Issues behind the unrest in Bahrain:

Issues behind the unrest in Bahrain:

SECTARIAN DIVIDE: Shiite Muslims account for about 70 percent of Bahrain’s 525,000 native-born citizens. They have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni monarchy, including being denied important political and military posts.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

PARLIAMENT: Bahrain is one of the few Gulf nation’s with a popularly elected parliament, but its powers are limited. Protesters want to end the monarchy’s ability to select the prime minister and other key political positions. The leading Shiite political bloc has pulled its 18 lawmakers from the 40-seat parliament.

NEW CITIZENS: To try to offset the Shiite majority, the leadership offers citizenship to fellow Sunnis from Arab nations and elsewhere, notably South Asia. Many of the new citizens are given state jobs, including in the security forces.

PAST TENSIONS: Clashes and protests have occurred sporadically for decades. Shiite-led protesters staged a series of demonstrations in the 1990s to demand greater rights, which led to a new constitution in 2002. The new charter created a two-tier legislature with an appointed upper house and elected lower chamber. Clashes broke out last year after arrests of Shiite activists. Twenty-five Shiites – 23 in custody and two in absentia – are currently on trial for allegedly plotting against the state.

WIDER FALLOUT: Bahrain is a critical U.S. ally as home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, the centerpiece of the Pentagon’s efforts to counter Iran’s growing military ambitions. The monarchy is strongly backed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf leaders. Shiite powerhouse Iran has little connection to Bahrain’s majority, but some Iranian hard-liners have called Bahrain the “14th province” of the Islamic Republic because of the religious ties.