Beneath Bahrain’s Shia-versus-Sunni narrative, only the tyrants benefit

Maryam al-Khawaja writes: When you pick up the day’s newspaper, it is not likely that you will find much coverage of the ongoing popular revolt in Bahrain. But on the off chance that Bahrain is mentioned, it is almost certain that two words will jump at you: Sunni and Shia. It is even more likely you will see some mention of a Shia revolt against a Sunni monarchy.

This is unfortunate; a very complicated situation is expediently packaged into a soundbite-like myth. That narrative is ahistorical and dangerous because, like all myths, there is a grain of truth to it.

Last year, when Bahrain’s revolution began, it was not about sects. Sunnis, Shia along with Bahrain’s “sushis” (people of mixed background), non-Muslims, atheists; all came together in Bahrain’s version of Tahrir – Pearl Square. Their unifying demand was for a constitutional monarchy to be established in Bahrain. The people were demanding that the king honour his lofty reform promises made when he inherited the position from his Emir father.

This was the third act in a struggle predating the so-called Arab spring. It had started in the 1990s when the people of Bahrain had their own uprising largely forgotten in the west. Then, their demand was a return to Bahrain’s more democratic 1973 constitution that gave people a real parliament. Instead, thousands of citizens were arrested and imprisoned. Dozens were killed, many under torture.

In 1999 that cycle was interrupted as Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa inherited power from his late father amid soaring hopes of reconciliation and reform. His first act was to announce a referendum promising to establish a constitutional monarchy. [Continue reading…]

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