Socialist Worker

Bahrain: a history of repression

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2240

The small island state of Bahrain is being rocked by an uprising.

The Shia majority, joined by liberal and radical Sunnis, are protesting against political exclusion and repression by the state, which is ruled by a Sunni royal family.

Bahrain, which is just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, is home to around 800,000 people, a lot of oil, and an entrenched, corrupt regime that is now in crisis.

Britain has played a key role in the state for more than 100 years. Oil was discovered there in 1932 and has been the main source of income ever since. The British advisor Charles Belgrave essentially dictated Bahrain’s direction.

He oversaw brutal repression of resistance and stoked sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia.

Bahrain’s “special treaty” with Britain was brought to an end in 1971 but strong links remain.

Britain has provided weapons to Bahrain, and British‑based multinational firms, including BP, have taken advantage of the oil wealth and cheap labour.

Today’s uprising has not come out of the blue.

The Bahraini Intifada (uprising) began in 1994. Left wing activists joined with Islamists and liberals to fight for change.

The state unleashed repression. But the intifada lasted until 2000 and saw the National Action Charter introduced in 2001, which sought to show that demands had been listened to. Women were given the vote in 2002.

But oppression and poverty has continued.

In 2005 a strike wave hit construction sites. Workers, many of them from outside Bahrain, refused to work until they were paid properly and given their rights.

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