The radicalizing influence of Iran’s Islamic revolution

The Islamic Revolution in Iran stirred up Islamist political activism across the Arab world. This occurred indirectly, as various Islamist groups were inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini’s example and sought to gain power in their own countries; but also directly as a result of the Islamic Republic’s explicit aim of spreading revolution.

Both factors were at play in Bahrain after 1979. Islamic radicals, inspired by events in Iran, pursued Islamic revolution in Bahrain. This radicalization occurred both within the Shirazi and Da’wah factions of Bahrain’s Shia political opposition.

As we will see, Iran’s “Office of the Liberation Movements” was a generously-funded entity with the specific objective of supporting revolutionaries in the Arabian Gulf and wider region.

This activity increased after Ayatollah Saddiq Rohani, who was close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, announced that Bahrain was the fourteenth province of Iran and demanded “Islamic government” for Bahrain.

The more radical Shirazis were far quicker than the more traditionalist Al-Da’wah clerics in grasping and exploiting the opportunities of the Islamic Revolution in Iran to further their aims. So in the first instance it was the Shirazis who benefitted from substantial quantities of Iranian funding in their aspirations to counter the Bahraini rulers.

This happened through the vehicle of the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, whose 1981 coup attempt we will study over the coming chapters.

Growing Shirazi radicalism

Following the disbandment of Bahrain’s Parliament in 1975 there was an increasing trend towards radicalism within the Shirazi camp.

Many of the key activists had travelled to Lebanon and received PLO military training in Palestinian refugee camps. This was facilitated by Hadi al-Mudarrisi and Ruhollah Khomeini. They often passed the Bahrainis off as Iranians from the Khuzestan region, to avoid alienating Gulf supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Within existing Shirazi organizations prior to 1979, preparations were already being made to use force to confront the Bahraini monarchy. “While Al-Da’wah was determined to continue opposing the Bahraini regime through political means, the Shiraziyyin were therefore prepared to confront it more brutally several years before the Iranian revolution” (L Louer).

Prominent ILFB activist, Mohammed al-Alawi, stated: “Before the revolution, the leadership of the Front was already formalized, but we were not aware of constituting a political organization, strictly speaking, and our objective was not clear.”

Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, Hadi al-Mudarrisi declared that he was the representative of Ayatollah Khomeini for Bahrain and staged a number of demonstrations, including the Khomeini-influenced “Qods Day” demonstration, during which Al-Mudarrisi declared his support for Ayatollah Khomeini and Khomeini’s principle of “welayat al-faqih”.

In the escalating tensions that followed the Islamic revolution Al-Mudarrisi was deported from Bahrain and the Shirazi Social Husseini Fund was closed down. However, on his arrival in Tehran Al-Mudarrisi was immediately put in charge of the Arabic section of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, from which he sought to incite revolt against the rulers of Bahrain. Al-Mudarrisi is also the founder of the English-language news network Ahlulbayt TV, which he co-founded with his son, Sayed Mahdi Al-Mudarrisi, in 2009.    

Exporting Iran’s Islamic Revolution

By 1979 Iran’s revolutionary regime had already established very close relationships with Bahraini Shirazi activists, particularly through the “Pasderan” (Guardians of the Revolution) institution, whose cadres had trained alongside Bahraini Shirazis the PLO camps in Lebanon.

Iranian leadership figures like Mohammed Montazeri and Mehdi Hashemi were particularly active in supporting “liberation movements” across the Arab world.

In 1981, the Pasderan’s role of “exporting revolution” became formalized with the creation of the “Office of the Liberation Movements” in Tehran, headed by Montazeri and Hashemi. This office focused on supporting “liberation movements” in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan; with the creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon as its towering achievement.

Hadi al-Mudarrisi and the Bahraini Shirazis were seen as the “subcontractors” of this office, for the task of “liberating” Bahrain.

Iraqi Shirazis are often credited with triggering the Iran-Iraq war, by stirring up tensions between the two sides. For example, they established a radio station near the border with Iraq which attacked the Iraqi, Saudi and Bahraini leaderships and championed the cause of Islamic revolution.

It would not be long before stalemate in the Iran-Iraq conflict led Iran’s leaders to consider fomenting unrest and revolution in Bahrain and other Gulf states, as a means of breaking the deadlock and strengthening Iran’s regional position.


Origins of the Bahrain opposition: Other sections

Part 1

A major divide within Shia Islam: Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis

Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis in Bahrain

Part 2

The Da’wah current in Iraq

The Da’wah current in Bahrain

Why do Al-Da’wah & the Islamic Enlightenment society matter?

Part 3

Origins of the Shirazi current in Bahrain

Consolidation and radicalization of the Shirazis

Differences between the Da’wah & Shirazi factions in Bahrain

Part 4

Beginnings of labour activism and civil society movements

1953-56 unrest and the Higher Executive Committee

Emergence of left-wing, Marxist and Baathist parties

Whatever happened to Bahrain’s left-wing?

Part 5

Who were the People’s Bloc?

Who were the Religious Bloc?

Part 6

Religious Bloc versus the People’s Bloc in the National Assembly

Eclipse of the left

Part 7

Politicization of Bahraini Shia

The influence of political Islam movements elsewhere

The influence of Ayatollah Khomeini

Politicization of religious festivals

Part 8

The radicalizing influence of Iran’s Islamic revolution

Growing Shirazi radicalism

Exporting Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Part 9

Al-Da’wah contacts with Iran’s revolutionary leadership

Changing Iranian allegiances

Part 10

Saudi oppositionist movements

Part 11

Announcing the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain

Islamic Front aims and ideology

Part 12

1981 coup attempt by Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain

Part 13

Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain after the failed coup

The Shirazi movement loses favour in Iran

Declining influence: The Islamic front in the 1990s

Part 14

Iranian support for Bahrain’s Al-Da’wah movement

Moving into the Iranian ideological orbit

Part 15

What is Welayat Al-Faqih?

Breaking with Shia quietism

Ayatollah Isa Qassim and Welayat Al-Faqih

Part 16

A new generation of Shia clerics

Hezbollah in Bahrain


Major references

(Additional specific references can be found as hyperlinks within the text)

Eds. Paul Aarts & Gerd Nonneman, 2005: Saudi Arabia in the Balance; Hurst

Ali Alfoneh, 2012: Between reform and revolution: Sheikh Qassim, the Bahraini Shi’a, and Iran

Nazih N.Ayubi, 2001: Overstating the Arab State; Tauris

Charles Belgrave, 1960 Personal Column; Hutchinson

Charles Belgrave, 1966:  The Pirate Coast; G Bell & Sons

David Blow, 2009: Shah Abbas; Tauris

Juan Cole, 1987; Rival Empires of Trade and Imami Shiism in Eastern Arabia, 1300-1800; International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2

David Commins, 2012: The Gulf States: A Modern History; Tauris

Thomas Fibiger: The role of shrines among Shi’a Muslims in Bahrain; University of Aarhus

F. Gregory Gause, 2009: International Relations of the Persian Gulf; Cambridge

Anissa Haddadi, 2012: Bahrain Uncovered: Divided Political Landscape

Philip K. Hitti, 1937: History of the Arabs; Palgrave

Robert G. Hoyland, 2001: Arabia & the Arabs; Routledge

Marshall G.S. Hodgson, 1973: The Venture of Islam; Volumes 1, 2 & 3; Chicago

Clive Holes, 1987: Language Variation and Change in a Modernising Arab State: The Case of Bahrain

Clive Holes, Non-Arabic Semitic elements in the Arabic dialects of eastern Arabia; University of Oxford

Clive Holes, 2001: Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia; Brill

Timothy Insoll, 2007: Changing identities in the Arabian Gulf: The Archaeology of Identities: A Reader; Routledge

Faleh Jabar, 2003: Shi’ite Movement in Iraq, Saqi

Mansour al-Jamri, 2010: Shia & the State in Bahrain; Integration & Tension

Miriam Joyce, 2012: Bahrain from the twentieth century to the Arab Spring: Palgrave Macmillan

Abdulhadi Khalaf, 1998: Contentious politics in Bahrain: From ethnic to national and vice versa

Abdullah Bin-Hamad Al Khalifa & Abdulmalik Yousif al-Hamer, 1969: Bahrain through the Ages

Fuad Khouri, 1980: Tribe and State in Bahrain, University of Chicago Press

Jane Kinninmont, 2012: Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse

Laurence Louer, 2008: Transnational Shia Politics; Columbia University Press

Laurence Louer, Political Impact of Labor Migration in Bahrain; Centre for International Studies and Research

Dr Christin Marschall, 2003: Iran’s Persian Gulf Policy: From Khomeini to Khatami; Routledge

Toby Matthiesen, 2009: Hizbullah al-Hijaz: A History of The Most Radical Saudi Shi‘a Opposition Group; Middle East Online

Eric McCoy, 2008: Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: Migration, Minorities, and Identities in the Persian Gulf Arab States; Proquest

Falah al-Mdaires, 2002: Shiism & Political Protest in Bahrain

Helem Chapin Metz, ed, 1993:Persian Gulf States: A Country Study: The Constitutional Experiment

Khaldoun Nassan Al-Naqeeb, 2012: Society and State in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula; Routledge

Katja Neithammer, 2007: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain

Andrew J Newman, 2000: The Formative Period of Twelver Shī’ismadīth as Discourse Between Qum and Baghdad; Psychology Press

Ali al·Oraibi, 1992: Shi’i Renaissance: A Case Study of the Theosophical School of Bahrain in the 7th-13th Century; McGill University

Lawrence G. Potter, 2009: The Persian Gulf in History; Palgrave Macmillan

Hassan Ali Radhi, 2003 Judiciary and Arbitration in Bahrain: A Historical and Analytical Study; Brill

Mohammed Ghanim al-Rumaihi, 1973: Social & Political Change in Bahrain Since the First World War; Durham University

  1. Rush, ed, 1991: The Ruling Families of Arabia

Jean-Francois Seznec, 2012: Is Reconciliation in Bahrain Possible? Middle East Institute

Brian John Ulrich, 2008: Constructing Al-Azd: Tribal Identity and Society in the Early Islamic Centuries; ProQuest

Frederic Wehrey, 2013: Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings; Columbia University Press, Dec 13, 2013

About Muharraq pdf:

Bahrain Wikileaks:

Guide to Bahrain’s politics

Reform in Bahrain: Mansour al-Jamri (re. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja)

Wafaa: New Shia rejectionist movement

Bahrain’s Shia opposition: Managing sectarian pressures

Some potential new leaders in Al-Wefaq

Bahrain al-Wefaq hails Iran Supreme Leader’s support





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