Bahrain’s Shiite-Sunni Apartheid

The country’s Shiite majority has for generations been treated as an oppressed minority.

Like many other countries of the Middle East, Bahrain has been repeatedly conquered by foreign invaders, including the Abbasids, Jarwinids, Omanis, Persians and Portuguese. In 1783, a tribal confederation backed by a Kuwaiti naval force and Bedouins from Qatar’s Zubara invaded Bahrain and established the rule of the House of Khalifa. But their uninterrupted political control, beginning with the first monarch Ahmad bin Mohammad al-Khalifa, paved a path of hardship for the country’s Shiite majority. Treated as a renegade sect and group of outside eccentrics, Bahrain’s Shiites have been systematically oppressed by the country’s ruling elite for generations. Deep-Seated Inequality Bahrain’s indigenous Shiites, referred to as Baharina, are hard-working people who do not shy away from manual labor. They work in the agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors. (Until the industry collapsed in the late 1930s, pearl fishing was also common.) For centuries, Bahrain was a commercial hub in the Persian Gulf and a station from which trade was conducted with Southeast Asia and the Far East. Its exposure to the outside world made its people tolerant of diversity. But despite their productivity and worldliness, they continued to live under poor conditions, oppressed by Sunni rulers and receiving little help from […]

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Hilal Khashan
Hilal Khashan is a Professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. He is a respected author and analyst of Middle Eastern affairs. He is the author of six books, including Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.) He is currently writing a book titled Saudi Arabia: The Dilemma of Political Reform and the Illusion of Economic Development. He is also the author of more than 110 articles that appeared in journals such as Orbis, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Israel Affairs, Journal of Religion and Society, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, and The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.