Thousands of Sunnis staged a rally in Manama on Saturday in support of of a controversial proposal to unite Bahrain with neighbouring Saudi Arabia, witnesses said.
“Yes to unity,” read the banners of the demonstrators, out in the streets in response to calls from an alliance of 10 Sunni associations.
“We will support the unity… (which) protects the allegiance of Gulf states to Arab and Islam,” an organiser, Sheikh Abullatif al-Mahmud, told the crowds waving Bahraini flags alongside those of other Gulf Cooperation Council states.
The six members of the GCC, a grouping of the Sunni Arab monarchies in the Gulf, have been discussing a Saudi proposal that would lead to a form of closer political union.
The first step in this process would be the union of Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority, with Saudi Arabia.
The proposal has however prompted Bahraini Shiites, who began an uprising in February 2011, to protest.
Also in predominantly Shiite Iran, just across the Gulf, thousands of people demonstrated on Friday to protest the proposed union, which Iranian authorities have called an “American plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.”
Tensions have escalated between Iran and its Arab neighbours in the region since a Saudi-led Gulf force rolled into Bahrain in March 2011 to boost the kingdom’s security forces, which then crushed a Shiite-led uprising.