Bahraini Shi'a demanding their rights. Credit: Catherine Shakdam.
Bahrainis rose up against Al Khalifa royals in 2011, emboldened by the Arab Spring movement, to demand that profound social and judicial reforms be implemented in order to reflect people’s democratic aspirations. Since then the state has targeted the Shi’a community, using repression and oppression to silence calls for freedom and social justice. Feeling threatened by Bahrain’s Shi’a majority, the Al Khalifa royals, who are themselves Sunni Muslims, have transposed their fear of change onto their people, keen to ignite anti-Shi’ite sentiment as they believe only this strategy will allow them to maintain their power.
What the regime has failed to understand thus far is that activists do not seek to use their faith as a springboard for political advancement. What they have tirelessly campaigned for, however, is complete social inclusion, beyond one’s race, political affiliation or faith.
Home to an estimated 361,696 Shi’a Muslims (which represents over 85 percent of Bahrain’s total population), the state simply cannot continue to hold an entire people under the shackles of fear. Persecuted by the security forces, vilified by the media, Bahrain’s Shi’a community is awaiting vindication.
Shi’a Rights Watch, a prominent rights organization based in Washington D.C., has called on the international community and all GCC countries to immediately intervene in Bahrain by demanding that Al Khalifa be made to answer to allegations of torture and aggravated human rights abuses. “Bahrain’s Shi’a community has been made to live in fear since 2011. An entire people have been persecuted, hunted down, their places of worship defiled, their residences broken into, their children abused and their people unlawfully imprisoned. How many people will have to die before the world choses to take a stand against anti-Shi’ism?” said SRW in a statement.
national opposition leaders wrote a letter to underscore the need for a
comprehensive and meaningful dialogue away from any social bias and ethnic
“We appreciate the UN efforts to achieve international peace and security and respect for human rights. We are particularly grateful for the UN’s willingness to find a solution for the Bahraini crisis since its eruption in 2011. Today, the Authority is still unwilling to solve the political crisis. The Authority’s misuse of power is threatening the majority of citizens on political and sectarian grounds. We fear that Bahrain may turn into a regional sectarian battle ground due to the Authority’s practice of religious and political persecution wrapped in security agreements.”
Determined to shed light on the real crisis which has plagued Bahrain since 2011, when activists first braved the regime by calling for reforms, Bahraini opposition leaders brought back the discussion to anti-Shi’ism, Bahrain’s own dirty little secret. As they note in the letter:
“The Bahraini authorities have imported security forces on a sectarian basis to repress citizens demanding democratic transition. This has produced regional polarization through categorizing victims on each side by their sect…The systematic religious persecution practiced against Shi’a citizens, and non-Shi’a dissidents demanding reform, is a serious threat to regional peace and security and fuels sectarian conflict.”
Activists in Bahrain have been disappointed and somewhat bewildered by the international community, as so far no real action or even condemnation of Al Khalifa’s barbaric methods against its own people has been voiced in a meaningful manner. Regardless, Bahraini revolutionaries have vowed to remain true to their peaceful ways, in keeping with their desire to see a peaceful and vibrant democratic state where all individuals’ inherent human rights will be respected.