In 1981 the Iran-sponsored Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain attempted to stage a coup. However, the plot was discovered and foiled as activists made their preparations.

Members of the Islamic Front, who were mainly Shirazis (Shia followers of Ayatollah Mohammed Shirazi), dispersed around the world. Many of the key figures would continue pursuing their goal of an Islamic state in Bahrain through new organizational frameworks and using new tactics. However the failure of the coup plot represented a major setback for these radical activists that would take many years to overcome.

Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain after the failed coup

Of those elements of the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain who fled into exile; many dispersed to more flexible locations across the region, like Syria, Iran and Iraq. The main offices of the Islamic Front came to be based in Damascus, with branches in Tehran and London.The Secretary-General was Muhammad Ali Al-Khadhari. Its London office was headed by Abdalhamid Al-Radhi. The pivotal figure, Hadi Al-Mudarrisi, would later return to his native Iraq.

Many chose to base themselves in the West; particularly the younger and lesser-known figures who could use the opportunity to study abroad; or benefit from the experience of other exiled activists based in Europe. Many of these younger figures would play significant roles in incidents of unrest in Bahrain in later decades.

The Shirazi activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was in Damascus from 1983-89 and then ended up in Denmark; where he became involved in a succession of human rights organizations that could be used to give a more credible voice to the opposition. By establishing links with many western and global human rights organizations, this strategy of human rights activism would pay off in later years by ensuring that many significant organizations were highly receptive to the opposition’s narrative.

The Shirazi movement loses favour in Iran

From the mid-1980s onwards, the Shirazis lost much of their influence with the Iranian regime. This was partly as a result of Ayatollah Mohammed Shirazi increasingly being seen as a rival to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Shirazi came out and challenged Khomeini on a number of issues, most notably their differing views of the two clerics on the principle of Welayat Al-Faqih. While Khomeini advocated rule by the single most-learned Faqih; Mohammed Shirazi advocated the idea of “Shurat Al-Maraji” – rule by a council of the most senior religious authorities.

Ayatollah Khomeini sought to ensure that the Qom religious authorities spoke with one voice, with Khomeini as the ultimate and unchallengeable authority. Mohammed Shirazi’s huge charismatic status and religious legitimacy stood as a challenge to this, so it was inevitable that Khomeini sought to reduce his political influence and access to patronage networks.

As a result, from the mid-1980s onwards the Shirazis would never regain the regional significance that they enjoyed around the time of the Islamic revolution.

Another factor was Iran’s failure to make progress in the Iraq war, as well as the emergence of pragmatic conservatives like President Rafsanjani (1989-1997). As part of Rafsanjani’s moves to mend relations with the Arab Gulf states, the Islamic Front’s offices in Tehran were closed down.

From now on, the Islamic Republic would seek to wield its influence in Bahrain and the GCC through direct relations with Shia activists and grassroots organizations, not through relatively independent networks like the Shirazis which didn’t always share the same agenda.

Declining influence: The Islamic front in the 1990s

During the 1990s unrest in Bahrain the “Shirazis” were marginalized for being perceived as too close to Iran. With many of its experience activists exiled abroad the Islamic Front was not well placed to play a role or steer the course of events, which were mainly directed by rural non-Shirazi clerics like Abdulamir Al-Jamri.

However the Islamic Front claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist incidents throughout this period. In November 1996, the Front claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Diplomat Hotel, with the group telling the Associated Press “We put a bomb in the Diplomat hotel 20 minutes ago…after the feast…tell the government that we will destroy everyplace.”

Although the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain with time became less relevant as a coherent organization; its influence would be important in various successor organizations, such as the Islamic Action Organization; Amal; which shared the same name as the movement that the Al-Mudarrisi family established in Iraq.

The IFLB was disbanded in 2002 following King Hamad’s amnesty. Many activists returned to Bahrain and formed the Islamic Action Party (Amal) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja). Other activists remained in London and the West; becoming involved with entities like the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement.


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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