Sectarian Tension Takes Volatile Form In Bahrain

March 27, 2009

Author: Michael Slackman

Source: The New York Times

It was just another night in this small Shiite Muslim village on the Persian Gulf. A mattress and chairs were set on fire in the street. The police shot tear gas canisters at the crowds. Neighborhood children taunted the police. The police fired more tear gas.

There were smiles all around, not on the faces of the police, who were sweating and trying not to inhale their own tear gas. The people from the village were nearly festive, egging the police on, with rocks and slogans and the speed of youth. They darted. The police lumbered. Their tormentors got away.

It was just another night, and there would be another and another and another all over this sliver of a nation where, as in Iraq before the American invasion, a majority Shiite population is ruled by Sunni Muslims.

It is an inherently unstable arrangement, and the Shiites frequently complain that they are marginalized and discriminated against. As in Iraq, the situation has endured for decades, and no one is suggesting that the security forces are in danger of losing their grip.

But Bahrain, the base for the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is in turmoil.