There are 380,000 Indian nationals in Bahrain, making them the largest expatriate group in the country. Hence, Pope Francis's visit on December 10 is a path-breaking episode, just as the Israel-Bahrain friendship treaty has been.
New Delhi: The Jewish-Muslim relationship is heading for an exciting game in the Middle East. Peace, they say, is a two-way street; but stakeholders can make it more dynamic. The changing balance of power in the Middle East is reflected in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalizing their respective relationship with Israel in the US-brokered deals of August 2020.
Bahrain, an archipelago of 33 islands on the coastal side of the Persian Gulf, has been cautious of Iranian intent and perceived nuke powers. Now comes a crucial Christian angle. Awali, a small town in the centre of Bahrain, will have the Cathedral of Mary Queen of Arabia from December 19 and will accommodate 2,300 worshippers.
'MiddleEast Monitor.com' says the cathedral could serve as a reference point for the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The tiny nation of 1.5 million and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa have invited Pope Francis to visit Bahrain when the cathedral is consecrated.
This is significant in more ways than one. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has lately formally launched Israel's embassy in Bahrain capital Manama and the move was important as it crossed the Islamic world's 'red lines'.
There have been other related developments since last year and more. Observers say the Arab League's outright refusal of a demand by the Palestinian Authority to condemn the UAE-Israeli deal only showed the changing dynamics in the region. In other words, the Palestinian cause cannot be at the centre of Arab politics and geostrategic approaches.
Developments in Bahrain also owe special significance to India, as many Indians-Christians, Hindus, and Muslims live and work in Bahrain. Firstly, Bahrain has a softer version of enforcing Islamic laws and is also a key and strategically located hub of banking and trade.
There are many Christians of other nationals in Bahrain, and most Asians from India and the Philippines. In terms of India-US friendship, experts in New Delhi take cautious note of the fact that Bahrain conducted a five-day joint naval training exercise in the Red Sea and the United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.
However, it will be prudent to note the historical fact that during the 'Arab Spring' of 2011, the Egyptian revolutionaries had deposed Hosni Mubarak and called him even an "agent of the Jews". Israel's embassy in Cairo was also attacked after Israeli forces 'mistakenly killed' three Egyptian soldiers during a clash with Islamist militants.
Thus, by all accounts, what is happening regarding Pope Francis's visit to Bahrain has regional and, perhaps, global significance. Pope Francis held a private audience with Sheikh Kahlid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, special envoy of the King of Bahrain, at the Vatican on November 25. This itself was path-breaking.