1981 coup attempt by Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain

As the Iran-Iraq war gained regional dimensions in the early 1980s, Iran looked for ways to outthinking Iraq and its regional backers. Iran had always laid claim to Bahrain as its “14th province” and tiny Bahrain was seen as an obvious first step towards making inroads on the Arabian peninsula.

In December 1981 the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, with Iranian funding and logistical support, staged a coup attempt against the Government in Bahrain. Their aim was to install Ayatollah Hadi Al-Mudarrisi as Bahrain’s supreme leader.

The plan was for commandos to arrive from Iran who would assassinate key officials and take over strategic institutions. They believed that the coup would be followed by a mass popular uprising in support; a theory adopted by other extremist Islamic groups which lacked a sufficiently wide support base to achieve any kind of popular uprising.

Although some Islamic Front personnel had received training alongside Palestinian militants during the 1970s, there was a lack of Bahraini Shirazi activists with military training. So many of the “commandos” were Saudis, Kuwaitis or Arabs of other nationalities who had flocked to Iran after the revolution and had been organized as the “Movement of Vanguard Missionaries”.

Militants from this Movement also were fighting for Iran against Iraq, making use of their Arabic skills for espionage activities. The Islamic Front’s own military commander was killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

The coup plot was uncovered in its early stages when suspicions were aroused by a group of men behaving suspiciously at Dubai airport. The plot unraveled as those already in Bahrain were rounded up, and their weapons and uniform stashes were uncovered

The 1981 coup attempt by the IFLB was a complete failure. Many members of the Front were arrested and the majority went abroad, to locations like London, Lebanon and Iraq.

Following related attempts to stir up unrest and revolution in other countries in the region, the Arab Gulf states came together and declared that the Iran-linked coup attempt in Bahrain was an attack against them all, giving further momentum to the embryonic Gulf Cooperation Council project, which had largely come into being as a result of the treat from Iran.

 

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

 

References

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

Charles Belgrave, 1960 Personal Column; Hutchinson

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

Thomas Fibiger, 2010: ‘Ashura in Bahrain: Analyses of an Analytical Event; Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice

Nelida Fuccaro, 2009: Ordering space, politics and community in Manama, 1880s–1919

Justin J. Gengler, 2011: Ethnic Conflict and Political Mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf; University of Michigan

Anissa Haddadi, 2012: Bahrain Uncovered: Divided Political Landscape

Bashar al-Hadi, 2005: Ulema’ wa adiba’ al-bahrain; Bait al-Bahrain lil-Darasat wal-Tawthiq

Hasan Tariq al-Hasan: Role of Iran in the Failed Coup of 1981: The IFLB in Bahrain; Middle East Journal; 2011

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

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

Sandy Russell Jones, 2007: The Battle over Family Law in Bahrain; Middle East Report

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

Khalid Kanoo, 1998: The House of Kanoo: A Century of an Arabian Family Business; Tauris

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

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

Jane Kinninmont, 2012: Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse

Fred Haley Lawson, 1989: Bahrain: The Modernization of Autocracy; Westview Press

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

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

Abdul-Hameed Salem al-Mahadin, 2007: From the memory of Bahrain; Al-Markaz al-Arabiya lil-Dirasat wal-Nashr

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

Yitzhak Nakash, 2011 Reaching for Power: The Shi’a in the Modern Arab World; Princeton University Press

Katja Neithammer, 2007: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain

Sophia Pandya, 2010: Women’s Shia Maatams in Bahrain; Middle Eastern Women’s Studies

Fahim I. Qubain, 1955: Social Classes and Tensions in Bahrain; Middle East Journal

Hassan Ali Radhi, 2003 Judiciary and Arbitration in BahrainA Historical and Analytical Study; Brill

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

Mohammed al-Rumaihi, 1976: Qadaya al-taghayyr al-siyasi wa al-ijtima’I fi-al-bahrain; Al-Wahdah

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

Joe Stork, 1997: Bahrain’s Crisis Worsens; Middle East Report

Mahdi Abdalla Al-Tajir, 1987: Bahrain, 1920–1945: Britain, the Shaikh, and the Administration; Croom Helm

Dr Amal al-Zayyani: Bahrain; from political independence to international projection

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

About Muharraq: http://eprints.port.ac.uk/7687/4/Ch-2_AboutMuharraq.pdf

Naturalization issue: http://gulfnews.com/4-971-asians-given-bahrain-nationality-in-56-years-1.253763

General regional references

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

Nazih Ayubi, 2001: Overstating the Arab State; Tauris

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

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

Fred Halliday, 1985: The Arabian Peninsula Opposition Movements; MERIP Reports

Khair El-Din Haseeb ed. 1998: Arab-Iranian relations: Centre for Arab unity studies

Mohammad Khalid A. Al-Jassar, 2009 Constancy and Change in Contemporary Kuwait City; Proquest

Toby Craig Jones, 2006: Rebellion on the Saudi Periphery: Modernity, Marginalization, and the Shiʿa Uprising of 1979; International Journal of Middle East Studies

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

Toby Matthiesen, 2012: A “Saudi Spring?“: The Shi’a Protest Movement in the Eastern Province 2011—2012; Middle East Journal

Toby Matthiesen, 2010: Hizbullah al-Hijaz: A History of The Most Radical Saudi Shi’a Opposition Group; Middle East Journal

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

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

Madawi Al-Rasheed, 2005 Transnational Connections and the Arab Gulf; Psychology Press

Rush, ed. 1991: The Ruling Families of Arabia

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

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