SINCE the small Gulf states became independent from Britain in the latter half of the 20th century, their ruling families have sought fresh methods to keep their subjects in check. They might close a newspaper, confiscate passports or lock up the most troublesome. Now, increasingly, they are stripping dissidents, and their families, of citizenship, leaving them stateless.

Bahrain is an energetic passport-stripper. Its Sunni royals have dangled the threat of statelessness over its Shia majority to suppress an uprising launched in 2011, during the Arab spring. In 2014 it deprived 21 people of their nationality. A year later the number was up tenfold. Last year the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shias, Isa Qassim (pictured) lost his. “Gulf rulers have turned people from citizens into subservient subjects,” says Abdulhadi Khalaf, a former Bahraini parliamentarian whose citizenship was revoked in 2012 and now lives in Sweden, as a citizen there. “Our passports are not a birthright. They are part of the ruler’s prerogative.”

 

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