Protests in Bahrain are About Citizen Rights not Identity Politics

Le mouvement de protestation s’est poursuivi, dimanche 13 mars, à Manama, la capitale de Bahreïn. Pour le journaliste Abbas Al-Murshid, il ne s’agit pas d’une revendeication identitaire des chiites, proche de l’Iran, mais une revendication pour les droits civiques fondamentaux. Le commentaire a été écrit pour l’organisation Arab Reform Initiative.

Does the current mobilization in Bahrain have a sectarian dimension ? The sectarian composition of Bahrain in itself imposes this question, given the nature of the ruling political regime. In the current protest however, any talk of a sectarian minority and majority has lost much of its relevance as there is a national consensus over the demand for introducing the concept of citizenry to replace the condition of subjects which we currently have. All protesters insist on the key principles of the transfer of power and the separation of powers.

The speeches given by members of the February 14th movement in Pearl Square have a clear democratic and nationalist content with an inclusive discourse in which all sections of the people can relate to a common nationalist identity. The revolution has succeeded – for the second time in the history of Bahrain, after the movement of the Executive Committee in 1954 – to demonstrate that a national identity exists that can embrace the full spectrum of the people.

The official media and political propaganda overseen by the state however have had some success in inverting the equation. They established the theory that the government in Bahrain is Sunni and must remain so. For this purpose, they supported the establishment of sectarian entities so that these could claim to have specifically Sunni demands, different from those of the opposition forces. The real character of the political regime however is that it is authoritarian and autocratic and that it has no association with sectarianism or with the division of society into Sunnis and Shiites.

It is this nationalist and democratic nature of the movement that has whetted the appetite for direct intervention by some regional actors. These seek to contain the impact of the pro-change movement or to eliminate it before it lights the wick of desire for change in all the region’s states. This strategy of mobilizing along sectarian lines is likely to cause sectarian rallying against the movement’s demands.

There will also probably be attempts to tag it on to the theory of Iranian expansionism and to exploit the Shiite element within the movement. The Shiites being the biggest population group in Bahrain are also very prominent in the movement. The regime will likely be able to utilize this fact to discredit the movement, particularly as the Shiite majority in Bahrain is considered a minority within the demographics of the Persian Gulf. This is what supports allegations of an Iranian connection or sectarian incitement, despite the absence of any real evidence of it. The Bahraini government has not been able to convince its American allies of the involvement of any outside forces in Bahrain.