Like Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, the Arab awakening has proved to be blindingly even-handed ??? treating republican and royal rulers alike, making no distinction between Sunnis and Shias. The anti-authoritarian storm brewing in the Middle East has opened an ethnic and sectarian Pandora???s box, blurring the long-existing geopolitical divide and complicating ideological choices for Washington. The cases of protest in monarchical Bahrain and republican Syria where the rulers do not share the religious sect of the majority illustrate the dilemma for Western powers.For different reasons these countries mean much to Washington. Manama, capital of Bahrain, has been the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, consisting of 30 warships, since 1996 ??? a constraint for the US State Department when commenting on the repression of peaceful demonstrations in the Sunni-ruled state. And given its location and Arab ethnicity, Syria is the lynchpin of Shia Iran???s ties with the militant Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, all of import for American policymakers. The Arab upheaval has pushed to the fore certain contradictions in the established order that had hitherto remained suppressed or subdued. In Bahrain, ruled by the al Khalifa dynasty since 1820, the population is 70 percent Shia, but King Hamad ibn Isa II al Khalifa is Sunni. This dichotomy is accentuated as the government has excluded Shias from its security and intelligence services while conferring Bahraini citizenship on Sunni South Asian workers before recruiting them into these agencies.In Syria the population is 68 percent Sunni, but the republic???s presidents since 1970 ??? Hafiz Assad and son Bashar ??? are Alawis, a sub-sect within Shia Islam. The ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party, being secular and pan-Arabist, has endeavoured to play down religious differences. Yet the reality is that Alawis, forming only 14 percent of the population, occupy top positions in the military, police and intelli
Welcome! Log into your account
Recover your password
A password will be e-mailed to you.