Monday, March 18, 2013

How Far They Haven't Come: 
Bahrani Protests Increase as Two-Year
 Anniversary of Pearl Revolt Passes

A Bahraini anti-government protester walks through tear gas

            Where the spring of 2011 brought a tide of upheaval, change, chaos, and uncertain but hopeful futures in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, a handful of countries whose populaces also took to the streets seeking government reform and freedom have not fared as well—namely Bahrain and Syria. While Syria continues to be in the global spotlight with its two year civil war and controversial nature of implications of outside intervention, Bahrain’s plight has been lost to the global perspective.
This past Thursday, March 14th, marked the two-year anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s intervention into Bahrain’s protests during the rise of the Arab Spring. Protesters have taken back to the streets in memory of the anniversary of the start of their protests and the memory of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention but also in protest the relative inaction of the residing government. During the start of the protests two years ago the Bahraini monarchy tried to quell protesters with minor appeasements such as freeing a couple hundred anti-government prisoners and making minor political reform. But over the last two years since the small 1.2 million person country entered an increasingly violent round of protests, very little has changed. What is most discouraging to me, is how little has changed for Bahrain in terms of the global conversation being had about their own political and social futures. During the first rounds of protests in Bahrain the global community fixated on sectarian divides in the country instead of the actual message of the protesting base of both Sunnis and Shias. In Madeleine Bunting’s article in The Guardian dated March 20, 2011, a mere month into the protests in Bahrain, her entire focus is on sectarianism of a movement that had self-declared no sectarian focuses or ties. While her concerns were rightly based in Saudi Arabia’s intervention against the sectarian issues they claimed to be dispelling, but were rather fueling, the past two years has shown that the sectarian issues are only issues for the Bahraini government, and that protesters themselves are more concerned with their shared humanity and nationality than their religious and ethnic divisions.
Instead, the real ethnic issue in Bahrain is the global anti-Iranian sentiment. No matter how earnestly the protesters on the Bahraini streets declare it, the overall global sentiment refuses to see their cause as anything other than Iranian influenced terrorism at work. What I see is the inability of the West to see this as a legitimate protest and not as ethnic conflict. The West is too concerned about Iran’s status as the only Shia state in the Middle East combined with the leading Iranian officials’ anti-Semitic policies and attitudes to hear that any movement involving Shia/Sunni divides may not spur sectarian violence within the country, or cause increased tensions and possibly war with Israel in the long run. While I understand the fear the West has for these kinds of cultural strains in a region that has had the most tumultuous last 100 years, I do not understand how that justifies leaving any person in that kind of existing sectarian discrimination.
While yes, the majority of citizens do belong to one ethnic group, and yes that ethnic group has suffered the brunt of ethnically charged discrimination, it does not mean that these protesters are seeking to inflict similar injustice against the ruling party that has discriminated against them. These, for the most part, are everyday citizens who want to see everyday type changes to their lives and the treatment as humans. All I see is a civil rights movement akin to the one that swept the US in the 1960s. To me, these sectarian factors of the movement in Bahrain, and in the movements elsewhere in the region, are not to be feared. That is as illogical now as it was for Americans in the 1960s to believe that those ethnic members of protest movements want to inflict the same kind of ethnically charged harm against those that had been oppressing them. Not only is this fear illogical, but it bespeaks an acknowledgment of the oppressing party of their wrongdoings. Why else would they fear retribution? Why else would they be afraid of allowing true equality if they weren't fearful of how it would “lower” their own status?
Despite what I think is a logical correlation between historical ethnically influenced peaceful protests and the protests continuing in Bahrain, and despite the lack of evidence to prove that ethnicity is a driving factor in Bahrain, the global community is enthralled, fixated, and obsessed with how the Shia majority’s relationship with the protesters could pan out in a reality that doesn't exist. And to the Bahraini citizens’ detriment, it doesn't look like the West is going to allow the focus to shift to the human rights abuses, ethnic discrimination, or the sheer fact of the hypocrisy of being democratic nations actively working to quash pushes for democracy and freedom that are happening in Bahrain now. The best from-the-source take on this ethnic divide that I was able to find was a quote from Maryam al-Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, in The Daily Beast article published March 17th, 2013 and is as follows: 
“When you say it’s a Shia uprising, it is easier to blame Iran than if you
say it’s a Bahraini uprising. People didn't come out because they are Shia.
They came out because they are human beings. They are demanding a
constitution for everyone; they are demanding homes for everyone,
jobs for everyone.” 
As a politically active American youth, it is weird to agree with any idea put forth by Iranian national officials. But in this case, I know the official Iranian position is correct. Last week, while addressing claims of Iranian and Shia involvement in Bahrain, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast explained that the focus on sectarian issues in Bahrain by the monarchy has been the official position “in order to escape from the real problems” of the Bahraini government and the issues of its citizens and continued focus on these nonexistent issues will “bear no results” in improving the country’s current state of affairs or in healing wounds that have torn Bahrain apart, especially over the last two years.


  1. This was interesting. As you said, it is rather strange to openly agree with a rogue state such as Iran. Yes, I would agree that the "ethnic conflict idea" has been given far too much attention; however, the foreign intervention has exacerbated the ethnic divides within Bahrain (thus it has to be given some attention!). You state that the West is unable to see this as a legitimate protest, but lets not forget about the U.S.-Bahrain relations...Although, according to this report diplomatic relations may be different in the future-maybe then we will see a change in the U.S's perception of these protests.

  2. I think one of the most important correlating ideas to your statement about the nearly nonexistent global focus in Bahrain is the tumultuous relationship between the West (especially the U.S.) and the oil rich exporters of the region. The West relies heavily on the oil we receive from Saudi Arabia and the UAE and getting involved in the Bahraini affairs would be interfering with the affairs of Saudi Arabia as well. As we discussed in lecture, Saudi Arabia acts very much like a big brother nation to Bahrain and thus I feel that any international interference in Bahrain to support their movement could cause unintended consequences in our relationship with our oil suppliers. I do agree in addition that labeling this conflict as an ethnic one has allowed for surrounding countries to ignore the repression of the state on the people.