A government crackdown against Shiite dissenters accused of being affiliated with Iran has sparked more unrest in Sunni-led Bahrain.
In justifying its actions against the Shiite opposition, the Bahraini government claims it “is acting against people and groups it accuses of fomenting sectarian tensions and of being linked to non-Arab Iran,” which is considered a Shiite powerhouse, reports Reuters.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the high-profile commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has warned that the crackdown would prompt Bahrainis to take up arms against the government, suggesting that the Islamic Republic is prepared to support an uprising.
Soleimani threatened Bahrain with “a bloody intifada.”
On Thursday, five Shiite Muslim scholars linked to opposition groups were summoned for questioning by Bahraini authorities, reports Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP) notes the scholars were among “hundreds of people… protesting outside the home of a Shiite sheikh, a mark of growing unrest in Bahrain sparked by the government’s new crackdown on opposition groups.”
The demonstrators had been voicing their support for “Sheikh Isa Qassim’s home in Diraz since Tuesday, when Bahrain’s Sunni-ruled government stripped him of his citizenship,” it adds.
Gen. Soleimani denounced the “mistreatment” of the cleric.
The five Shiite Muslim scholars were reportedly called to a police station as an administrative court considered a government petition to disband the main opposition Shiite Muslim group known as al-Wefaq.
Reuters learned from activists that “the clerics, including Sheikh Fadel al-Zaki, head of the Council of Shiite scholars which was dissolved by the government more than two years ago, were ordered to appear at the Budaya police station in [the capital] Manama.”
Although the reason for the summons remains unclear, some Bahrainis have suggested it may be linked to speeches made by the clerics at the home of Shiite Sheikh Qassim.
The Sunni government has accused the sheikh of fueling an extremist sectarian atmosphere and of forming groups that “follow foreign religious ideologies and political entities,” an apparent reference to Iran, notes AP.
Nevertheless, Qassim’s supporters and human rights groups have condemned the government’s actions as “a heavy-handed crackdown designed to silence all dissent on the tiny island,” adds the news agency.
Reuters describes Ayatollah Qassim as the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shiites. With the support of Iran’s regional rival, Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia, Bahrain reportedly overcame mass pro-democracy protests led primarily by Shiites in 2011.
“Bahrain has faced low-level unrest since its 2011 Arab Spring-inspired protests, when its Shiite majority and others called for more political freedoms,” acknowledges AP.
Financial difficulties due to the drop in oil revenues have reportedly aggravated political tensions in the country.
“The move against Qassim and previous measures including the arrest of prominent rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab and the closure of al-Wefaq have drawn strong rebukes from the United States and the United Nations,” reports Reuters.
“More demonstrations are expected later in the week, especially after Muslim weekly prayers on Friday,” points out the report.