Political Movements in Bahrain: Past, Present, and Future

by Omar AlShehabi

One year ago, online activists called for a "February 14 Revolution" on the tiny island of Bahrain. Although the ongoing mass protests might come as a surprise for some, political movements in Bahrain and the wider Arabian Gulf have a long history that stretches back a hundred years. To place these movements in context, it is necessary to delve back in history to better understand the present and what harbingers these movements hold for the future.
The region witnessed a remarkable development in 1938. Three movements emerged in Bahrain, Dubai, and Kuwait—all then under British “protection”—calling for a greater say in ruling matters, even daring to ask for a representative assembly. Although this was not the first political initiative in Bahrain, it was up until then the most coherent and organized. The movements in Bahrain and Dubai were put down, and only in Kuwait did an elected assembly emerge for a few months before being disbanded. This set the tone for future political activities in Bahrain, swinging between regime overthrow versus reform, clandestine versus public activity, and broad-based coalitions versus factional movements.