In the March 28, 2011 online edition of CounterPunch, Arab American Institute President James Zogby authored an article titled “The Roots of Bahrain’s Crisis.” In it, he relays data from a years-old McKinsey & Company survey of middle class residents in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He argues that the economic disparities between citizens of the first two nations and the “distressed” ones in the latter were “yellow flags” heralding Bahrain’s current unrest.
Mr. Zogby writes:
“We found that not only are Bahrain’s neighbours in Saudi Arabia and the UAE wealthier … their citizens are also more satisfied with their current status and more optimistic about their prospects for the future.
Bahrainis report being less satisfied with their jobs and the salaries they receive, and give lower grades to government services than their neighbours in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.”
Nowhere in his essay, however, does he describe or even mention the “red flags” of institutionalized sectarian discrimination, exclusionary governmental policies leading to the socioeconomic and political disenfranchisement of the country’s majority Shia population, the fast-track citizenship given to non-Bahrainis to fill the ranks of the security services, torture, or the al-Khalifa regime’s brutality in crushing pro-democracy movements in the past.
Sanitizing what Bahrainis have endured over decades to a mere survey of job satisfaction and happiness with government services is both disingenuous and deceptive.
If Mr. Zogby wants to address the “roots of Bahrain’s crisis” he would do well to note that the 70% Shia population fill none of the senior posts in the Ministry of Defense, National Guard, Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Supreme Defense Council, Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, the General Organization for Youth and Sports, the Royal Court, the Crown Prince Court, the Central Informatics Organization, and the Survey and Land Registration Bureau.
Likewise, they form a only five percent of the judiciary corps, 16 percent of the diplomatic corps, seven percent of the Ministry of Transportation, 18 percent of the Constitutional Court, 10 percent of the Ministry of Finance and six percent of the Ministry of Information (Source: Bahrain Center for Human Rights). Their representation in the public sector is equally dismal.
Of the 1,000 employees in the National Security Apparatus (NSA), more than two-thirds are non-Bahraini (largely Jordanian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Pakistani nationals) and overwhelmingly Sunni. Bahraini Shia citizens constitute less than five percent of the NSA and occupy only low-level positions or act as paid informants. The paramilitary Special Security Forces (SSF) operates under NSA supervision and numbers 20,000—90 percent of whom are non-Bahraini. A single Bahraini Shia member is not counted among them.
These imported mercenaries are the ones who rampaged through Manama’s Pearl Roundabout on two separate occasions over the past six weeks, beating peaceful, unarmed and defenseless protestors encamped there. Before their violent eviction, Pearl Roundabout was the epicenter of calls for free elections, release of political prisoners, fairness in distribution in jobs and housing, freedom of the press and religion, an end to the regime’s routine use of torture, and ultimately a transition to a constitutional monarchy. It was the SSF who pulled patients out of rooms in Salmaniya Hospital to continue the beatings, as they did to ambulance drivers, treating paramedics and doctors.
The “roots” of Bahrain’s crisis”?
What of the citizenship laws, granting non-Bahraini Sunnis expedited citizenship and voting rights in a backdoor attempt to alter the state’s confessional makeup? This allows the government to gerrymander districts to ensure a popular majority is not translated into a parliamentary one (the toothless powers of the legislature notwithstanding).
The “roots of Bahrain’s crisis”?
Why no mention of Bandargate: the 2006 scandal that erupted after Dr. Saleh al-Bander, an adviser to the minister of cabinet affairs, authored a 240-page report which detailed how the monarchy hired operatives to rig elections, formed intelligence rings to spy on Bahraini Shias, incited sectarian hatred by disparaging them in the media and subsidized Shia to Sunni conversions?
Mr. Zogby also turns a blind eye to the humiliating and unrelenting crackdown on Bahrainis currently underway (note photo from the hyperlinked AP report).
How many more YouTube videos must we watch of protestors killed with live ammunition or shot point-blank? How many stories of 20-year-old girls being hunted down for having had recited a poem at Pearl Roundabout do we have to read? Or the arrest of bloggers like Mahmoud al-Yousif whose non-sectarian motto of “No Shia, No Sunni, just Bahraini” was deemed threatening? Or of physicians like Dr. Abdul Khalaq al-Oraibi, detained after criticizing the government for the lack of access to medical care for those wounded by security forces?
Since the king put Bahrain under martial law on March 16, more than 350 people are in custody and scores remain missing.
But Mr. Zogby’s disturbing comments are reserved for the end of his piece. Almost lauding the March 14 GCC invasion of Bahrain by the Peninsula Shield force, he writes:
“In this area, Bahrain’s neighbours have a key role to play. Earlier this year, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members made a commitment of long-term financial assistance to Bahrain. And now they have sent troops into the country, deepening their commitment to their neighbour and fellow member.
As that occurs, the GCC can design a more comprehensive economic package for Bahrain — an incentive to move the reform process forward, and a sign of GCC solidarity with the Bahraini people and government.”
I doubt a single Bahraini Shia, or anyone who believes in the right to freely elect one’s representatives or lead a dignified life, would say that the arrival of these forces to put down those calling for democratic reforms was a friendly gesture, as he intimates. These troops and the 100 tanks that accompanied them have worked alongside Bahrain’s own paramilitary units to suppress dissent, intimidate, and instill fear. This is apparently what Mr. Zogby refers to as the “GCC solidarity with the Bahraini people.”
International silence on Bahrain is shameful. But for a prominent Arab-American figure who regularly encourages the community’s participation in the United States political process to neglect past and current repression in Bahrain—at the expense of those yearning for the same freedoms—is inexcusable.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.