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Bahrain emerging as flashpoint in Middle East unrest

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Seven opposition groups have come together to organize protests for Saturday, hoping to draw as many as 100,000 but expecting at least half that, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Sectarian tensions

While experiencing tremors similar to those elsewhere in the Middle East following Tunisia and Egypt's revolutions, Bahrain has the added element of sectarian divisions, which are adding fuel to the calls for greater political freedom. The Al Khalifah family belongs to the Sunni sect of Islam and trace their origins to the Arabian peninsula but are a minority in the country. A majority of the population is Shiite, with strong links to Iran.

Furthermore, the powers that be have consistently practiced a form of sectarian apartheid by not allowing Shiites to hold key government posts or serve in the police or military. In fact, the security forces are staffed by Sunnis from Syria, Pakistan, and Baluchistan who also get fast-tracked to Bahraini citizenship, much to the displeasure of the indigenous Shiite population.

Unlike oil-rich Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain doesn't have petrodollars to spend on the cradle-to-grave welfare systems that have kept a lid on reform movements in those countries.

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