Politics, Civil society and social change in the Middle East

Research topic: The rise of “ Sunni” activism as a counter revolutionary force against “Shia” opposition after the 2011 uprising in Bahrain.

Research Question: What were the factors that allowed for the emergence of “Sunni” activism as a counter revolutionary force during the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain and why did it prove to be weak?

Thesis: The Gathering of National Unity in Bahrain was able to prove its strength in the beginning of the uprisings in 2011 by its ability to unify different “Sunni” groups under one banner and granting them space to address their demands. However, the change in the characteristics of the movement from being an independent popular movement to an adherent of the government failed to provide the supporters with the sphere through which an a new opposition group could have emerged.

Annotated bibliography:

Matthiesen, T. (2013). Sectarian gulf: Bahrain, saudi arabia, and the arab spring that wasn’t. Stanford, California: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press.

The author of this book examines the narrative of the Arab spring and its impact specifically on four Gulf States, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman. A discussion on the reaction of Gulf States towards the Arab spring on a regional and state level also rises. The author argues mainly that while the Gulf states supported the Arab spring in the broader middle east, they failed to provide similar support to the opposition groups that emerged within the gulf states demanding political, economic and social reforms. The author also highlights on an important aspect of analysis which is sectarian entrepreneurship he argues while using the case of Bahrain that the regime was able to implement the classical tactic of divide and rule in order to maintain the status quo by preventing any cross-sectarian opposition power from emerging. This source is important to the research paper at hand because, it provides a comparative analysis of the strategies that were followed by the four Gulf States to combat the opposition. This author also dedicates two chapters in this book discussing the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain along with its aftermath through analyzing the politics of sectarianism.

Nithammer, K. (2008). Opposition Groups in Bahrain. In Political Participation in the Middle East (pp.143-169). Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

The author of this chapter argues that although Bahrain initiated a reform process however it is still classified as an authoritarian state due to the structures that the state was able to create to limit formal participation in legislation. The author through out the chapter presents some of the major domestic challenges to the reform system initiated by the new king beginning in 2002 such as the division within the ruling family and opposition’s boycott of the elections and protests. Most importantly, the author claims that in order for this reform process to succeed and political participation to enhance, the government along with the different opposing groups should overcome their differences and the government should seek to provide a framework better recognized with the rule of law. This chapter although outdated in terms of the current political turmoil in Bahrain however it provides an opportunity to compare and contrast the situation up until 2008 in Bahrain to the current situation. This chapter provides an adequate foundation through which one can build a sufficient analysis of the evolution of opposition groups and the divergence of some “Sunni” groups after the uprisings in 2011.

Mitchell, M. (2012). The aborted revolution: The demise of Bahrain’s democracy movement. Harvard International Review, 33(4), 32.

In this journal article the author highlights on the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings. He looks into several important aspects of the situation, the GCC led intervention, the US support for the monarchy and the national dialogue that followed. This is an important piece to the research paper because it provides sufficient information on international, regional and state level of analysis. The failure of the national dialogue as the author discussed was seen because a main opposition group in Bahrain (Alwefaq) was not given majority access to the dialogue which led to failed attempts of reforms. Moreover, the author focuses on the US and Bahrain relationships’, claiming that the support the monarchy gained was due to the international support that it enjoys. He confirms that this is a short-term situation that in the long-term will be changed and that the US should influence Bahrain to go back to democratization and protecting human rights and not upgrading its authoritarian model.

Karolak, M. (2012). Escalation of social conflict during popular upheavals: Evidence from Bahrain. CEU Political Science Journal, 7(2), 173.

In this article the author aims to study the sources and reasons of social conflict in Bahrain and how did it manage to become sectarian. The author does that by using a conflict assessment model of Hocker and Wilmot’s. The article then mainly argues that power struggle and confessional tensions are the reasons for social division, this therefore makes conflict resolution harder to be achieved. This article is very useful for the research paper because it analysis the conflictual situation in Bahrain through the use of models which could allow for more methodological preciseness and adds to the validity of the arguments that will be made.

BICI | Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. (2011, December 10). Retrieved October 28, 2015.

This primary source is very important to research paper. The information provided within the report is based on first hand investigations that were carried out in Bahrain in 2011. The independency of this commission from the state makes this source a beneficial and credible source to be used for references purposes on the history of conflict in Bahrain, and the narrative events of February and march 2011. The report also constitutes a whole section on general observations and recommendations that could be used in order to compare the changes that took place between 2011 up until 2015 and what role did the investigation play in changing the situation of domestic politics in Bahrain.

Schmidmayr, M. (2009). Toothless Parliament, Powerless Courts, and Omnipotent Incumbents? The Case of Bahrain. San Domenico (FI): European University Institute (EUI). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies.

This article argues that although Bahrain followed a reform process in 2002, however the character of the state remains authoritarian. The reason is that the decision-making mechanisms remained the same. The author also sheds lights on an important aspect in the argument, that although the regime stills remains in the same character however opposition groups learned how to take advantage of the given system, not by accepting all the rules but by trying to gain some control through the legislative branch of state. The acceptance of the opposition to the old games however changed after 2011, and this article is limited that it conducts research on a period when the state, opposition relations were relatively stable. However, this article will provide the research paper with the historical narrative on the relationship between the state and the opposition groups mainly through which one can evaluate the inclusion and exclusion of the other political groups that existed prior to 2011 and the newly emerged groups to the debate of authoritarianism and political participation.

Khalaf, A. (2003). What the Gulf ruling families do when they rule (4th ed., Vol. 44). Orient.

In this article the author argues that the old strategies used by the ruling families in the Gulf region to activate its power is no longer sufficient. Political awareness is growing amongst among the people they rule and among the families themselves that the situation is changing and that there has been a lost of advantages regarding the regions geopolitical position during the cold war. The reform era in Bahrain that started in 2000 although granted more rights to political participation however it still did not free certain institutions such as the military and security from the state, institutionalization process was not perceived. The author also highlights upon an important aspect that becomes relevant to our discussion of the situation from 2011 up until today, that the way the system is being produced to protect the interests of the ruling family suggests that democratization is not happening and this will lead to popular mobilization against the scheme in the future. The arguments presented by this author are important because it highlights on not only one sect of the population will face dissatisfaction with the political scheme in Bahrain but also other sects will soon look for alternatives, the rise of “sunni” activism, the naturalization of Bahraini tribal families by Qatar is another situation. The research paper will use this source to build on the assumptions made by the author and connect them to current events that the paper will focus on.


Gengler,J. (2012). Bahrain’s Sunni Awakening. Middle East Research and Information Project. Retrieved from http://www.merip.org

In this article the author discusses the Sunni movement that initiated during the uprising in 2011. He discusses how the state was able to deter their influence by playing the old tactic game of it is either  “Us” or the “Other” which is often narrated as an Iranian counterpart. The problem with “Sunni” groups that they are themselves fragmented and not unified in one group. He finally states that if the state was not able to find a middle ground to the solution this will lead to a failure of the sectarian balancing acts. This article is very important for the research paper because it provides the information on the role that “Sunni” leadership and movements prior to the 2011 played in shaping the politics along with the “Shia” opposition groups.

Mathiese, T. (2014). No Dialogue in Bahrain. Middle East Research and Information Project. Retrieved from http://www.merip.org

In this article the author argues that although the crown prince of Bahrain initially called for dialogue between different opposition groups and state representatives, however the state was able to cut off this by its security use of forces and putting opposition leaders in prison after the crackdowns in march 2011. The narrative that most opposition groups had agreed to during the time of the uprising by opposing dialogue with restrictions, they called for their mere demand of having a constitutional monarchy and election of prime minister to be addressed before negotiating terms with the state. This article is therefore important for this research paper because it gives sufficient description of the government initiatives to find a political solution, however the weakness is that it focuses mainly on one opposition groups (Alwefaq) and excludes other groups and movements from the analysis.

Gengler, J. (2015). Group conflict and political mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab gulf: Rethinking the Rentier state. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

The author of this book argues that the Gulf States have practiced political appeasement through providing economic benefits. However, he goes and highlights upon the case of Bahrain by showing that during the uprising in 2011 “Sunni” groups became attracted in raising their demands to the government. Moreover, the author argues by demonstrating a mass political survey that the government is not willing to give citizens their full demands and neither are all citizens willing to accept the state solutions. This book will prove to be useful because Gengler is very familiar with the case of Bahrain, he draws his arguments from in depth analysis and studies of the situation in Bahrain and also highlights on the “Sunni” versus “Shia” elements that determine the domestic politics of Bahrain after 2011.

Several of the sources above share similar discourse, however the ways through which the author chooses to go about the argument differs. This is important because it will provide the paper of a well integrated and balanced concepts and evaluation of ideas. The source Toothless Parliament, Powerless Courts, and Omnipotent Incumbents? and Opposition Groups in Bahrain will both help in evaluation the role of the parliament and the political participation of opposition groups within the parliament prior to 2011. These will be important for comparative analysis between the strength and weaknesses of the opposition groups in comparison to short-lived rising movements.  Moreover,

Sectarian gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab spring that wasn’t and What the Gulf ruling families do when they rule will also overlap with some of the similar aspects of how the ruling groups rule in the gulf states. The first source is updated while the second is an older version that will also allows once to see the progress on how did the style of governance and type of authority had changed and how did author writing in 2003 evaluate the situation without the Arab spring element.  The following sources are borht written by the same author therefore the ideas of both the book and article will show consistency in analysis and will allow me to develop the argument of the author in depth Group conflict and political mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab gulf: Rethinking the Rentier state and Bahrain’s Sunni Awakening.

I have selected the sources on the basis of similarity to the topic in discussion and usefulness to the thesis statement at hand. Some of the sources that are presented above deal with the historical narrative of the situation; others are evaluating the situation prior to 2011 and most importantly some of the sources are focusing on the “Shia” and “Sunna” narrative that will allow the re

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