Tension in Bahrain ahead of the elections scheduled for next month.
Twenty-three people, reportedly Shia activists, have been accusedof "forming an illegal organisation" aiming to "overthrow the government and dissolve the constitution", inciting people to "overthrow and change the political system of the country", fundraising and planning terrorist acts, and other offences under Bahrain’s 2006 anti-terrorism law.
The authorities have also decided to reassert state control over the kingdom’s mosques. "Regaining control of the pulpits so they are not hostage to incompetent politicians or clerics who have lost their way ... is the starting point for developing a sound religious orientation," Crown Prince Salman is quoted as saying.
An important part of the background to this is that the tiny Gulf state has a Sunni regime ruling a mainly Shia population. There are no official figures but the Shia are thought to outnumber the Sunnis by about two to one.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Alexandra Sandels explains:
Shiites hold 17 of 40 seats [in parliament], and Sunnis fear they could gain a majority. Human rights organisations estimate that more than 250 Shiites, mostly youths, have been arrested in the ongoing security crackdown, which has sparked unrest in the streets.
Bahrain and its Saudi patrons may fear that Iran could use the island nation's Shiites during the upcoming elections to further its influence ...
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 7 September 2010.