Zehra Zaidi was a Conservative candidate for the European Parliament in South West England at the 2009 elections and has been a development consultant on governance and democratisation for UNICEF and the British Council. She has also acted as an adviser to Andrew Mitchell, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
David Cameron is absolutely right. Bahrain is not Syria. However, Britain’s old allies in the small island Gulf principality have badly handled the wave of protests that dominoed their way to Bahrain since the Arab Spring began. Britain needs to step up and use its influence to encourage the Al Khalifa family to make reforms acceptable to its people, where around 70-75% of its population is from the Shia sect (although this figure may have reduced since the ruling family’s policy of granting naturalisation to Sunni migrants).
It is important Britain continues - even ratchets up - its diplomatic overtures, because when we criticise Assad’s ever brutal regime in Syria, the West risks being accused of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Bahrain. Moreover, because of the perceived discrimination faced by Bahraini Shias, as noted in an Economist article last year, “Amid such sharpening polarisation, accusations that Iran is encouraging its fellow Shias in Bahrain to rise up as a fifth column risk self-fulfilment”.