Shiʿi opposition and authoritarian transition in contemporary Bahrain: the shifting political participation of a marginalised majority
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert
This thesis considers the impact of Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising on the political participation of the country’s Shiʿi community, a ‘marginalised majority’ whose engagement has historically shifted in response to cycles of repression and liberalisation manifest within the political system. With a particular focus on the most recent cycle of contention in Bahrain, this thesis makes the case that the ‘National Action Charter’ decade of 2000-2010 effectively transformed Bahrain into a liberalised autocracy, during which the regime exploited divisions between tolerated and antisystem opposition groups to maintain its grip on power whilst promoting its democratising credentials. Drawing on over sixty fieldwork interviews and an innovative content analysis study of the Shiʿi opposition’s online activism, this thesis argues that Bahrain’s Arab Spring protests led to a dramatic shift in both government-opposition and inter-opposition dynamics, resulting in the regime’s transition from liberalised autocracy to full-authoritarianism. Highlighting the growing role of youth activism and online political participation during Bahrain’s five year period of post-Arab Spring authoritarian transition, this thesis demonstrates that the recent proliferation of new media technologies in Bahrain has amplified the Shiʿi opposition’s ability to mobilise and communicate with supporters, bolstering antisystem groups at the expense of the tolerated opposition. More broadly, this thesis provides an important and timely case study of the impact of structural changes within authoritarian regimes on citizen political participation, and ultimately calls into question assumptions surrounding political quiescence and monarchical stability in the resource-rich Arab Gulf.
KeywordsBahrain; Arab Spring; Arab uprisings; liberalised autocracy; authoritarianism; political Shiʿism; political Islam
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