The Kingdom of Bahrain, a small island nation in the Persian Gulf, is a perfect political stew, situated as it is at the confluence of political, religious, economic and international tensions simmering in the Persian Gulf. A majority Shi’a Muslim country ruled for hundreds of years by Sunni tribal chieftains with family ties to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is a dictatorship whose people have regularly demanded political reform and seen their aspirations crushed.
Today, with strong support from the oil-rich Saudis, the Kingdom’s hard-line Al-Khalifa regime enjoys absolute powers, although the day-to-day political reality is often complex.
Bahrain is also the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols those volatile waters, largely to keep an eye on Iran. The U.S. considers the port a critical element of its military posture in the Gulf. This consideration drives U.S. policy toward Bahrain. The centuries-old Bahraini-Saudi connection has, predictably, deterred the U.S. and other democratic countries from applying significant pressure to the kingdoms’ rulers. Stability is the byword.