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Bahrain's transnational Arab Spring: repression, oil and human rights activism.

  • Academic Journal
  • International Affairs; Jul2021, Vol. 97 Issue 4, p965-983, 19p, 1 Diagram
  • Studies of the Middle East following the Arab Spring have concluded that 'repression works', especially in the oil- and gas-rich countries of the Gulf. Drawing on primary materials collected during fieldwork trips to Bahrain, the United States and Britain, this article nuances the 'repression effect' by tracing the emergence of a transnational Bahraini opposition, mapping the relationships and joint activities between domestic and exiled Bahraini groups, international NGOs and western policy-makers. It finds that even in the context of domestic repression and continuing ideological divides within Bahrain's opposition, transnational networks have not only sustained opposition organizations, but also maintained access to foreign policy-makers, producing repeated criticisms of the Bahraini regime and legal challenges to ruling elites who visit western states. The successes of this advocacy are modest: while it has not drastically reshaped the domestic state–society relationship, it has created significant costs for the Bahraini regime and damaged Bahrain's international brand. As a result, state and opposition networks now compete for influence over western policy-makers: international 'arenas of advocacy'—such as the UK parliament, US Congress, UNHRC and European Parliament—have now become 'arenas of contestation', as state and opposition narratives of Bahraini politics, filtered through western policy-makers, play out during debates over foreign policy towards Bahrain. The article positions transnational activism as a direct outcome of the 'repression effect', highlighting ongoing contests for influence between state and society occurring in international and transnational spaces, even as the domestic scope for opposition mobilization remains highly restricted. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
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