Friday, July 01, 2011

Bahrain's Growing Sectarianism

Laurence Louer argues that the current crackdown in Bahrain shows sectarian tendencies that are an important break with the past:
"It would be an error to think that the Al Khalifa’s constituency is only to be found among the Sunni population; Shi’i Bahrainis are riven by numerous internal divides that translate into different political attitudes. Shi’i businessmen, who play a major role in funding and organizing popular religiosity and are very much attached to their Shi’i identity, share corporate interests with their Sunni counterparts. Both are tied to state elites by patronage networks still largely headed by the immovable Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been in office since 1971.

"The 76-year-old prime minister has the reputation of placing personal loyalty to himself above sectarian identity in granting protection. In this regard, he is in line with the traditional positioning of the Al Khalifa who—contrary to their Saudi protectors—have typically displayed a liberal attitude towards religion. The princes and strongmen of the dynasty have contributed to the financing of popular Shi’i rituals and to the renovation of mosques and husseiniyyat (places where the Shi’a celebrate important festivals). In Bahrain, the ninth and tenth days of the month of Muharram (when the Shi’a celebrate the martyrdom of their Imam Hussein) are public holidays and the rulers have always maintained good relations with many among the traditional clerics.

"Even so, the monarchy’s crackdown on the 2011 uprising confirms that it is moving away from these enlightened positions. The counter-demonstrations initiated by the regime have been headed by Sunni religious scholars who have explicitly tried to mobilize sectarian solidarity by presenting the demonstrators as Shi’a acting on behalf of Iran. In May there were alarming reports of vandalism in more than forty Shi’i shrines, mosques, and cemeteries, some of which were destroyed on government orders. Meanwhile, a Sunni sectarian movement called the National Unity Gathering called for the boycott of Shi’i businesses in the city of Madinat Hamad."

Based on Louer's reputation I assume this is true, but wonder how different it is from Bahrain's Shi'ite uprising in the mid-1990's, as well as whether these tactics show Saudi influence.



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