Playing the sectarian card

March 21, 2011 10:41 pm8 commentsViews: 1

Every time I sit down to write an article another expression of people power erupts somewhere within the Arab world, so it’s hard to know where to begin. The most exhilarating thing for me has been the unity displayed in these amazing popular movements; there’s been no room for sectarianism, sexism, ageism or any other ism. It truly has been all for one and one for all.
When I walked through Tahrir Square at the height of the Egyptian revolution and saw the spirit of brotherhood between Christians and Muslims with my own eyes, I was moved to tears. For years, the destructive regime of Hosni Mubarak had sought to keep the two faith communities apart and now there is sinister evidence from secret Ministry of Interior documents that it was Mubarak’s henchmen who planted bombs in Coptic churches to fuel the sectarianism that pitted Muslim against Christian. However, the Egyptian people broke free from such divisive tyranny and came together in a unity that transcended religions, cultures, gender and generations. This was a revolution for all, with no discrimination between people of faith and those of no faith.

You would have thought that this would be a universal cause for celebration but it wasn’t. In some privileged circles in the Arab world the fixed smiles disguised contained rage. Revolutions of the kind we’ve seen reshape the Arab world threaten the rich, their fabulous lifestyles and their often brutal grip on power. For decades, these tyrants, despots and dictators have wallowed in obscene luxury paid for by the vast reservoirs of oil and gas beneath the sands on which they sit. Anyone posing a threat to this privilege has felt the wrath of this band of thugs: torture, abuse of human rights, false imprisonment, detention without charge and mysterious disappearances are the hallmarks of such regimes.

They look on from their marble palaces and mansions fearing the warmth generated by the Arab spring because they know people power is the biggest threat to their very existence. The King of Morocco, perhaps the most astute monarch of them all, reacted quicker than most to this human tsunami and he has, for the time being anyway, introduced reforms and changes without being asked to do so or clear off. But some of the other royals and rulers have developed a bunker mentality and refuse to end the brutality against their people. Their days are numbered but they are in denial.

Now they are using the old colonial trick of divide and rule that put their dynasties in power in the first place, when British Imperialists and their Western allies redrew the map of the Middle East to match their own interests, not those of the local population. The resultant discord in Palestine is a running sore in the region; there the split has been developed along political lines and efforts to bring about Palestinian reconciliation have been stymied by the US for the past four years. A strong united front in Palestine is the last thing that Israel and its US backers want.

In the Gulf, some of the royal families who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are playing the divide and rule game with the sectarian card. These are desperate measures, among their most heinous, as they cling to power, illustrating the depths to which they will go in order to secure their untenable positions as hereditary rulers.

The kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in particular have ripped open old wounds and rubbed in tons of salt to revive and agitate age-old bitter divisions, both real and imagined, between Sunni and Shia. From his tribal stronghold of Riyadh, King Abdullah and his advisors have used the threat of sectarianism as the excuse to send his troops to Bahrain, claiming that the move was essential to prevent the very unrest that they are, in fact, fomenting.

Scholars for dollars, and other clerics who are not secure in their positions, have added fuel to the fire by accusing the majority Shia population in Bahrain of causing mischief and unrest; the Arabic word for this is “fitna”, and sums up the net effect of the scholars’ pronouncements.

The unrest seen in Bahrain and the violent official response has not been caused because of a split between Sunni and Shia, any more than the “Irish Troubles” erupted because of the religious differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Unrest in Ireland stemmed from the oppression and human rights abuses by one dominant group over another, as it does in Bahrain. Just as the Catholics in Northern Ireland were governed by rulers well-versed in discrimination, the Shia majority in Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni regime bolstered by hired guns from Pakistan and other Sunni Muslim-majority countries. There are very few Shia represented in the army and police, and unemployment is disproportionately high in the Shia community which is also plagued by poor housing and living conditions. It’s the age-old story of the privileged shovelling ever more hardship onto the poor, working classes.

The Saudi King is 86 and his health is ailing; he has far more important issues to worry about in his own backyard, but has opted to focus on Bahrain and turn the crisis into a sectarian issue. The intervention of Saudi and other GCC troops a few days ago sent shock waves around the Muslim world. The only seal of approval came from the repressive regimes that are still clinging with white knuckles to the notion that their people will not rise up and tear them off their 24-carat thrones.
Demonstrations around the world against the GCC intervention have reserved most of their venom for the Saudi regime. In London, for example, Park Lane and Mayfair were brought to a halt as 4,000 demonstrators marched to the Saudi Embassy from its Bahrain counterpart. These were not exclusively Shia-led demonstrations, even though it is well known that the two million Shia living in Saudi’s Eastern Province, where most of the oil reserves are concentrated, face officially-sanctioned brutality from the Riyadh authorities.

Tiny Bahrain is the tinderbox that threatens to ignite a sectarian war which could rage across the Arab world dividing and ripping apart families and communities. Just look at what the US-led invasion of Iraq did; sectarianism was never a huge issue in Iraq until Bush’s “Shock and Awe” came along in 2003. The tragedy is that the match that could light the inferno is held by a few power mad, filthy rich, old men who want to protect their lifestyles and dynasties. It will be a tragedy for the world if these few dinosaurs from a colonial past and representing all that was wrong with Empire, are able to get away with their treachery but the signs are not good, as the representatives of the colonial present in Israel demonstrate; they are allowed to get away, quite literally, with murder as they continue their military occupation and colonisation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip. Will Saudi Arabia’s military interventionism in Bahrain be allowed to do the same? Only time will tell.

Yvonne Ridley

Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East

  • KSM

    Miss Ridley I like to point out to you why I think your commentary is delusional, you have conveniently forgotten that Bahrain has parliamentary monarchy for over ten years, like in Britain the country you so comfortable sit and spread you sectarian mischief on behalf of you employers (Iranian backed press TV). you also forgot how patiently the Government of Bahrain waited for more then one month for dialogue with all opposition parliamentarian parties, which was ignored & mocked!, the government appealed to all so called protestors to refrain from Violence on the streets by the fascist shia thugs who had started killing poor expat Asians labors that you conveniently try ignore & to justify by mentioning the Pakistan connection in your article. You have tried in a very non-journalistic way to ignore the majority support for the government at the grounds of The Fatheh Mosque of 350,000+(suni & shia) plus in a tiny country as you put it. It’s you whose playing the sectarian card to justify your tirade. You have ignored the dubious connections of these so called 14 Feb youth movement that Advocated a terrorist rampage on the streets of the capital killing Unarmed Police (do you know what you get if you kill or try to kill a police cop in USA?? Death). You have all but painted the Government of Bahrain and the entire GCC leadership with one stereotypical brush so inanely used in Hollywood movies to demonize Arabs. It is not the GCC leadership but Iran’s fascist regime that has case to answer regarding Human rights, lack of religious Freedom and playing the Sectarian card in destroying societies in the region? May I ask what happens to Peaceful Protestor in Iran,they are summarily Shout, or thrown of building!So Miss Ridely Please stop your tirade against progressive GCC and instead try to educate your Iranian employer about not meddling in internal affairs of other countries. How sad that your journalism has stoup so low in bigotry and subjective commentary to keep an employment in this day of harsh economics in the West!

  • Prof. Hashim Al-Madani

    I HAVE NEVER COMMENTED ON ANY PRESS RELEASE BEFORE. THIS IS MY FIRST. I WISH TO RAISE A POINT REGARDING THE ARTICLE ENTITLED “Playing the sectarian card”. THE ISSUE RELATED TO THE DEMONSTRATION IN BAHRAIN IS HONESTLY NOT A SHEEA AND SUNNI ONE. THE DEMONSTRATERS WANTED TO REPLACE THE RULING GOVERNMENT SO AS TO FOLLOW IRAN SYSTEM. I WISH ALSO NOT TO FORGET THAT THE DEMONSTRATERS TOURCHERED AND KILLED MANY INDIANS, BANGALIES, YEMANIES AND PAKESTANIES.THE TOUNGE OF ONE OF THE INDIAN ‘SUNNI AZAN CALLER’ (THE PERSON WHO CALLS FOR PRAYERS) WAS CUT INFRONT OF HIS FRIENDS. IRAN, SINCE LONG BACK HAS SEAN BAHRAIN AS ITS 44 OR 45TH STATE. WHILE IT TRIES TO PUT ITS NOSE IN THE ENTERNAL AFFAIRS OF BAHRAIN IN A WAY SUPPORTING SHEEA, IT DOSE NOT ALLOW TO BUILD ANY MOSQUE IN TEHRAN WHERE THERE ARE OVER 2 MILLION SUNNIES LIVE.SUNNIES IN IRAN ARE OVER 14 MILLIONS. IN CONTRAST TO THAT, IN BAHRAIN THE SHEEA ARE LESS THAN A THIRD OF A MILLION AND HAVE OVER 6000 MOSQUE AND RELIGION RELATED BUILDINGS.

    I WISH IF THE WRITER COULD HAVE LISTENED TO THE OTHER PART OF THE STOREY.

    THANKS
    HASHIM AL-MADANI
    PROFESSOR OF TRANSPORTATION

  • hamda salem

    thank you for your concern about the situation in Bahrain, however there are some points that you have missed in your article.
    I am a Bahrini & I have gone through the the Shiite uprising in the 1990s as a teenager,& I still remember them burning to death 7 Banghali workers alive in a restaurant in Sitra.
    The situation in Bahrain can not be compared to other countries in the Arab world. First of all the economic standard is much higher, the percerntage of unemployment is 3% according to the previous minister of work who is a shiite by the way.
    In Bahrain 1500 Shiite worship houses, 500 Sunni mosques, 3 churches & few temples, so any talk about religious prosecution would be absurd.
    In your article you mentioned the role of GCC countries, specially Saudi Arabia, but you never mentioned Iran’s interference in Bahrain & its support to protesters & which goes back to the 1980s with the ISlamic revolution in Iran.
    Half of the members of the parliment in Bahrain are Shiite, but they never raised the economic demands for reforms although they have the power & means.
    Finally, you never mentioned the other component of the society in Bahrain which represents almost half of the population since there has never been a survey based on sectarian grounds since Bahrain’s independence,& how their human rights have been violated severely because of the racist & sectarian way, protesters dealt with them. Bahrainis & Asians were killed brutally on the hands of these protesters. Children & grown ups were attacked, denied their basic rights of education & health care by sectarian teachers & doctors. people could’nt go to their work nor school because anti-government protestes who were trained by Hezbollah & Iran formed militias & cut roads.
    It is much easier to take sides, & overlook the truth, but as a journalist you must look for the truth.

  • Bo Hareth

    Shouldn’t the atrocities committed by the protesters be taken into account?! Do all coup d’état have to be analyzed in the same way, that is oppressed ppl vs. dictators?! Why Iran’s actions in Bahrain specifically & GCC in general are not taken as a parameter in the equation?! (If you think am blaming it on someone else, check Hajj 1986 & 1987, Bahrain 1981 & 1996…etc). By the way, The Gathering of National Union in Bahrain (300,000+ ppl) is not saying that Bahrain Government is perfect, but for sure it should not be replaced by a far less perfect one!

  • Fbahrain

    Dear Yvonne Ridley.

    It always makes news very juicy to twist the truth and exaggerate the events that are happening somewhere. And unfortunately that has been the prime principal press TV has been working on during the past month. So I am not surprised to read this article of yours.
    The ethics of good journalism unfortunately has been forgotten and misused for lame excuses. As an educated journalist I would have expected you to be fair and moderate in your releases, looking at the full picture from all sides, Instead of only the opposition’s.
    Half of the population in Bahrain marched to al Fateh mosque, why didn’t you mention them in your article? Or are you playing the same game of whom claim themselves to be “BahrainRights” headed by one of the leaders for opposition. Neglecting the other half of the population and just wouldn’t bother to defend their rights as well !. trying to remove them from the picture and insisting that demonstrations are only between those who are anti-government and the government itself.
    I can assure you that today the world isn’t stupid, and I am sure that many knows what is really going in behind those so called “ demonstrations for housing or humanity demands “. In a country with 3% unemployment!.
    You have also failed to mention the background of the story. It’s worth saying that the past events in Bahrain are not something new to this country, I have been living for 23 years on this land and I can assure you sir that I have never in my life seen any peaceful demonstration from the anti-government protestors !. during the past years of my life since I could ever recall we were always not allowed to go out to celebrate our national events because there will always be someone somewhere burning a tire or blowing up a gas slender and it was not safe to be out on those days. I am 100% that you have enough evidence of that by now.
    In this globalization world we are living in I’m sure you have been hearing about the Bahrain protestor’s violence in the past. So not surprisingly, on the 14th of February which is the day we celebrate 10 years of the national charter! They very same scenario happened! . and our right to celebrate was also taken away by them !. isn’t there should be a sort of respect between the citizens of a country ? isn’t that what we are looking for ?!. notable to mention that only few months earlier the country has decided to cancel the national day celebrations in respect for ashore which they celebrate in the death of al hussain !. we respected them but they never respect us ! at any given time of our life’s !. don’t we have the right to be happy when we already respected their right to be sad ? have you ever heard sir of any country that cancel their national day because some of the population are celebrating the death of someone ?!.
    So all I have got to say now is please be moderate in your releases .

  • by Suha Hassan

    Everyone has Lost

    It’s been a long while since I have written a note on facebook, and more specifically something to do with what is going on in the world. The last note I wrote was regarding human rights and today we are facing crisis in the Arab world because of the lack of it in our region as most movements would say.

    Today these movements have hit closer to home, and it is ugly because under it something else seems to be emerging, religious discrimination. The same may I remind you that led Lebanon into a 17 year civil war. May I also remind you no one wins at the end of a war, people are lost and economies break down? History has taught us that wars end and the two sides will come to a peace agreement, both considering itself a winner…whilst in reality everyone has lost.

    We have all been watching closely or participating in the events taking place in Bahrain; so many variations of the same story have been put forward by the media; national, regional, international and of course through the infamous social networks. It makes a lot of sense that a story will always be told differently. However there is one undeniable fact in each one; human souls have been lost and many injured. Under all stories a more serious and dangerous issue can be detected; the seeds of hatred are being planted in the hearts of many and it is devastating to see a country that is called “Balad Alaman” (secure country) become dangerous.

    The predictable scenarios from both sides propose a future that no one wants to be part of. Let’s keep our ideologies and religious beliefs to ourselves and keep the country for all. Let’s not be led by leaders and become leaders of our thoughts. Let’s reason for ourselves. Stop and think, “Alaman”, is it worth tampering with?

  • Abu Tariq

    I was utterly shocked and totally surprised to read the write-up from Ridley whom I have had greatest appreciation and regard for her bold and honest analysis of political situations in the world, particularly in the Muslim World. Unfortunately the article presents totally a lob sided picture of the real stuation in Bahrain on the ground over the past two months. I am an expatriate living in this lovely and earstwhile a very peaceful country for over quarter of a century associated with University of Bahrain.Bahrain can writely be claimed as a real welfare state providing best possible care to its citizens irrespective of their denominations. Coming to the events leading to the present situation, I must say that the demonstrations or the so caled ” peaceful democratic movement” was never peaceful and always had clear sectarian overtones. Did you Ridley bother to know how the events really unfolded in Bahrain? How much was being offered by the Crown Prince? They were asked to come on negotiating table without preconditions and every thing was assured possible to be negotiated, but the gesture was refused stubornly because the perpetrators of the criminal activities and having ulterior designs were given utopian promises by vested interests from outside this lovely country. Ultimately the Government had no choice but to restore law and order in the country in order to save the lives of the people living in Bahrain, nationals and expatriates alike, the property and to prevent the economic collapse.
    Did you Ms Ridley bother to know what happened to the Asian Communities here in general and Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian communities in particular during the four or five nightmarish weeks? Quite a few were mercilessly killed, scores were brutally attacked even the tounges of some of them were cut. I wish you Ms.Ridley be the Ridley I knew and and do not tow the line of some of the tv channels which have been showing nothing but lies. Is it honest reporting if only one side of the story is reported? The video films are available for most of the events and happenings, and they are easily accessible to you, but please do not take them from the Press tv. Also please do not miss to watch the happenings in University of Bahrain. I salute the wisdom of the rulers here who acted on time, using minimum force, to avoid the looming catastrophe. They are still committed to the economic and political reforms but obviously safety and the security comes first. Sister Ridley, let us be honest and fare in our analysis of the situation as we are answerable to God the Almighty for our actions. My request to you simply is to be just and be a neutral umpire.

  • Dr. Hanan AlBuflasa

    Dear Miss Ridley, I have came to read your article after a friend forward the link. I am not sure if I want to try to convince you of anything, all I know from my basic understanding for ethics of press, is that you need to do your bit of a homework, not based on any background. Try to investigate the story and to analysis the situation away from any biased view. If you really searching for the truth about what really happened in Bahrain you should start a debate with all Bahrainis and not only the opposition (founder and supporter of 14 Feb).
    My name is Hanan AlBuflasa, PhD holder and works at University of Bahrain, I am not an imaginary uneducated person, you can Google my name. and there are thousands of Bahrainis who would love to start a debate, those people have been ignored by the media as they don’t exist.