Divided Rule and the Birth of Sectarianism, Nationalism, and Absolutism in Bahrain
This study argues that political mobilization based on ethnosectarian identities in Bahrain is a modernist product of the contestations that occurred in the period of increasing British colonial involvement in the early twentieth century. Two concepts are utilized: The first is the colonial “ethnosectarian gaze”, marked primarily by its underlying epistemology that saw ethnosectarian cleavages as the main analytic units for approaching local political power, practice, and discourse. The second is “contested and divided rule”. With the advent of Curzon’s “forward policy” in the Gulf, Britain actively divided sovereignty between itself and the local ruler, with actors on the island faced with two conflicting sources of jurisdiction. The British viewed issues of jurisdiction primarily through an ethnosectarian lens, and increasingly so did other actors, creating an inter-feeding dynamic between ethnosectarianism, nationalism, and divided rule. Two emergent forms of political mobilization are emphasized. The first mobilized based on ethnosectarian identity-specific demands and grievances. The other took an overtly nationalist, trans-sectarian, anti-colonial tone, having its roots in the al-Nahda renaissance that swept the Arab world in the nineteenth century. Thus, colonialism, absolutism, ethnosectarianism, and nationalism went hand in hand, products of a similar period of divided rule, their lingering effects still felt today.