The Battle for Bahrain

MANAMA - The fervor for change that inspired revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is now rocking Bahrain. But the uprising in Manama differs from the mass protests that turned out longtime rulers in North Africa. Indeed, sectarian fault lines, together with the security forces’ complete fealty to the monarchy, seriously diminish the likelihood of peaceful regime change.

Whereas Tunisia and Egypt are relatively homogeneous countries – Sunni Muslims constitute more than 90% of their inhabitants – Bahrain’s Sunnis, including the royal family and the country’s political and economic elite, comprise only about one-third of the population. The rest are Shia. Each of these groups is making different, if not contradictory, demands.

The Shia focus on political reforms that would reflect their majority status. Aggrieved Sunnis, however, want socio-economic changes, such as affordable housing. And, whereas Egyptian protesters of all types found common ground in insisting that President Hosni Mubarak resign, Bahrainis will find it almost impossible to agree on a rallying cry.

The ruling al-Khalifa family will not relinquish its power willingly. To preserve itself, the regime relies on imported security forces that are beholden only to the royal family. Drawn from Jordan, Pakistan, and Yemen, they are not reluctant to beat and kill protesters, for they know that any change at the top would mean defeat not only for the al-Khalifas, but for themselves as well.