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.