Middle East: Bahrain bleeds for liberty

Sunnis and Shias seeing red

Just before the Arab revolt erupted across the region there was much talk about how minorities in the Middle East we being mistreated. Of course such concerns were not unfounded, but many vocal critics never really cared for finding real solutions nor did they give much attention to the plight of minorities elsewhere around the world. In fact, they often were the very same people who encouraged abusing minorities in Europe and the US.

Minorities in the Arab world (and elsewhere) continued to suffer. However, what has really been missed was that the majorities in most Arab countries felt they were discriminated against more than anyone else. The signs were always there but few bothered to report it till the uprisings that swept the region left no room for doubt.

In Bahrain, a persecuted majority has literally been bleeding for equality and now, after days of anti-regime protests, dare dream of democracy. Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets and so called analysts have failed to report the protests in Bahrain as a people’s struggle for democracy and equal rights.

Instead, they sought to stress the sectarian divides of the country, even though the protesters were calling for Sunni-Shiite unity against dictatorship. Analysts were also too preoccupied with the implications a democratic Bahrain would have on Saudi Arabia (negative) and on Iran (positive) – as if it is OK to deny Bahrainis their basic human rights just because that might not sit well regionally.

The role of the US in all of this is, of course, also crucial. The Fifth Fleet, a major US Navy base, has been in Bahrain for 63 years. As seven Bahrainis were killed following police crackdown on protesters, the US praised the monarchy for taking “positive steps” to reach out to demonstrators.

During a visit to Bahrain, the top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen reaffirmed Washington’s support for King Hamad’s “handling (of) the popular crisis” and “strong commitment” to Bahrain’s army. Mullen said his visit to the Gulf was aimed at “reaffirming, reassuring and also trying to understand where the leaderships of these countries are going, and in particular in Bahrain.”

But despite US calls for “restraint”, I do not see the people of Bahrain being reassured.

Some analysts fear that a democratic Bahrain would give Iran more influence in the region. This is ironic since many of those who claim to want total democracy for Iran do not wish that same privilege for the people of Bahrain, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq (and elsewhere) precisely because they think that would benefit Iran.

But why would a free and democratic Bahrain threaten anyone’s ‘legitimate’ interests? Freedom and equality in Bahrain serve first and foremost the people of Bahrain. The majority of the people of Bahrain are the legitimate voice of Bahrain; they cannot – by default – betray Bahrain. Nor do they wish any trouble in the region.

Saudi Arabia urged Bahraini’s opposition “to be reasonable in proposing their ideas, and accept what was offered by the government.” This is the same Saudi Arabia that said it rejects foreign intervention in Bahrain’s affairs and pledged its backing to the regime in Manama.

But which of the opposition demands or slogans by protesters at Pear Square run against the interest of the people of Saudi Arabia (or any people for that matter)? None. Read some of them for yourself:

– “No Sunni, no Shiite, we are Bahraini!”
– “We are brothers, Sunnis and Shiites. We shall not abandon this country.”
– “Did you hear anybody raising a sectarian demand, or a demand for one part of the people of Bahrain?”
– “The time has come for true unity.”
– “We want a real consitutional monarchy”
– “We want an elected government.”
– “We want the people to write their constitution themselves through an elected council.”
– “The people should choose their government.”
– “We want a parliamentary, democratic regime — a regime with a free parliament elected by the free will of the people, and this parliament will form a government.”
– “People here are demanding democracy, and fair distribution of wealth, and these demands are for all the people.”

Reform in Bahrain promises to bring improvements to the lives of the majority of people in that island. But more importantly, a free and democratic Bahrain should be good news for the people of the region, the people of Saudi Arabia and even the people of United States.

(Photo: Mahmood Al-Yousif)

Mamoon Alabbasi is a news editor and translator based in London. His op-eds, reports, poetry, and reviews have appeared in a number of media outlets.

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