Bahrain is an excellent current – and possibly unique – example of the major and continuing unrest in that part of the world. Unrest which seems to have no end in sight, as well as potentially posturing undetermined local and international long-term consequences. Whatever the case, a cardinal and significant change is taking place on our planet right before our eyes, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come.
In Bahrain, a political and religious storm is raging. The ruling family is Sunni Muslim and the majority of the kingdom’s population is Shiite. Clearly, the religious differences between the two branches of Islam are at the fore here. To go even further, many experts feel these religious differences are the principal reason for the dispute and developing violence. Protests and demonstrations that began in February 2011 have turned into violence with loss of lives and property damages. These violent conflicts have emphasized Shiite claims of discrimination in the country, where Shiites say the best jobs and government posts go only to Sunnis, among other things. To the west, the Saudi Arabia Sunni government supports the Sunni leaders of Bahrain, while to the east, the Iranian Shia government supports the majority Shia citizens in their almost daily demonstrations aimed at overthrowing the current Bahraini government. Make no mistake: there is a clear religious-based conflict – of major proportions – going on here.
To make the situation even more dramatic, the U.S. Fifth Naval Fleet is harbored in Bahrain, and from the western perspective at least, represents the only stability for almost 20% of the world’s traded oil supply, which flows out of the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz daily. Should a Shia government become a reality in Bahrain would the U.S. Fifth Fleet be able to remain there with an Iranian supported government in Bahrain? And, what would the consequences of the Fleet’s departure be if that were to become reality? How would such a change affect neighboring Sunni controlled Saudi Arabia?
Though the traditional conflict between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam is not new, the violent outburst in Bahrain is. And its potential consequences could be dramatic in changing the political and geopolitical scenery of that area, bringing potentially even more instability to the region. We will continue to follow these disturbing developments in this newest hotspot.