Pearl Square in Bahrain's capital Manama is the setting for the latest round of clashes between autocratic Arab leaders and protestors emboldened by other successful Arab revolts. But unlike the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, which were largely secular, the tenor of the debate in Bahrain is religious: the majority Shia have complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni minority.
The following Al Jazeera English video from May 2009 excellently frames the issues at play in Bahrain, issues that have been simmering for decades:
The stakes of this intensified unrest are high for the U.S., since Bahrain has proved a strategic military ally and oil supplier. But the Obama administration does not want to be seen as being on the wrong side of history, something for which historian Niall Ferguson attacked the President last week. Former CIA analyst Bruce Reidel told The Daily Beast that the situation in Bahrain will require a careful dance by the President:
"The challenge facing Obama and his team is to balance our commitments to democracy with our commitments to allies who control the world's oil reserves. Change needs to come to Bahrain. The prime minister, who is notoriously corrupt and a virtual racist when it comes to the Shia, needs to go after 40 years in power. The king and crown prince need to live up to their promises to open up the political process. But it won't be easy. Revolutions are not a tea party and dialogue is difficult when martyrs have died."
—New York Times: "Opposition Demands Dissolution of Bahraini Government," Feb 20
—As I Please: "Is Saudia Arabia Intervening in Bahrain," Feb 19