In the latest Middle Eastern Outlook, Between Reform and Revolution: Sheikh Qassim, the Bahraini Shi'a, and Iran, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Ali Alfoneh examines the growing relationship between Bahrain's Shi'a leader Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Because the political stability of the small island state of Bahrain--home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet--matters to the United States, Alfoneh recommends that the U.S. should do its utmost to reconcile the rulers and the ruled in Bahrain. Defending the civil rights of the Bahraini Shi'a would to help stabilize Bahrain and the Persian Gulf region. It would also undermine Iran’s ability to exploit the sectarian conflict between the Bahraini ruling Sunni elites and the Shi’a majority.
Among Alfoneh's key points:
- Bahrain's history is fraught with Shi'a marginalization, which, as the nation's ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran grow stronger, has fomented a radical strain in the nation's politics.
- Political and clerical leader Sheikh Qassim's transition from moderate reformist to zealous revolutionary serves as a broader warning of the shifting tides in Bahrain.
- The U.S. should work with the current government in Bahrain to encourage gradual reforms and civil rights for the Shi'a majority. This would ensure stability -- critical for oil transportation -- in the Persian Gulf.
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