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Bahrain and colonialism

It is a slow news day; in the UN Security Council a resolution on Syria isn’t taking the shape America would prefer, according to Al Jazeera.  In Bahrain, the appeals of sentenced protesters were rejected.

So today I want to post an Al Jazeera piece from early September.  The author argues that the portrayal of Bahrain as split between Shi’a and Sunni is an over-simplification, and that rather Bahrain should be understood as struggling with colonialism, where the colonial British have set up a proxy authority (now controlled by the US and the Saudis) that happens to be Sunni in a place that happens to be populated by Shi’a.

The so-called sectarian divide of Bahrain is a manipulative simplification of a far greater divide: that of the colonially-installed government that has no connection with or compassion for the people of Bahrain. The Saudis are there to preserve Anglo-American power as they do in Saudi Arabia. They are Sunni. The people they rule over are primarily Shia.

These are the kinds of tensions the British specialized in and the Americans are taking advantage of in so many parts of the world. It’s an insidious approach to world affairs. Coupled with nonstop mainstream media portrayals of sectarian divides amongst the population, it has been a successful model for damaging the locals, their reputation, and their chances of getting the help they actually need.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect from Bahrain.  If the US and Saudi Arabia really are determined to support the Al Khalifa family out of fear of growing Iranian influence, among other factors, then international pressure wont mount.  If the army really has been carefully maintained to be all Sunni, then I can’t see the army switching its support from the government to the opposition, which I view as the critical step in any revolution.  So what is the best to hope for?  That the Khalifa family voluntarily relaxes its policies regarding the Shi’a population?  The other challenge activists face is that Bahrain is not a poor country.  It is not Qatar-rich, but it is not Yemen-poor either, so the desperation that plays a part in motivating other protest movements around the region may not exist in Bahrain.  Do we root for Iran to succeed in stirring up dissent?



One Response

  1. He has a very salient point. Many years ago I visited Bahrain and convinced my Qatari (Sunni) friends to take a drive outside of Manama and around some little towns. They were fairly nervous when we came across lots of tire burning and restive youth. Later I spoke to some Shia Bahrainis and they referred to such happenings as their own Intifada, equating their struggle to the Palestinians vis-a-vis Israeli occupation, another Anglo-American “colony”.

    The complication is that the oppressor and the oppressed are both Arabs and that there really is an ages long sectarian divide. Up to now, this analysis seems more cogent, but with the recent GCC actions to shore up the Khalifas and the “Shia Revival” in Iraq and elsewhere, the Sunni regimes seem likely to succeed in creating the violent sectarian rift they fear.

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