Sectarian Tensions in the Gulf

Middle East In Focus

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At the beginning of September, the Bahraini government arrested 23 Shia opposition politicians on charges of inciting acts of terrorism and plotting the government’s overthrow. 

Since then, the Sunni based government has moved to reassert state control on mosques and even going so far as to revoke one Shiite cleric’s citizenship, while suspending another from delivering any sermons for at least two weeks. The government has also tried to encourage the posting of billboards by citizen groups that condemn recent acts of violence.

Reports suggest that Sunni-Shia tensions have also surfaced in neighboring Kuwait. Following disparaging remarks there about the Prophet’s wife, Aisha, by a high-ranking Shiite cleric, the government proceeded to revoke his citizenship. According to the report, the interior minister has promised to also bring charges against the cleric accusing him of abusing religious symbols and triggering sectarian violence. In a further bid to head off any possible public acts of violence, the government issued a decree banning all public gathering until further notice.

This recent spike in sectarian tension has left those familiar with the region searching for answers. For some, sectarian strife in Bahrain has more to do with internal politics where the Shia majority feels that the reforms of the 1990s didn’t go far enough in addressing their lack of access to good government jobs and housing. With elections coming up on October 23 of this year, they argue, such tensions are to be expected.

For others, the hand of Iran is behind these developments, Some Kuwaiti papers contend that Iran is planting Shia cells in these countries as a measure to respond to a future attack on Iran by Israel and/or the United States.

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at