Yesterday in Bahrain, the country’s main opposition leader received an unpleasant verdict from an appeals court: an extended prison sentence. The WSJ reports:
Sheikh Ali Salman now faces nine years behind bars, up from an earlier four, following his conviction last year on charges that included incitement and insulting the Interior Ministry.
Mr. Salman is the secretary-general of al-Wefaq, the country’s largest Shiite political group. He was a key figure in Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising, which was dominated by the island nation’s Shiite majority and sought greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy.
The monarchy’s near-death experience in 2011—it was saved only at the last minute thanks to a joint Saudi-Emirati intervention—has made the regime even warier of the country’s restive Shi’a majority.
Meanwhile, the Bahraini monarchy’s claim that Iran backs the Shi’a opposition keeps looking stronger. Over the past year, Bahraini authorities have repeatedly seized what they contend are Iranian-made explosives (they also claim these same weapons have been employed in recent attacks against police). Bahrain’s leaders consider it a security imperative to decapitate the Shi’a opposition. But such efforts may be futile—the opposition is resilient and hydra-headed. Besides, as we’ve seen from the likes of Sayyid Qutb and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the bars of a prison cell pose no real obstacle to those who can rally support in a protracted struggle.
Bahrain’s continued repression of the Shi’a and Iran’s vaulting ambition have the potential to spark a conflict that could feed into the burgeoning regional sectarian conflagration. We would do well to keep an eye on this tinderbox.