By Amanda Fisher for Gulf State Analytics
On February 1, 2015, the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain made a brief interlude onto the world stage after the launch of a new Arab television news station appeared to have failed before it even began. The Al Arab service, backed by wealthy Saudi prince al-Waleed bin Talal, had claimed to want to steer a middle ground through contentious Middle Eastern politics, making a home for itself in Bahrain on the pretext of achieving greater independence. However, Al Arab was never afforded an opportunity to prove itself. The infant station’s management team made a fatal faux pas within 24 hours of its launch.
Bahrain’s government shut down Al Arab after the network aired an interview with Khalil al-Marzooq, a senior official within Bahrain’s dominant Shi’ite opposition movement, about Manama’s decision to revoke the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis. The authorities cited “technical and administrative reasons.” To the outside world, the news blip was a laughably pitiable event that sums up the status of free press in a region ruled by corrupt and authoritarian regimes. But the event speaks far more about Bahrain’s long-running opposition movement, which has its origins in at least the “Arab Spring,” if not decades before.
A Resilient Opposition Movement
While overshadowed by the Syrian crisis and recent developments in Yemen and Iraq, the complicated and relatively bloody conflict between Bahrain’s Sunni rulers and Shi’ite opposition has entered its fourth year with little indication that tensions will ease in the near-term. Since the uprising began, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented 97 deaths as of November 2014. Yet much of the world has overlooked events in this island kingdom, due to its small size, relative global insignificance, and Bahrain’s lack of an easily-digested narrative. However, Bahrain does serve as an important case study for its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monarchies, which are paranoid about indigenous pro-democracy movements within their own borders.
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