By Sarah Jawad
I had given up hope in the Arab nations, when the spring of 2011 came about and knocked us all off our feet. Finally the people were standing up and seizing power by themselves. The strings of fate were in their hands, and not in those of the US or the UK, playing puppet master to yet another Arab country’s toy. Finally the masses were writing their own destiny, and who would have thought that a small incident in Tunisia could have sparked it all off? I have never been more proud to be Arab.
The removal of Mubarak especially was a victory which united the fractured Middle East in unanimous joy. It inspired the largely oppressed Arab nations to rise up one by one. After all if Tunisia and Egypt could do it, why couldn’t they? Libya. Yemen. Jordan. Iraq. Syria. Bahrain…..oh Bahrain was involved? Because you would be forgiven for forgetting that the tiny island state had any part to play in the domino effect of the uprisings, let alone experiencing oppression and cruelty at the hands of the state.
When peaceful demonstrations began, they were aimed at achieving greater political freedom and equality for the majority Shia population; Over 70% of the population are Shia but are ruled entirely by Sunni Muslims. This in itself is not the problem; rather, it is the discrimination faced at the hands of this government that has no place in a free and democratic world. Equal opportunity does not exist in Bahrain, with legal distinctions being such that, in parts of the country, Shia Muslims are banned from employment in the police and the armed forces, with almost all high profile government and judicial roles being forbidden for Shia citizens. Bahrain’s Shia population fills barely 13% of senior positions in the country, most of which are either in service, or non-prevailing, institutions. Furthermore, there have been overt efforts to alter the demographics in Bahrain, with the government systematically encouraging immigration of Sunni Muslims from other countries. This is particularly discriminatory given that many Shia neighbourhoods in Bahrain face chronic disadvantages and poverty.
It is not the religious schism that is the main issue; rather it is this unashamed marginalisation of more than two thirds of the population, essentially classing them as second or third class citizens in their own country. One can see the reasoning behind calls for change. The protests endeavoured to be secular, and were comprised of both Sunni and Shia. The government retaliated with a deadly night raid on the 17th February, at Bahrain’s very own Tahrir square, the Pearl roundabout. So began the calls to end King Hamad’s rule, the subsequent declaration of martial law, and the entry of the Justice League, essentially Saudi Arabia – troops from the most ethically stunted country in the Middle East, brought in by a King to fire on his own people. The Arab Spring of Revolution is turning into the Saudi Summer of Oppression. It could almost be a film title – Arab Wars 2: The Empire Strikes Back. Literally.
I joke with the utmost bitterness, because the reports and videos of what is happening in this tiny country are truly haunting: nurses and doctors interrogated, tortured and mysteriously ‘disappearing’ for treating those injured in the protests; mosques attacked, because even the holy and sacred are no longer exempt; prohibition of reporters and pictures of any kind. It is only through the use of social networking sites that glimpses of the truth are able to leak through.
And yet, perhaps the most upsetting thing is the silence it has been met with. Where is the media furore? The angry reporting, headlines, and even the empty ‘how dare they, let’s talk about democracy’ speeches from the western world? Al Jazeera’s superb coverage of the Egypt revolution was a world away from their mediocre reporting on Bahrain’s protests, a decision almost certainly sanctioned by the Qatari government. Whilst the West demonised and vilified Gaddafi, the Bahraini royals were sent their invites to the Royal Wedding. Perhaps worse, where is the support from the fellow Arabs? Bahrain is an odd ball in its neighbourhood as a Shia majority country, and using this fact, many (particularly Saudi news agencies) have disingenuously amped up the idea that the protests are pro-Shia, as opposed to pro justice.
I am reminded of Iraq in 1991, the revolution that history forgot. Much the same as happened in Egypt took place there. The people rose up against a psychopathic brute of a dictator, and were on the brink of victory. But, hypocritically, the US turned their backs on them; far more profitable than allowing for a nation of Arabs to dictate their own future was to keep in place a dictator they had chosen. The media looked on, as did the other Arab countries. Iraq was alone, and the backlash was so fierce that witnesses described seeing roads of dead bodies, with the tarmac barely visible.
Bahrain is not a sectarian issue. It is a human rights issue. The people asked for greater representation, and instead were shot upon. They demonstrated, and extra troops were then brought in from a neighbouring country. The aftermath is sad indeed – a cousin who used to live in Bahrain went back after the protests to visit her former home. She described Manama as a ghost town. The people have changed irrevocably, she relayed; some remain too scared to leave their houses at night due to their involvement in the protests. The country had been transformed over a matter of weeks, and yet the discrimination continues. Here is to the people of Bahrain, and to a better future for all countries suffering the burden of oppression.
Sarah Jawad is a medical student at King’s College London.
Photo Credits : http://www.news.com.au
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