Future Generator: Bahrain faces political volatility

Future Generator: Bahrain faces political volatility
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The ‘Future Generator’ is a highly unique and cutting-edge approach to forecasting ‘media sentiment’, developed by a partnership between Global Risk Insights (GRI) and Ethnographic Edge (EE). The aim of the forecast is to determine how media sentiment towards a country’s political environment might develop in the future. Considering the impact of media sentiment on trading and investments, our forecasts will give readers more time and context to maximize on market opportunities.

The following is an analysis of Bahrain.

Bahrain Future Generator

To view the full interactive graph on the Ethnographic Edge website, click here.

EE Signal: On the 31st of January, EE’s sophisticated data analytics produced a signal which stated that media sentiment over Bahrain’s political environment will continue to be negative over the next two weeks. Considering the strong correlation between media sentiment and political events, EE draws the conclusion that Bahrain’s political environment will remain negative through mid-February.

GRI’s team of directors and our Bahrain expert have assessed the signal provided by EE. Based on local expertise and political risk training, we agree with the data analytics produced that Bahrain will continue to experience overall negative political developments and media coverage until at least February. This is likely due to the following reasons:

1. Fervent opposition to Bahrain’s regime has recently increased

Protests against Bahrain’s Sunni regime under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa have increased over the past month, largely from Bahrain’s Shi’a-majority public. A focal point of these demonstrations has been the government’s arrest and citizenship revocation of the nation’s top Shi’a cleric and politician Sheikh Isa Qassim. The Bahraini government accused Sheikh Qassim of a host of offenses, including sowing sectarian divisions and money laundering. The government also disbanded the regime’s main opposition political party, Al Wefaq, of which the cleric was the leader.

Aspects of the Shi’a opposition have grown militarized. On January 29, The Ashtar Brigade—a Shi’a militant group responsible for a number of recent bombings and terrorist attacks in the country—shot and killed a Bahraini police officer. A couple weeks earlier, a city hall just south of the capital Manama was set on fire by protesters. Some of this violence can be linked to Iran, who has stepped up military and financial aid to Bahrain’s Shi’a groups.

Opposition will likely intensify in the run up to Sheikh Isa Qassim’s trial hearing on February 12. Mounting demonstrations have already been occurring in major Shi’a villages like Diraz and Sanabis, and scenes of people chanting “Down with [King] Hamad” have become common.

2. The Kingdom is harshly cracking down on public opposition

The government is suppressing dissent in way not seen since Bahrain’s 2011 uprisings. Police have begun to respond to protests with firepower, and perpetrators of violence have been tortured and executed. Bahrain’s National Security Agency also re-acquired authority to conduct domestic investigations, house raids, and arrests.

Bahrain’s denial of foreign journalists and non-governmental organizations from entering Bahrain complicates the regime’s accountability. Prominent human rights organizations in the United States and Europe have accordingly criticized the Kingdom’s actions in recent weeks.

This trend suggests escalation of political violence in the coming weeks as protests intensify and the government responds with greater force.

3. Bahrain’s recent economic reform measures are being felt

Over the past year Bahrain has enacted further economic liberalization measures to attract foreign investment, strengthen its financial and industrial sectors, and withstand falling oil prices. A key measure scaled back water, food, and energy subsidies upon which Bahrain’s low-income citizens—who are disproportionately the country’s Arab Shi’ites–rely. This points to festering social volatility that will manifest in further public anger at the regime over the next couple weeks.

Limitations of the Signal

It is likely, however, that Bahrain’s political instability will be short-lived. Gulf countries in particular view Bahrain as a key financial hub and bulwark against expanding Iranian influence. The United States and United Kingdom possess a robust military presence in the country and accordingly demand stability from the regime. All this means that any domestic volatility will likely be swiftly contained and sentiment towards the island Kingdom will begin to trend more positive as a whole beyond mid-February.

Azhar Unwala is an analyst for government and corporate clients in the Washington, D.C. area. He was formerly a researcher at a Department of Defense-sponsored think tank and the Editor-in-Chief of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs’ International Engagement on Cyber series. In addition to studying and extensively traveling in the Middle East, Azhar holds a B.S. in International Politics and Arab Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. 

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