Every time I passed a former British outpost on Bahrain, I wondered if it would be an Iranian or Chinese officer who would one day have that same uneasy feeling passing a former American outpost. That day may be coming sooner than ever imagined. The subject of representative government in nations such as this always drew the ire of Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) officers when it arose in seminar discussions at the Joint Forces Staff College or at conferences in Tampa; never raised on host country terrain. Bahraini officers would rankle at the suggestion that the population was majority Shia (it is upwards of 80%; "but no "official" statistics are available," they would argue). I was there two years and lived across the road from third country nationals living in stables and down the street from Shia neighborhoods much larger and more Spartan than my Sunni area quarters.
In private, the Emir (today's Emir's father) scoffed at Shia affectations such as the "Tree of Life" out in the desert and joked about cutting it down. This widely held Sunni attitude left Shia connections to relatives and business partners in Iran as their most cordial. The dialect spoken in the streets was "Gulfy" rather than the more formal Saudi version and far from the Egyptian and Levantine. There was a nascent insurgency held at bay by a heavy handed hired gun; a retired British general, veteran of the Malay success. But there is so much time and just so many prison cells; they cannot contain all the disgruntled forever. And now, the disaffectation has spilled into the streets. Fine to turn a blind eye in Saudi and Bahrain, but not in Libya?