MANAMA — Bahrain has accused wealthier neighbor Qatar of harming its national security by “luring” some nationals to take Qatari citizenship, state news agency BNA said, a charge that could widen a rift among Gulf Arab countries.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Doha in March, accusing Qatar of failing to honor an accord not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs. The countries are all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with Kuwait and Oman.
Efforts to patch up the rift, largely centred around Qatar’s backing for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement which the other countries deeply oppose, have so far failed.
BNA quoted the Interior Ministry’s Undersecretary for Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs, Sheikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, as saying Qatar had “targeted specific families and singled out a particular category of people” with no consideration to Bahraini laws.
“The naturalization of Bahrainis would affect Bahrain’s national security and vital interests negatively,” the agency said on its English website late on Wednesday, quoting the official.
Sheikh Rashid gave no details on who was being targeted for naturalization or how many had been granted Qatari citizenship.
Bahrain is acutely sensitive to changes in its demographic balance between Shi’a and Sunnis.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom has a Shi’a majority and an ongoing conflict between the government and protesters calling for more democracy.
A Bahraini court has stripped nine Shi’a men of their citizenship, for the first time implementing a 2013 law which revokes the nationality of terrorism convicts, a judicial source said Thursday.
The nine men were found guilty Wednesday of “forming a terrorist organization aimed at smuggling weapons to Bahrain and helping detainees to escape,” the source said.
Hundreds of Shi’a have been arrested and many have faced trials over their role in protests that erupted in February 2011.
Security forces boosted by Saudi-led troops crushed the protests a month later, but smaller demonstrations frequently take place in villages, triggering clashes with police.
Bahrain is a strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran.
Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty, and Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.