Top Bahraini Shiite cleric has had his citizenship revoked
Iranian general warns that the move could result an uprising against minority Sunni government
One of Iran’s most senior military commanders has warned that the decision to strip Bahrain’s top Shiite cleric of his citizenship could result in the overthrow of the Gulf kingdom’s leadership.
Qassem Solemani, head of the Quds Forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said that, in the case of any insult or disrespect for Sheikh Isa Qassim, “the toppling of the regime will only be a small part of the repercussions that will also include armed resistance,” according to the semi-official FARS news agency.
Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior revoked Qassim’s citizenship, the Bahrain News Agency reported Monday, citing his “major role in creating an extremist sectarian environment and worked on dividing the society.”
Supporters of the cleric have been staging a sit-in outside his home, and there were sporadic clashes between supporters and authorities Monday night in some villages.
Police have been widely deployed and the Bahraini national guard has been mobilized in Sitra, a village that has been a flashpoint for unrest.
The Ministry of Interior warned against “calls inciting security disturbances,” stating that legal action will be taken against “violators.”
Solemani added that the move could herald “a bloody intifada with consequences whose responsibility will fall on those who legitimize the arrogance of the Bahraini rulers.”
While most Bahranis identify as Shiite Muslims, the country is controlled by a Sunni elite, with many top government posts occupied by members of the longtime ruling Khalifa family.
Bahrain’s capital, Manama, saw huge – largely non-sectarian – street protests five years ago during the Arab Spring, with weeks-long protests taking over the city’s then-iconic Pearl Monument, which was subsequently torn down by the government, which resisted toppling during the region-wide unrest.
Solemani blasted the regime’s “unacceptable and inhuman oppression, discrimination, injustice and humiliation” of what has been a largely peaceful opposition to the monarchy.
The piece added that “meaningful silence” from the U.S., the U.N. and the international community has emboldened the Baharani government’s crackdown on dissent.
The tiny Gulf nation is a close U.S. military ally and host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Bahraini official: Revocation legal
Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to United Kingdom, tweeted that the decision is constitutionally sound.
He added in another tweet that Qassim has the right of appeal.
Human rights abuses alleged
Human Rights Watch characterizes Bahrain’s human rights climate remains “highly problematic.”
“The country’s courts convict and imprison peaceful dissenters and have failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations,” the rights organization’s Bahrain country page says.
“Human rights activists and members of the political opposition face arrest and prosecution and dozens have been stripped of their citizenship.”
Citizenship revoked for ‘extremism’
The Lebanese group Hezbollah, long designated a terror organization by the U.S. State Department, has also condemned the decision and warned that it will lead to unrest, FARS reported in a separate article.
The revocation “pushes the Bahraini people to difficult choices which will have severe consequences for this corrupt dictatorial regime,” a Hezbollah statement quoted by FARS said.
The move comes shortly after a Bahrain court suspended the main Shiite opposition party, known as al-Wefaq, and frozen its assets.
The Ministry of Justice accused the group of working “to create a new generation that carries a spirit of hatred,” promoting sectarian tension and securing “legal cover for acts associated with extremism and terrorism,” the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported.
In 2012, Qassim was at the center of clashes between supporters and authorities as government security forces tried to prevent thousands from converging on a mosque to hear a sermon by the Shiite cleric, who had earlier come under attack in pro-government media for meeting the Iranian consul in Bahrain.
CNN’s Schams Elwazer contributed to this report.