Bahraini oppositionist movements were often closely linked to related entities across the Arabian Gulf region. Largely, this was because these movements were part of wider regional trends, such as nationalist groups inspired by President Abdul-Nasser in Egypt. For example, the Progressive Front for the Liberation of Bahrain broke away from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf in the mid-1960s.
Shia opposition movements in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were often not only united by ideology, but also by tribal links and close interpersonal contacts; as well as local clerics often having studied together at religious seminaries in Iraq.
Saudi oppositionist movements
Twentieth century political activism in Saudi Arabia – as in Bahrain – took its first organized form in the form of industrial unrest within the oil industry, particularly during the 1950s. This gave rise to organizations like the National Reform Front.
Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, centered around the east of the Kingdom, traditionally avoided any kind of political agitation along religious lines; a short-lived uprising by Sheikh Mohammed al-Nimr in the 1920s is an exception.
The principle figure associated with the emerging Shia political was Sheikh Hasan al-Saffar who was born in 1958, attended religious seminaries in Al-Najaf and Qom and was very close to Mohammed Shirazi. In the mid-1970s he encouraged many of those who would become prominent Saudi activists to study at Shirazi religious seminaries in Kuwait. As a result, Shirazi ideology became very strong in eastern Saudi Arabia.
It was only after the Iranian revolution of 1979 that Shia activism suddenly exploded, particularly in the region of Qatif.
Although Ashura processions are banned in Saudi Arabia; Shirazi activists in 1979 organized a march for Ashura carrying huge portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini, which quickly descended into an outpouring of opposition towards the Saudi monarchy. This occurred in parallel with demonstrations by left-wing groups. This “uprising” occurred only days after Sunni extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which partly explains the severity of the response by the authorities.
At around the same time, the formation of the Organization for Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula was announced, with Hasan al-Saffar (acting from abroad) as its leader.
Following this 1980 uprising; most Shia activists were forced to flee abroad, mainly to Iran. This coincided with efforts by the Saudi authorities to address grievances by those in the east of the country: Infrastructure was improved and restrictions on Shia religious practices were slightly relaxed. Both of these factors arguably contributed to a relaxing of political tensions in the east over the following years.
Origins of the Bahrain opposition: Other sections
A major divide within Shia Islam: Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis
Al-Da’wah and the Shirazis in Bahrain
The Da’wah current in Iraq
The Da’wah current in Bahrain
Why do Al-Da’wah & the Islamic Enlightenment society matter?
Origins of the Shirazi current in Bahrain
Consolidation and radicalization of the Shirazis
Differences between the Da’wah & Shirazi factions in Bahrain
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?
Who were the People’s Bloc?
Who were the Religious Bloc?
Religious Bloc versus the People’s Bloc in the National Assembly
Eclipse of the left
Politicization of Bahraini Shia
The influence of political Islam movements elsewhere
The influence of Ayatollah Khomeini
Politicization of religious festivals
The radicalizing influence of Iran’s Islamic revolution
Growing Shirazi radicalism
Exporting Iran’s Islamic Revolution
Al-Da’wah contacts with Iran’s revolutionary leadership
Changing Iranian allegiances
Saudi oppositionist movements
Announcing the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain
Islamic Front aims and ideology
1981 coup attempt by Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain
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
Iranian support for Bahrain’s Al-Da’wah movement
Moving into the Iranian ideological orbit
What is Welayat Al-Faqih?
Breaking with Shia quietism
Ayatollah Isa Qassim and Welayat Al-Faqih
A new generation of Shia clerics
Hezbollah in Bahrain