It's about time we all admit it. The main issue in Bahrain nowadays is the sectarianism issue, or shia/sunni Bahrani/houli/3ejmi/bedouin divide. In fact, it might not even be much to say now that Bahrain has become a sectarian society.
If anyone expects me to be politically correct and write in froothy liberal terms about how perfect the situation in Bahrain is and that there is no segregation between anyone, then read no further.
This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, people could argue that Bahrain has had sectarian issues since time immemorial. It has taken a very serious turn in the nineties, however, when the troubles that emerged were mainly on sectarian lines. From then on, the sectarian issue has stayed, although it has been kept under a tight lid and remained behind the shadows. People would speak about it between themselves, but it did not come out that much in the open.
What is striking about this is how most supporters of each side have fallen in terms of sectarian lines. Those who support Mohammed Khalid's stand are mostly sunni. Those who support Al Aali's stand are most shia. Those who support the ejection of the journalist are mostly sunni. Those who support the journalist are mostly shia.
On the same line, most of those who supported Al Khawaja were shia, while most of the sunnis remained silent on the issue. Then you have 3akeel Swar fanning the flames by criticizing Al Sistani, and Al Mousawi falling into his trap and hitting back. The sectarian issue is out in the open.
Why is this? The reason, as i see it, is one outlined before in the now idle Reflections from Canada blog, in a post titled "Email from an American Aid worker in Afghanistan." Muslims cannot imagine that the ghastly crimes committed are committed by muslims, so they lay the blame on Americans. Americans cannot imagine that their troops or government does much wrong, so they lay the blame on muslims. Basically, each side knows its own side very well, and cannot imagine it doing wrong acts. Hence, the other side is blamed.
The same is occuring in Bahrain. People see a conflict that arises mainly out of sectarian issues, and naturally people fall on sectarian lines. Your instict is that the "other" side is the one whose mistaken, so you fall into line with your own side.
One can see the development of this trend over the last four years. If one looks at the support of the political parties, one sees the same pattern. The support of Al Menbar and Al Asalah is overwhelmingly sunni (I'd be highly surprised if there is a single shia person who voted for them), and the same is seen in Al Wefaq. The parties that try not to play on a sectarian line, such as the National Democratic Action Society or (the other) Al Menbar, have only nominal support.
In an environment dominated by sectarian issues, or that of "them against us", this is only natural. Questions of right and wrong take second seat, and people align themselves with their group. Again to try and draw an analogy with the Arab/American situation. One is faced with two opposing alternatives, and naturally one falls in line with the one that represents his group (more on that in the next post). The people who try to advocate a middle solution lose out, such as the parties mentioned above. Basically, you are faced with two polar opposing alternatives, defined on sectarian grounds, and naturally, you are drawn, or maybe I should say forced, to fall in line with your own sect.
Anyone who now says that the sectarian issue does not play an important, if not the main role, in Bahraini society today is either outright lying, or sadly dillusional. You feel it everywhere. I am sure every Bahraini reader here knows at least one person who would go "those ba7arna..." or "those houla..." or "those 3ajam" .. etc...
People of a certain sect would think twice before entering living areas of the other sect, and vice versa. For example,I would definitely think twice before entering certain areas of Bahrain. Furthermore, I have a name that is not one of the favoured names of the other sect, and although I'm yet to do it, I have seriously thought in certain situations of saying my name is "muhammed" instead of saying my real name, just to avoid people getting the wrong impression. I've experienced it quite a few times that when I say my name, people would, at best, pause for a second and put on a fake smile, or at worst, just put on a scorning face and ignore me.
Even more, I'd have people who are from the same sect as me, but still look down on you since you are considered "not from their same origin." I'm sure everyone else has a similar story to tell about facing some sort of discrimination at one point.
These sort of differences, I imagine, have always existed in Bahrain. Lately, however, they have taken a dangerous turn, where political activity has become based on sectarian issues. One only has to read the comments and replies on the montadayats to see how bad the situation has become.
Of course, the situation has yet to reach melting point, or in more crude terms, the shit is yet to hit the fan. That would be for a situation similar to the civil war that engulfed lebanon to erupt. We are, thankfully, still a long way from that, and, I hope, we will never reach that point.
The situation has reached a level to make one worry, however. The sectarian issue has become the dominant force in Bahrain nowadays, where it seems everything is dictated by it. The sunnis say we are not going to sign the petition since it's a shia petition. The shia say that all the problems in bahrain or because of the sunnis. The sunnis say all the troubles that bahrain has faced is from the shia. Every person now is seen in the light of whether he's a sunni or a shi3i, and his actions are interpreted as stemming from that issue.
What has made this such a big issue? To be honest I'm no expert to comment on it. Obviously the government's actions has played quite a big role in this. Decades of favouring sunnis over shias in everything, from employment to giving lands, have taken their toll. Furthermore, the government played on the sectarian line when the parliament issue erupted once again in the nineties, scaring the sunni population that this was an Iranian sponsored shia conspiracy.
Nowadays, however, the issue has spun out of the governments control, and it has snowballed into someting that it no longer can handle. In fact, I would suspect that the (at least some factions in it) government would not like to see the tensions rise any further, as that could entail an eruption of trouble once again. Nowadays the problem is being flamed by people on both sides of the sectarian divide, with the government unable to do anything about it. I urge people to go to the many montadayat on the net, or even just to talk to random people, to see how bad the situation has become.
Is there any good thing that arises of this issue becoming so overt and coming into the open? Surprisingly, I think there is.
In the not too distant pass, the issue did dictate a lot of people's actions, but talking about it was always in hush tones and behind closed doors. Everyone knew it existed, but no one admitted it openly. Now it is out in the open, where people can discuss it.
Admittedly, this is mostly a bad thing, since now the sectarian issue overrides everything else. One small good thing, however, is that now we can discuss it, and admit that it is a big problem. The first step to finding a solution to the problem is to admit there is a problem, and discuss it openly.
The other good thing is that invariantly when a conflict erupts on a sectarian lie, people begin to tire of it, and begin to look for other solutions. The only kind of solution for this kind of conflict is either for one group to overpower and defeat the other, or for both groups to say this is going nowhere, let's put the past behind us, and let's find an alternative peaceful solution. Inevitably, a need for alternatives to the parties and movements that have defined themselves on sectarian lines is created, and duly parties that do have non-sectarian agendas will come to the fore again.
Obviously, the situation has to become tense enough for people to say this that this is not worth it, and that we need another way. There is usually a storm before the sunshine. I do hope however, that the situation does not have to boil over, and that the Bahraini people are smart enough to find an alternative solution before things get really serious. Either way, however, we will eventually realize that each side has a lot of accusations that can level on the other side, and the only way forward is to have the guts enough to accept responsibility on both sides and be willing to forgive each other for our misdeeds.
The time is ripe now for societies with non-sectarian agendas to rise once again.