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Sectarian Tensions In Bahrain


And let's talk more about this now with Marc Lynch. He's a professor at George Washington University and writes about the Middle East for Foreign Policy magazine. Welcome back to the program, Mr. Lynch.

Dr. MARC LYNCH (Professor, George Washington University): Thanks, Steve.


INSKEEP: Now, how does the situation in Bahrain differ from Egypt? People are going to be wondering if this is another Egypt.

Dr. LYNCH: The thing about Bahrain is that, you know, it's in the Gulf, which makes things very different. And, you know, the United States has a majority military base there. It's got a lot to do with Iran, with Iraq. And so it really brings in a whole different set of concerns.

INSKEEP: And there's a different sectarian makeup. We've been told by Peter Kenyon in recent days - reminded - that we're talking about a Sunni Muslim monarchy but in a majority Shia Muslim country. How does that complicate things?

Dr. LYNCH: That's right. And the Shia majority in the country has always made Bahrain an unusual case in the Gulf. The monarchy always tries to make this appear to be a sectarian issue. And the protesters have been at great pains to try and demonstrate that this is not a sectarian rebellion. And they try really hard to make it clear that this is about democracy, human rights, representation, and not about Sunni/Shia. So there's an ongoing battle to frame the issue.

And this is especially important, of course, because of the Iran question, where everybody in the Gulf is afraid of Iran. And it's a very potent argument for them to make, that if the protesters win, then this will strengthen Iran. But I think that's actually not a very useful way of thinking about what's going on there.


INSKEEP: Now, that argument made, because, of course, Iran is a Shia-dominated nation and the fear is that Bahrain would become an ally of Iran, I suppose. The same kind of complexity...

Dr. LYNCH: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...that struck Iraq, though, isn't it?

Dr. LYNCH: It is quite similar, and I think some of the same issues would apply. The Shia in Bahrain are Bahraini. They're nationalist. And the idea that they would simply become Iranian pawns, I think, is just wrong.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, Marc, thanks very much for the update. I appreciate it.

Dr. LYNCH: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine, speaking with us live this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.