The fabrication of Bahrain’s Shiite-Sunni divide

Shirin Sadeghi writes:

Bahrain, like so many other countries in the region and in the world, is just another victim of British mapmaking, American business interests and the seedy intersection of these forces. For centuries, the British have supported the Al Khalifa Sunni tribe — a family originating in the Saudi peninsula — as rulers of Bahrain, inserting themselves into any possibility of the Al Khalifa family aligning itself with Iran, or with the interests of the Bahraini people over and above the interests of business and power.

Because of the close relationship between the Bahraini people and Iran, the encouragement of sectarian divisions has been a primary tool for sustaining a power structure that is favorable to Western corporate and strategic interests.

Little hints in daily Bahraini life belie the essential failure of this approach and the deep resentments it has germinated, however. Just attend a soccer match in Bahrain between Bahrain and Iran and you’ll find a noticeable imbalance of cheers and support for the Iranian side. The native population is full of Ajam (ethnic Iranians of Shiite and Sunni faiths who still speak Farsi or a creole of Farsi and Arabic in their homes), Howala (people who migrated to Iran, then returned to Bahrain — many of whom are ethnically Iranian, as well, and therefore also speak Farsi or a Farsi creole), and Baharna (Arab Shiites who naturally have an affinity for Shiite Iran).

The Al Khalifa family’s Saudi roots are never forgotten in a region of the world where tribal ancestry has religious significance. The fact that the Al-Khalifas have now openly used Saudi troops against the Bahraini protesters proves that they, too, have not forgotten.

For generations, the Al-Khalifa government has made it a priority to prevent large segments of the Bahraini population from having a say in their government and their military, proving that the Al-Khalifa colonial implant has been serving its purpose to a tee. Native Bahrainis of Iranian ancestry or who are Shiite are prohibited from serving in the government — with the exception of a few benign ministries — and from serving in the military and security forces. They also face discrimination in education and employment opportunities — all this in a country where they are in fact the majority.

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