"After experiencing serious unrest during the late 1990s, Bahrain's Sunni Muslim-dominated government undertook several steps to enhance the inclusion of the Shiite majority in governance. However, protests erupting following the uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, demonstrate that Shiite grievances over the distribution of power and economic opportunities remain unsatisfied. The continuing unrest--in which opposition factions have escalated their demands in response to the use of force by the government--comes four months after the October 23, 2010, parliamentary election. That election, no matter the outcome, would not have unseated the ruling Al Khalifa family from power, but the Shiite population was hoping that winning a majority in the elected lower house could give it greater authority. In advance of the elections, the government launched a wave of arrests intended to try to discredit some of the hard-line Shiite leadership as tools of Iran. The main Shiite faction, an Islamist group called 'Wifaq' (Accord), won one more seat than it did in the 2006 election but still ended up short of a majority (18 out of the 40 seats) in the elected lower house. […]The 2011 unrest, which was met by an initial violent government crackdown on February 17, 2011, directly affects U.S. national security interests. Bahrain, in exchange for a tacit U.S. security guarantee, has provided key support for U.S. interests by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years and by providing facilities and small numbers of personnel for U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
CRS Report for Congress, 95-1013