCC, a group of six Persian Gulf nations formed in 1981, invited Jordan and Morocco to join in what some analysts have called a consolidation of power by the “Sunni Kings’ Club” in the face of popular Shiite uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.
Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre, said gulf leaders, led by Saudi Arabia, have become a “club of counterrevolutionaries” trying to reestablish an old order, with some resistance from Qatar and Kuwait, which is home to a sizable Shiite minority.
So far, gulf leaders have achieved an “uneasy calm” in Bahrain, he said, but have been unable to broker a political agreement there or in Yemen that would transform the states into constitutional monarchies.
“If you don’t come to some sort of political agreement, you’re going to have a young generation of Shiite youth who will not forget this and will be radicalized,” Shaikh said. “The danger is that they won’t be listening to anybody except maybe Iran.”
Already, he said gulf leaders may have missed their chance in Bahrain, where the government’s violent suppression of protests and alleged torture of political dissidents and medical staff, reported this week by Al Jazeera, has weakened their ability to negotiate with the opposition.
“A lot of young Bahrianis I talk to now dismiss those people, especially young Shiite Bahrainis, and seem to be moving on,” Shaikh said of the government.