Attempted Coup Foiled

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MANAMA, Bahrain: Bahrain's ruling Suni government struck back at Shiite dissidents Monday, arresting 29 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the ruling Khalifa family with the help of Iran. "For nearly two years Bahrain's government has been experiencing political opposition and unrest from the country's Shiite majority," reports TIME's Scott MacLeod. "The Shiites have been demanding more political and economic representation from the ruling Sunni monarchy." Bahrain's Information Minister Mohammed al Muttawa said the plotters were part of an Iranian-backed group that wants to install a Shiite Muslim government modeled on Tehran's. Despite protests from the Bahraini government, MacLeod notes that the unrest is less the result of Iranian meddling than it is a reaction to the minority Sunni government granting little political freedom to the Shiite majority. "Most observers would agree that the Shiite militant movement in Bahrain is home-grown," says MacLeod. "It is partly a pro-democracy movement of the majority of the population demanding increased representation. It is also partly religious, wanting to some extent to establish a more Islamic state." The Shiite dissatisfaction has been fueled by economic inequities. Unlike its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain is not a major oil-exporting country, and the declines in oil prices have had a major economic impact on an already restless population. "Adding to the economic disaffection, the Gulf war brought with it greater expectation for democracy," says MacLeod. "This has inspired opposition movements demanding the restoration of parliament, which was dissolved in 1975, just as an elected parliament has been restored in Kuwait." In the wake of Monday's arrests, Muttawa announced that Bahrain was recalling its ambassadors from Tehran. But placing the blame on Iran is not likely to end what is essentially a domestic problem. -->