A Bahraini minister sharply criticised Qatar on Wednesday for offering citizenship to Sunni nationals of the small Gulf kingdom, warning of "action" if it does not end the practice.
"If the unfriendly policies by Qatar and the attempts to entice Bahrainis to give away their nationality continue, Bahrain will be forced to take action that it would have otherwise preferred not to," Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said.
Bahrain, like Qatar, is led by Sunni Muslims, but its population is majority Shiite, and the loss of Sunnis would exacerbate a demographic imbalance - one which the country's rulers appear to be delicately shifting to increase the number of Sunni citizens, the MEE reported this week
The government of Bahrain has not conducted an official survey of the demographic make-up of the country since 1941 when it registered Shiite as composing 53 percent of the population. Media reports in recent years have tend to hover around a figure of 70 or 75 percent, but these are normally acknowledged as imprecise.
In a move that could be seen as quite ironic by opponents of the Bahraini government and those critical of the alleged government demographic scheme, Qatar has reportedly given nationality to Bahraini Sunnis, who must first renounce their Bahraini citizenship in exchange.
First coming to light this summer, tensions between the two countries over the issue have risen and reached an apex with the interior minister's warning this week.
As tensions heated up in August, Bahrain changed its nationality law to impose harsh fines or other penalties on any Bahrainis who took citizenship of another country “whether of their own volition or through others' incitement, without securing prior permission from the relevant authorities” or if they “failed to formalise their status as per the provisions of the law.”
In what seemed a frank admission of his government’s plans, Former Qatari Justice Minister Najeeb al-Nuaimi told Doha News that “before, people had to move to Qatar, drop their Bahraini citizenship and then live in Qatar for three years before being granted Qatari citizenship, but now decisions are being made in just 24 hours.”
Wednesday's statement from Bahrain's interior minister came after the country announced the arrest of one of its citizens for taking a Qatari passport and renouncing his Bahraini nationality.
"Unfortunately, illegal procedures taken by Qatar led to the arrest of a member of a Bahraini family," the minister said.
Bahrain remains deeply divided three years after the authorities crushed a Shiite-dominated movement seeking a greater say in their country's affairs.