THOUGH the Bahraini state crushed last year’s popular Arab Spring-inspired uprising for greater civic and political rights with Saudi help, the movement has failed to fizzle out. Despite state repression, political activists have continued to rally Bahrainis for change. In order to contain this momentum, the tiny Gulf kingdom has taken a number of regressive steps of late, including banning protests and most recently, stripping 31 Shia activists of their citizenship for “undermining state security”. Among those affected are former parliamentarians and clerics. While some of the individuals are abroad and have dual nationality, most will become stateless as a result of the move. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the action, as clearly the men have been targeted for their political activism. It has been pointed out that no substantial evidence proving the individuals threatened state security was produced, while the decision is said to violate international law. Interestingly, while the Bahraini authorities revoke the citizenship of political opponents, the kingdom has been accused of naturalising foreigners in an attempt to engineer a demographic shift.
Revoking citizenship is apparently not a new tactic in the region. Last year the UAE reportedly cancelled the citizenship of seven individuals linked to the Islamist Al Islah group due to their political activities. Yet as disturbing as the Bahraini government’s actions are, it is doubtful they will stop the movement for greater rights in the kingdom. Instead of smothering dissent, the Bahraini state needs to heed the people’s call for reform and work towards initiating an inclusive political process. As a start, it should reverse this drastic decision. Also, what is ironic is that while many in the international community have berated Bashar Al Assad’s regime for unleashing atrocities on the Syrian people, the human rights abuses and authoritarian tendencies of oil-rich, strategically important allies in the Gulf are being ignored.