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Since Bahrain’s uprising against absolute monarchal rule began in the wake of last year’s Arab Spring, the al-Khalifa regime has brazenly trampled over the civil and human rights of its people. This past week it stripped 31 citizens of their nationality, effectively leaving them stateless and in legal limbo. Repealing citizenship signals that increasingly desperate measures are being employed by the government to quell the as-yet undeterred rebellion.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency announced the Ministry of Interior’s decree:
According to clause (c) of Article (10) of the Citizenship Law which permits the re-evaluation of nationality when a holder of the Bahraini citizenship causes damage to state security, the Bahraiin citizenship of the following individuals have been revoked:
Among those listed were lawyers, clerics, former MPs, opposition figures and political activists. Most were Bahrainis of Persian origin (Ajam), others the island’s ethnic Arab inhabitants (Baharna). Some currently reside in Bahrain, many are already in exile.
The Western media chose to identify the activists as “Shi’ite.” Unfortunately they succumbed to reporting the story through the same sectarian prism characteristic of the al-Khalifa worldview, which is to classify everyone based on religious affiliation. Doing so immediately shifts focus away from the legitimacy of political demands to non-existent religious ones. It also plays into the insinuated, ulterior motives of which the Shia community has traditionally been accused.
The message was not subtle: the monarchy determines who is a citizen, loyal to its edicts and unchallenged rule, and who is not. And it is the island’s Shia Muslims, forming its overwhelmingly majority, who are considered the disloyal and untrustworthy—the proverbial “fifth column.” The escalating rhetoric of the United States and Gulf Cooperation Countries toward Iran provided adequate cover to single out the Ajam.
This is ironic, considering the al-Khalifa family themselves are not indigenous to Bahrain. They first came to the island as pirates from al-Zubarah, on the northwest coast of Qatar. This is why many protest signs carry the slogan telling them, “your ziarah (visit) is over, go back to al-Zubarah!”
Historical origins should be put aside however. They likewise obfuscate the present-day intimidation and violence perpetrated against those peacefully seeking reform and accountability in government. What cannot be overlooked however, is the Citizenship Law cited by the Interior Ministry.
It is this law which gives expedited citizenship to Sunni, non-Bahraini nationals (largely from North Africa, Syria and Pakistan) who are then employed exclusively in the country’s security services. This law codifies the regime’s policy of sectarian manipulation and gerrymandering, a backdoor attempt to alter the island’s demographics by diluting the number of Shia Muslims.
The “outside interference” canard has also been used to accuse Hezbollah and Iran of acting on behalf of the Shia, as if 21 months of a brutal crackdown were not enough to engender mass discontent. The opposition and imprisoned leaders like Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, on the other hand, never talk of religious school but speak the language of dignity, justice and ending the political and socioeconomic repression of all Bahrainis.
Despite mass arrests, torture and show trials to which the United States and other Western nations have turned a blind eye, the Bahraini royal family has failed to halt protests calling for free, fair and elected representation. To repeal and annul one’s nationality will similarly fail as have all previous measures. The cause for which Bahrainis strive is far higher than being called an obedient subject of a dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for more than two centuries.
When their efforts are successful, the al-Khalifa family will not be stripped of their citizenship for even they will be accorded that privilege. They will instead be stripped of their crowns and thrones, put on trial, and made to answer for the crimes committed against their people … Bahraini, Baharna, Ajam, Sunni and Shia alike.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.