Indeed, the cause of the ongoing unrest in Bahrain goes beyond the narrow sectarian prism of Sunni versus Shiite through which politics in the Persian Gulf is generally refracted. Although the Shiite protesters demanding constitutional reform were beaten and killed on the streets of their capital by Sunni hands wielding clubs and guns, the reason was not religious.
When oil wealth flows, all is well
In Qatar, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi, the Al Thanis, the Al Sabahs, and the Al Nahayans, respectively, preside over small populations and economies augmented with pneumatic reserves of oil or natural gas. As such, money flows and there is little demand to change the status quo.
In Kuwait, a man can get a $250,000 interest-free loan (repaid in tiny installments over a lifetime) to buy a house; in Qatar, someone diagnosed with cancer could be sent along with a family member to London for medical treatment – and the entire tab is picked up by the state; in Abu Dhabi, if a student gets accepted to Harvard Medical School, the relevant ministry may offer the student a scholarship with full living expenses.
This system of tribal governance has preserved the Gulf Cooperation Council's states as oases of relative calm amid a region that has witnessed violent internal power struggles since the end of the colonial era. However, a rising youth population coupled with high unemployment is threatening to tip the delicate high-wire act that the various ruling families have been practicing.