V Международная студенческая научная конференция Студенческий научный форум - 2013


Кабдуалиева М.А. 1
1Назарбаев Университет
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The political situation in Bahrain is an objective lesson for when people use political demonstrations in order to change internal policies run by the government. In 2011, the kingdom underwent a massive wave of protests and demonstrations by Shias. They demanded the expansion of their authority and functions in the government, but police arrested the majority of the oppositionists, and the revolt was stopped. In 2012, the law was amended, according to which the representatives of the Shia clan faced some difficulties in the rulemaking. Specifically, Shias insisted on the creation of single-chamber parliament because the king and Consultative Council can act independently from the parliament where Shias have the greatest part of seats. As the leader of Al-Wefaq, the main opposition group, declared, "The king remains the one to appoint and dismiss the government." (Middle East Online, 2012.) This change in the Constitution only fanned the discontent, and the amount of rallies only increased. Not so long ago, on the 30th of October, the minister of Internal Affairs claimed that political demonstrations are forbidden, and participation in them would be punished (Ahram, 2012.) However, the citizens of Bahrain continue protests strikes illegally. In this paper, I will discuss this problem from three levels of analysis and explain the importance of the conflict for international relations.

To begin with, I will analyze the case of Bahrain at the systemic level, which considers the interconnection between global or regional actors. This particular conflict had regional importance because it took place in Arab world, which had a certain impact on Bahrain to wage war. The period from 2010 to 2011, when the citizens of the states situated in the Near East started to revolt against their governments, is called the “Arab Spring”. During this time, people of twenty different countries fought for economic and political reorganization and even for the total replacement of the regime. Here we can see the implication of the snowballing concept, which claims that the unrest in one country may be a stimulus by the unrest in its neighbors’ territories. There was no regional hegemon, which could control the increasing number of riots and preserve the status quo and security; therefore, Bahrainis were affected by the spirit of revolution and tried to organize their own revolution that might improve their political situation.

The country supporting Bahrain in its actions is Iran. “The oppressed people of Bahrain are a part of the Islamic world and the Islamic Republic of Iran feels obligated to support them” (Press Time, 2011.) In the latter, the population is also dominated by Shias. The difference is that Iran officially claimed Shia Islam to be a state religion, and the government has the majority of representatives from this Islamic branch. Iranian authorities share the feelings of protesting Bahrainis, and try to provide them with military aid (Press time, 2011.) In contrast, the USA does not support Bahraini pro-democratic movements. The US government is not willing to intervene to this situation, while it has naval forces in Persian Gulf. As one of the prominent activists, Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, said, “We are victims because we have oil and the American 5th Fleet” (Eurasia Review, 2012.). The protesters claim that the USA does not support the movement because Bahrain serves as a good military base, and the government of the USA prefers to keep peaceful relations with royal family and ignore the development of the conflict.

The state level of analysis provides us with the ability to look at domestic policy as a key factor of this issue. In addition, Bahrain has a one-party system - there are no other parties allowed to participate in the policy-making process. The absence of multiple parties leads to social inequality, which can be based on religious, ethnic or national conflicts that exist in Bahrain society. As a constitutional monarchy, Bahrain is governed by a Prime Minister and the king. The power is inherited, and the office of Prime Minister is given to the person chosen by the king. Both of them, as well as the major part of the government are the representatives of the Sunni clan, while seventy percent of the population are Shias (Web Citation, 2011.) The dissatisfaction is based on religious grounds as well as these two branches of Muslim communities have had tension between each other long before. Sunnis and Shias interpret the Sharia law differently: the former believes that it is necessary to choose the governors among the members of the ruling dynasty, while Shias claim that only the descendants of Prophet Muhammad have a right to rule. Obviously, Shias disagree with the apparent domination of Sunnis because it is clear that there will not be a chance for them to govern the state until Al Khalifa dynasty exists.

Finally, political dispute can begin because of a particular person (or group of them) playing an important role in the state. This level of analysis is called individual. As previously mentioned, the two branches of Islam historically opposed each other, so it became a part of nature of Sunnis and Shias’ generations to struggle for the power. Furthermore, the rebels in Bahrain believe that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salaman Al Khalifa and the king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa run dictatorial regime and are disrespectful to the rights and liberties of Shias. Nonetheless, despite all of the citizens’ negative responses to the current political regime, the dynasty Al Khalifa did not negotiate with the Shia people in order to resolve the situation, which is gradually going out of the control. The main reason for this “inactivity” can be explained with political ambition theory. Shias require the introduction of democratic principles to the state, the right of voting, and the accountability of the government. All of these factors can undermine the power that now is concentrated only in the hands of the king and Prime Minister; therefore they are not totally interested in the victory of Shias and finding a compromise.

Thinking about the consequences of the recent amendment, it is unlikely that this change will work. The Bahrainis still organize uprisings, and are more punished for this as well, even after it became illegal. The leaders of the country tried to stop the revolt, but their methods were no less harsh. Security forces used tear gas on protesters, and when they managed to arrest rebels, the policemen literally tortured convicted activists of the movement (BBC, 2011.) From the period of the Arab Spring to the present, approximately 80 people have died in Bahrain, 700 were seriously injured, and dozens of opposition leaders are sitting in prisons (New Europe, 2012.)

Also, in order to understand how Shias’ irredentism is dangerous for the whole state, we can consider another country that has also participated in Arab Spring events - Libya. This state underwent the most remarkable changes: its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was overthrown and killed, the power was given to the National Transitional Council, and the international sanctions binding the state were weakened. Nevertheless, Libya suffered from huge losses of people in the amount of 25,000 (Sydney Morning Herald, 2011.) Bahrain, unfortunately, has also the potential for such a result.

In short, the current situation can be interpreted from two points of view. On the one hand, the leadership of Sunni Muslims in Bahrain deprives Shias of many political rights; therefore, the latter should struggle for their liberties. One of the most prominent examples is the recent citizenship revocation of some activists of the protests (BBC, 2012.) These actions of the government can stir up a new wave of unrest, and lead to the overthrow of the royal family. On the other hand, the victory of Shias may weaken international relations with the Western countries; for this reason it would be better both for the protesters and the government to relax tensions between each other to diminish the likelihood of war. In international relations this strategy is labeled as “détente” (Kegley and Raymond, 2012.) For example, the trade of oil between Bahrain and the USA could be broken because Shia Muslims consider that this type of economic relations is beneficial only for the latter. In other words, it could significantly harm the economic realm of Bahrain, and the state would lose such a powerful partner as the USA.

To conclude, the results of the recent events in Bahrain are difficult to predict definitely because the situation is totally depends on whether the sides, involved in the conflict, will seek a rapprochement. Discussing the issue from different points helps to understand the root of the problem better, and demonstrates that there can be more than one factor promoting the beginning of armed conflict. Each level of analysis provides us with the information about impact of global actors’ interconnection, domestic policy, and the leader of the state. For this reason, the situation in Bahrain may serve as good material for further study in the international relations, and help conduct thorough investigation of how one country can be influenced by others and vice versa.

Works cited

  1. AhramOnline. 2012. “Bahrain Bans All Protests After Clashes”. October 30.

Online at: http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/56765/World/Region/Bahrain-bans-all-protests-after-clashes.aspx

  1. WebCitation. 2011. “Why Bahrain Blew Up”. February 16.

Online at: http://www.webcitation.org/6BA6ukktF

  1. BBC. 2011. “Bahrain protests: Angry Mourners Bury Clashes Victims”. February 18.

Online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12502820

  1. NewEurope. 2012. “UN Asks Bahrain to Withdraw Protests Restrictions”. November 2.

Online at: http://www.neurope.eu/article/un-asks-bahrain-withdraw-protests-restrictions

  1. BBC. 2012. “Bahrain revokes 31 opposition activists’ citizenship. November 7. Online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20235542 .)

  2. Eurasia Review: News & Analysis. 2012. “Bahrain: Protests Held Against Ban On Public Gatherings”. November 3. Online at: http://www.eurasiareview.com/03112012-bahrain-protests-held-against-ban-on-public-gatherings/

  3. SMH. 2011. “Residents Flee Gaddafi hometown”. October 3.

Online at: http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

  1. PressTime. 2011. “Iran lawmakers support Bahrain protests.” March 19.

Online at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/170743.html

  1. Middle East Online. 2012. “Bahrain king amends Constitution”. April 5.

Online at: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=52065

  1. “The Global Future. A brief Introduction to World Politics.” 4th edition, 2012. Charles W. Kegley, Jr. Gregory A. Raymond. Page 92

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