Needless to say, it's been a while since I've posted here, mostly because I've been busy with actual work, but also partly because Bahrain has fallen into a political lull since the latest crackdown on activists that saw the arrest of 'Ali Salman and others. One suspects that there is simply no one left to protest who hasn't already been arrested, been driven into hiding, or fled Bahrain entirely. Indeed, Bahrainis are now threatened with punishment for criticizing even the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen, so one can imagine the situation with regard to local politics.
Another reason I've taken to writing today is that I've been able to speak recently with some well-connected Bahrainis who've offered some useful insights that I thought might also interest others. So, in no particular order:
No progress has been made in bridging the social and political chasm that continues to separate Sunnis and Shi'is since February 2011. Similarly, almost no space remains for genuine political activity by members of either community. Members of parliament, who are now mostly younger, inexperienced independents with no coherent legislative agenda, appear far more interested in jostling for private benefits -- travel to international events and meetings, press opportunities, and so on -- than working to aid constituents or the country.
Crown Prince Salman is leading and is the public face of this effort, enabled by his close relationship with Muhammad bin Zayid. One almost gets the sense that Bahrain is returning to the days of the EDB and a development-based plan to reduce political tensions, without of course the corresponding political liberalization.
The contact mentioned that in anticipation of Camp David, the government has recently released as many as several hundred political detainees, mostly women and youth. The preemptive step was taken to bolster Bahrain's case for being on the right track politically, while avoiding accusations that the release was in response to a "demand" or pressure by the United States or Obama.
Update: I forgot to mention that my Bahrain-focused book, Group Conflict and Political Mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf: Rethinking the Rentier State, is finally being published on June 8 in the Indiana University Press Series in Arab and Islamic Studies. I mention it because it's available now on Amazon for a 20% discount ($24). Or I guess you could wait to buy a used copy from someone in September for two dollars or whatever. Moreover, we've agreed with another publisher on an Arabic translation, which should be out a few months later. So some may wish to wait for that.