Iran calls for overthrow of Bahraini government
MANAMA - Iran and its Lebanon-based affiliate Hezbollah have called for the overthrow of the Bahraini government, a move that is bound to inflame regional sectarian tensions.
The threats by Tehran and its proxy came in response to the Manama government’s decision to strip a hard-line Shia cleric of Bahraini citizenship due to what is described as his continued promotion of “sectarianism and violence”.
Ayatollah Isa Qassim had his Bahraini citizenship taken away on June 20th because, the Interior Ministry said in a statement, of continued efforts “to divide the society in order to clone regional models based on sectarian foundations”, a reference to Iran and its regional proxies, such as Hezbollah and Iraq.
“Surely they know that the aggression against Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim is a red line that will leave no option for the people but to resort to armed resistance,” Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said through Iranian state media.
In a statement carried by the Fars news agency, Soleimani said Bahrain’s rulers “will pay the price and it will have no result but the destruction of this bloodthirsty regime”.
Not to be outdone, Lebanon’s Hezbollah issued a statement calling for an uprising, demanding Bahrainis to “express their outrage over the attack against their prominent symbol”.
Government-friendly local media applauded the Interior Ministry’s decision. In the Bahraini daily Al- Watan, columnist Faisal al-Shaikh described Qassim as an “Iranian agent” who “hated Bahrain”. He added that revoking his citizenship was “good and joyous news”.
Another daily Akhbar al-Khaleej quoted Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa al-Khalifa as saying the government “will not allow any activities and actions that could cause damage to the supreme interests of Bahrain” and that “there is no place for those who incite against the rule of law or threaten the safety of the country”.
The stripping of Qassim’s citizenship came after weeks of escalating tensions, including the suspension of Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition group, Al-Wefaq, on charges of “terrorism, extremism and violence”.
“Any organisations that adopt extremism and divert from the constitution and the law in Bahrain, an Arab and Muslim constitutional monarchy state that believes in tolerance, coexistence and pluralism as a firm basis to rule, are illegal and their presence and continued operations are contrary to public order in the kingdom,” a statement by the Bahraini Ministry of Justice said.
Tensions between Bahrain and Iran have a long history. However, things took a turn for the worst in 2007, when an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Hossein Shariatmadari called Bahrain a province of the Islamic republic that should be returned to Iran, causing a diplomatic uproar.
During the 2011 “Arab spring” protests, the government in Manama accused Iran of hijacking demonstrations to further its sectarian agenda. Since then, Bahrain and other Gulf Arab states have, on a number of occasions, intercepted weapons and explosives allegedly destined for groups sympathetic to Tehran’s goals.
Bahrain and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members view Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer, as a cause of regional instability. Tensions heightened in January when Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Iran following the storming of its Tehran embassy by protesters angered at Saudi Arabia’s execution of a radical Shia cleric convicted of involvement in killing police.
Consequently, GCC members have deported hundreds of foreign nationals for alleged affiliation with or spying for the Lebanese militia. The GCC as a whole designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and has reached out to countries outside the union to do the same.