Bahrain declared martial law on Tuesday as it struggles to quell an uprising by the island’s Shi’ite Muslim majority that has drawn in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbour Saudi Arabia. The three-month state of emergency will hand wholesale power to Bahrain’s security forces, which are dominated by the country’s Sunni Muslim elite, stoking sectarian tensions in one of the Gulf’s most politically volatile nations.
The United States, a close ally of both Bahrain and Saudi, said it was concerned about reports of growing sectarianism in the country, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and warned that violence from any side would make matters worse.
“A political solution is necessary and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain’s citizens,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in Washington.
On Monday, more than 1,000 Saudi troops rolled into the kingdom in a long convoy of armoured vehicles at the request of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers, flashing victory signs as they crossed the causeway that connects the two oil producers. The United Arab Emirates said it also would send 500 police. Analysts saw the troop movement into Bahrain as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that concessions by the country’s monarchy could inspire the conservative Sunni-ruled kingdom’s own Shi’ite minority.