Bahrain and Kuwait Face Growing Internal Threats as Syrian Opposition Gathers in Qatar

Civil war in Syria
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Civil war in Syria

Three Arab kingdoms in the Persian Gulf region have been confronted with the destabilizing fallout of growing political tensions in recent days.

On Monday, a series of bombings in Bahrain’s capital of Manama killed two men, an ominous sign that the struggle between the island nation’s predominantly Sunni ruling elite and the predominantly Shia opposition forces is growing increasingly deadly.

Bahrain’s government on Tuesday announced that it had arrested four suspects, and it accused the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah of launching the attacks.

Popular protests have wracked Bahrain since February 2011, and clashes between police and increasingly violent demonstrators have claimed the lives of at least 60 people, including at least two policemen.

Bahrain’s government, which formerly enjoyed one of the better human rights records in the Arab world, has faced criticism from the Obama Administration and other quarters for its political crackdown and restrictions on the news media and the Internet. The government claims that it is battling agents of Iran, which seeks to radicalize Bahrain’s disgruntled Shia population.

Kuwait, which so far has experienced a mild “Arab Spring,” is now engulfed in an intensifying political crisis that poses the greatest threat to the rule of the Al-Sabah dynasty since the 1990 Iraqi invasion. On October 7, the emir dissolved Kuwait’s parliament and later imposed new voting rules that would roll back the power of opposition parties in the next parliament.

Thousands of Kuwaitis flooded the streets in protest on October 21, and the protests have steadily become more violent. On Sunday, Kuwaiti police used tear gas and smoke bombs to disperse thousands of protesters and arrested 28 of them. The Kuwaiti government has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for stirring unrest within the country.

While its neighbors experience growing political instability, Qatar this week is hosting a gathering of the Syrian opposition, which has experienced its own growing pains in the grueling struggle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Although the opposition has grown much stronger, recently seizing an oil field and several border crossings, it remains hobbled by factional infighting.

The U.S. and other supporters of the opposition have pressed it to broaden its ranks and include members of ethnic and sectarian minority groups outside the Sunni Arab majority. Washington is pushing to create a new structure for the loose coalition of opposition groups that would reduce the role played by the dysfunctional Syrian National Council, which is dominated by squabbling exile leaders who have little connection to the rising local leaders who have shouldered the greatest burden in commanding rebel fighters inside the country.

The Obama Administration hopes that the Syrian opposition can agree on a new political structure that will gain greater support inside and outside Syria. But the Syrian National Council, which has defeated previous attempts to force it to reform, is once again resisting efforts to dilute its influence. The results of this latest effort to unify Syria’s splintered opposition should be evident by the close of the international conference currently being held in Doha, Qatar.

In its second term, the Obama Administration, which has been denounced for its “amateurism” by Arab supporters of the Syrian opposition, should radically overhaul its ineffective policy regarding the Syria crisis. It should stop passing the buck to the United Nations, where Russia has used its veto to block action against its ally Syria. Instead, the United States should work with its allies to boost support for the Syrian opposition and accelerate the fall of the Assad regime.

See also Syrian Uprising: U.S. Inaction Contributes to a Wider Regional Conflict.

Adam Gianella is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit

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