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The latest events seem to mark a new phase in the crisis that has paralysed the tiny kingdom since January. Demonstrators have drawn strength from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that saw autocratic regimes toppled by popular protests. However, unlike in either place, Bahrain's protests have taken on a strong sectarian dimension.
The ruling minority is almost exclusively Sunni, while the majority of the population is Shia. The latter feels disenfranchised and disadvantaged by an establishment which it claims does not represent its interests.