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



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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

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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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