Is the "Bahraini Spring" truly peaceful and non-sectarian?

Screen grab from a video of a protest which took place on April 20 in Bahrain. Men march on one side of the street, and women on the other. 
 
 
In February 2011, Bahrain joined the ranks of countries undergoing an “Arab Spring” revolt. Since then, Bahraini anti-government protesters, like those in Tunisia and Egypt, have sought to present their movement as non-violent and non-sectarian. However, according to some of our Observers, the rift between the country’s Sunnis and Shiites is today at the centre of the rebellion, and protesters are not always as peaceful as the opposition claims.
 
In the past year, a huge gap has opened up between Shiites, who form three quarters of the kingdom’s population, and Sunnis, the sect of the ruling royal family and much of the country’s elite. Protests asking for more democracy and measures to reduce poverty began in February 2011 in Pearl Square, in the capital Manama. During the first marches, protesters carried flowers and described their movement as a peaceful one.
 
Just one month after these demonstrations started, the kingdom’s police began violently cracking down on protesters (read our articles on these events). At least 60 people have been killed in the repression since the beginning of the protests, according to Amnesty International.
 
Faced with such brutality on the part of the police, some protesters started retaliating by throwing Molotov cocktails at them, as can be seen in numerous videos. Violent clashes between police and protesters have occurred on a regular basis ever since, with the police at times throwing Molotov cocktails of their own.
 
Meanwhile, the sectarian dimension of the opposition movement, which is almost exclusively composed of Shiites, has become increasingly apparent. Since the beginning, protesters have highlighted the discrimination faced by the country’s Shiite majority, while at the same time saying that their movement is non-sectarian and open to all Bahrainis. However, Sunnis, even those known to be in favour of democracy, have largely stayed away.
 
Foreign powers have also become involved in the conflict. Troops from the Gulf Co-operation Council – chiefly from Saudi Arabia, where Sunnis make up the majority of the population – travelled to Bahrain back in March 2011 to help the kingdom’s security forces quell protests. Meanwhile, tensions between Iran, a Shiite-majority country, and Bahrain’s royal family have grown, resulting in a series of diplomatic incidents.
 
 
Clashes between young protesters and police on day one of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain. 
Contributors

"In a matter of weeks, the movement started taking on a sectarian dimension"

Abdullah Issa is an IT specialist. He lives in Manama and is Sunni.
 
When the protests began on February 14, 2011, I supported the movement, because I thought their demands were legitimate. These demands were chiefly social and economic: protesters were asking, among other things, for salary hikes and more social housing. These problems affect all Bahrainis.
 
However, in a matter of weeks, the movement started taking on a sectarian dimension, what with Hassan Mushaima’s return to Bahrain [Mushaima, a long-time member of the opposition who was repeatedly convicted on charges relating to his activism and who fled overseas, was granted amnesty in February 2011 and came back to Bahrain]. He quickly became one of the movement’s leaders, even his close ties with Iran are a matter of public knowledge. [Mushaima regularly speaks on Radio Tehran, a state-run station]. Since then, Shiite religious holidays have become major protest days. Because of this sectarianism, I decided to keep my distances with the movement.
 
"It’s a vicious cycle in which violence breeds violence"
 
I think the opposition tried to take advantage of the Arab Spring trend to push its Shiite agenda. The methods used to reach these goals make me uneasy. Young protesters don’t hesitate to use violence: they put up roadblocks to block streets, using tires and wooden planks. They often set the tires on fire, throw Molotov cocktails and pour oil on the roads, putting drivers’ lives at risk. This sort of behaviour sets off violent clashes with the authorities. I’m not saying the authorities are blameless – they have abused their power at times. However, it’s a vicious cycle in which violence breeds violence, and so I believe the police and the rioters share the blame. In neighbourhoods were protests take place, many residents, tired of all this violence, stay shut up indoors.
 
What Shiites don’t realise is that this sectarian turn does not help them achieve their goals – people simply won’t listen to them anymore, even though many of their goals are admirable ones.
 
Young protesters in the streets of Megashaa, Bahrain.

"It would be unfortunate if these protests had the effect of making the country slide backwards"

O.M. is a French expat who has lived in Bahrain for the past eight years. She runs a business there.
 
 
I understand some of the protesters’ demands, but I think their methods have been questionable from the very beginning, even when they were peaceful. They paralyse the capital with their roadblocks, which is terrible for tourism. And sometimes they take out their anger on Pakistani and Indian workers, because the government hires police officers from these countries to help keep the peace here.
 
It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer protesters out in the streets, which proves that many of those who protested in the beginning no longer support the movement. This is the case for several of my Shiite employees.
 
This situation makes me sad, because Bahrain is a much more open-minded nation than many of its neighbours in the Gulf. There are churches here, and foreign women can go out in the street without covering their heads. They can even wear skirts. And Bahraini women have the right to vote. It would be unfortunate if these protests had the effect of making the country slide backwards.
 
 

Comments

Reply to comment | The Observers

Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I in finding It really useful & it helped me out a
lot. I'm hoping to give one thing again and help others like you helped me.

This is the fairest reporting

This is the fairest reporting on the bahrain protests so far god bless u for ur fair and unbiased coverage.

Too many Sunnis who want change in Bahrain for sectarianism

I don't see how tourism matters when a country marginalises and discriminates against the majority of its population.

The people I am in contact with now are the same ones who were protesting a year ago. They have most definitely not changed their thinking in any way. Are you trying to say that people get tired of wanting equality? Not going to happen.

OM's comments are trivial and insulting. What does wearing a skirt have to do with freedom of speech? And the right to vote is somewhat irrelevant when the ruling family is in charge of everything and elections are set up so that they always will be.

While the previous commenters and their friends were enjoying the F1 last weekend, a peaceful protestor was beaten to death by police. His funeral was attended by tens of thousands of citizens, so OM clearly didn't go out at the right time that day.

There is a divide in Bahrain. One that has been manufactured by the regime to terrify their unthinking supporters and placate western powers that want to retain the status quo. Unfortunately, the devil you know isn't always better and this government proves that. Except, of course, for people like OM who probably spend their time swanning around Amwaj and getting their hair done at the Ritz and have made no effort in eight years to see exactly what people are going through.

I know many Sunnis who totally disagree with your comments, Abdulla, so don't play that ridiculous sectarian card that the governments own commission couldn't find any evidence for. The only people I see talking about sectarian issues are people like you. Not sure what your kind of people are. Blind followers? Certainly not seekers of the truth.

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