The risks of violence in Bahrain are escalating and none of the root causes of the 2011 uprising have been seriously addressed, says a new paper.

‘Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse’, by Jane Kinninmont, says the political stalemate in Bahrain is generating tensions far beyond the tiny island kingdom, increasing the danger of Sunni-Shia sectarianism spreading more widely through the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, at a time when the Syrian crisis is inflaming sectarian sentiments across the Arab world. Bahrain’s political problems have strained relations between the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) and Iraq. Perhaps most dangerously, Iranian officials are reviving the idea of an Iranian territorial claim to Bahrain.

In the absence of any serious process of political reform, the unrest and the shift towards a more hardline, security-oriented model of government are compromising the country’s stability, damaging the economy and straining relations with a number of allies.

The repression in Bahrain, a Western ally, complicates and hinders the efforts of the US and UK to sketch out a new policy towards the Middle East where dema nds for democracy have become increasingly vocal. It has laid the US and UK open to charges of double standards.

The paper argues that the GCC states – which all have different approaches to political representation and to relations between different religious groups – could play a constructive role by encouraging the ruling family to focus on the economic and political development it needs to ensure stability. 

Although Qatari and Kuwaiti mediation efforts were rebuffed in 2011, there may now be an opportunity to develop a fresh GCC mediation effort amid discussions on greater GCC unity. Allies of the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty want the Bahra ini monarchy to be sustainable and accepted.  They should help to persuade the ruling family that one of the biggest risks it faces is its own reluctance to reform.

The author, Jane Kinninmont, says,

‘Bahrain is on a dangerous path. But its problems can be solved if there is the political will to compromise, reform and share power within the existing state, which is one of the oldest in the Arab world, rather than relying on external support. 

‘There is still scope to fi nd common ground between the different elements of Bahraini society in support of a constitutional monarchy, based on equal citizenship and a revitalized social contract, not on sect-based power-sharing.’


Read 'Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse'

The author, Jane Kinninmont, is available for interview. Please email, or call +44 (0)7967 325 993.